Check out Grainful's President, Jan Pajerski's first-hand account of the 2015 Natural Products Expo West, a natural, organic and healthy products event, which took place March 4-8, 2015 in Anaheim, California. Events like these showcase the newest and most innovative products in the natural-product industry.

We introduced Grainful at The Natural Products Expo East in September 2013, and I still remember my nerves and excitement thinking about what the future held for Grainful as I drove to Baltimore in the early hours of the morning. The show was a blur—over 1,400 exhibitors and 22,000 attendees—but went very well for our team as we established relationships with many people in the industry that translated to our first retail shelf placements in the spring of 2014.  The road since has been filled with more challenges, excitement and fun than I imagined that day on the I-81.

With Expo East checked off our list, it was time to take Grainful cross-country to Expo West.

The Natural Products Expo is actually split into two shows West (Anaheim, CA, in March) and East (Baltimore, MD, in September). As Grainful continues to grow we’re looking to expand to other areas of the country and a trip to Expo West was in the cards so that we could continue building relationships, network with the industry and get a feel for what Expo West was all about. With over 2,700 exhibitors and 71,000 attendees, Expo West is no small event. 

It all started with an early morning flight out of Philadelphia. I was lucky to leave before another storm in the series of 2015’s never-ending winter storms rolled through the East Coast leaving a wake of flight delays, cancellations and rendering the best thought out travel itineraries useless.

The time in the air was a great opportunity to catch up on some sleep, a minor detail that is actually quite glorious as in recent months my infant and toddler sons have made it their mission to see how much sleep deprivation they can inflict on my wife and me.

I awoke somewhere over Arizona and got a glimpse of the Grand Canyon, blue skies and the sun—three things I haven’t seen in a long time.

Less than an hour later we were taxiing on the runway at LAX and soon I was on the Disneyland Resort Express heading towards the Expo, which was fitting because I felt like a kid headed to Disneyland for the first time.

The Anaheim Convention Center together with the two hotels on the grounds—the Hilton and the Marriot—is the epicenter for all things Expo.  The branded cars, vans, tractor trailers, food trucks, booths, music stage and brand reps handing out samples all immerse visitors in the Expo West experience before one lays foot inside the actual convention center.  

The sun, mid-70 degree weather and palm trees only add to the vibe. Hanging out outside, listening to music and getting my sun-starved body a tan all seemed very appealing, but the show floor is what I came to California to see.

Walking the show without a plan of attack is fraught with peril for someone at my current fitness level since the 2,700 exhibitors are spread out across 3-floors and two different buildings. As the day progresses, the expressions on attendees faces slowly move from free sample and swag induced joy to shin-splint induced pain and finally to the blank emotionless stares of glycogen-depleted bodies.

The show floor is an amazing experience, especially for someone passionate about, and part of, the natural products industry. Picture your favorite, best stocked Wegmans Nature’s Marketplace or Whole Foods Store. Now for each of the brands you find on the shelf, imagine the few linear feet they occupy are replaced with fully branded booths at least 10 by 10 feet in size complete with knowledgeable reps (or founders!), free product samples and swag.

Needless to say, I took the time to layout a plan and after fueling up on caffeine and Kind bars (conveniently being handed out at the registration counters), I hit the floor.

The added bonus at Expo West is that new products and new brands are often introduced at the show before being widely available in the market, so walking the floor provided a glimpse of both established (gluten free, whole grain) and emerging (paleo, insect proteins) trends.

Human Grade Pet Food exhibit by The Honest Kitchen, featuring dog and cat foot produced in the USA from non-GMO produce, hormone-free meats and some organic, carefully sourced fair trade ingredients. Photo Courtesy of Jan Pajerski

Human Grade Pet Food exhibit by The Honest Kitchen, featuring dog and cat foot produced in the USA from non-GMO produce, hormone-free meats and some organic, carefully sourced fair trade ingredients. Photo Courtesy of Jan Pajerski

Most importantly the show is a testament to the meteoric growth in the natural products industry as a whole and shows that consumers are hungry (pun intended) for products that meet their needs in a healthy, sustainable way.

The show floor is only a part of the trade show experience and the surrounding social events, sponsored parties (free food and drinks!) provide a great venue to network and build relationships with people across the whole industry. Getting to know fellow founders is particularly special as it’s great to exchange stories and insights with people living the same journey. 

I actually crashed on the couch of a house rented by Billy Bosch, www.drinkiconic.com, someone I didn’t know until I arrived at the door. I ended up at Billy’s on the invitation of Aaron Gailmor (who was also staying with the Iconic crew), www.supereats.com, and someone I met at Expo East the past year. 

 It still amazes me how open and helpful fellow entrepreneurs are, and I look forward to spending more time and sharing more laughs with them in the future.

Expo West was great, and I can’t wait to make the trip with the Grainful team.  We’re booked for 2016 (March 9-13). See you there!

-Jan

After a long day at the expo, it was great to connect with old and new friends. Photo Courtesy of Jan Pajerski

To learn more about Expo West and the Natural Products Expos click here.

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