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Natural Products Expo: Crowds, OC Vendors Return

Natural Products Expo West, long one of the largest trade shows taking place in Orange County, continues to make strides returning to its pre-pandemic levels of attendance, both in terms of exhibitors and attendees.

The latest edition of the annual event, one of the main trade shows for the natural products industry, took over the Anaheim Convention Center last month to display a multitude of new natural and organic products in foods and beverages, personal care, supplements and ingredients.

Around 3,000 businesses and brands, including a variety of retailers, distributors and businesses in the consumer-packaged goods sector, showcased their latest goods at the five-day event. Almost 900 of them were first-time exhibitors.

Over 100 of the expo exhibitors were based in or operated out of Orange County, including fast-growing businesses like as Huntington Beach-based Sauce Ventures LLC’s Truff hot sauce and Irvine cottage cheese brand Good Culture, which last year raised $64 million in Series C funding (see individual company profiles, this page).

Locally-based Robinson Pharma, a maker of supplements with a sprawling base of manufacturing operations near the Costa Mesa and Santa Ana city lines, was an event sponsor.

Up 10K from ’21

Expo West has been held in Anaheim the past 40 years, and pre-pandemic was the second-largest trade show in Anaheim. This year’s edition brought in over 67,000 people attendees over the five days, according to the city’s destination marketing organization, Visit Anaheim.

Last year was the expo’s first year back after a two-year hiatus. The event gathered more than 2,700 exhibitors and over 57,000 attendees in 2022.

In 2019, the show had about 3,600 exhibitors and more than 86,000 attendees. The 2020 edition of the event, slated for March of that year, was one of the first big cancellations to hit the area’s tourism market amid the onset of the pandemic.

Grocers on Prowl

This year’s expo resulted in an economic impact of $87.8 million to the local community, according to data from Visit Anaheim.

The event also brought close to 41,500 room nights to local hotels. It generated $1.7 million in tourism occupancy tax (TOT) revenue for the city.

The event also has a clear impact on the fortunes of retailers looking to gain traction selling their products to industry giants.

Colorado-based show organizer New Hope Network described the event as a “must-attend show” for retail buyers and grocers to possibly add exhibitors’ products to store shelves.

Representatives from organic grocer Sprouts Farmers Market Inc.—which is months away from opening its largest-ever distribution center at a just-built facility in Fullerton running 337,000 square feet—as well as Whole Foods, Walmart and Albertson’s, Trader Joe’s and Amazon were said to be circling the show floor.

The natural and organic industry is anticipated to surpass sales of $300 billion in 2023, according to data from the Nutrition Business Journal.

Next year’s Expo West show is set to run from March 12-16 at the convention center.

‘Eat Your Skincare’: Brand Boosts Presence

Santa Ana skincare supplement maker, Embody, first launched in 2020, exhibited at the Natural Products Expo West for the second time this year.

Embody creates retinol gummies in fruit flavors that help skin cell turnover which aim for healthier skin. It has released two so far with one focused on improving skin texture and a second that helps with hydration.

Founder and Chief Executive Jenn Chung had these supplement products on display and also announced a brand-new gummy that will release in the summer.

New products help catch the eyes of potential buyers, according to Chung. The expo allows Embody to get in front of industry retailers and professionals but also see how people react to the product in person, she said.

Chung noted that reactions to the startup’s slogan, “eat your skincare” have been fun to witness.

The young founder’s mother had started her own skincare company 17 years ago after moving to the U.S. from Vietnam, and the pair had walked the expo floor many times looking for new ingredients.

“The best thing we can get is a relationship started with a buyer who can help us grow and elevate us year after year,” Chung told the Business Journal.

Chung said that because of the expo’s prominence, costs to exhibit can prove challenging on a limited budget, but the contacts are vital; she said she met reps from Whole Foods and CVS during last month’s event.

Embody gummies are sold at over 300 JCPenney beauty centers and can now be found in Walmart and Amazon. The startup will launch an all-store rollout in Vitamin Shoppe this summer.

—Emily Santiago-Molina

Zico Rises Again

Newly relaunched Zico Rising, based in Seal Beach, returned to the Natural Products Expo West for its second year as a recently independent company.

Formerly known as Zico Beverages LLC and founded in 2004, the coconut water business was bought by the Coca Cola Co. in 2013.

In 2021, Coke discontinued about 200 brands, including Zico. Original founder Mark Rampolla jumped to reacquire the company through his new firm, El Segundo-based PowerPlant Partners, for an undisclosed amount.

The private equity group, which has also invested in Beyond Meat and the Veggie Grill restaurant chain, now backs Zico and has since raised $14 million in funding.

Zico had disappeared from store shelves by the time of the relaunch. Zico’s coconut water, which is sourced from Thailand, first returned to Trader Joe’s stores in 2021 and has since been added to Vons, Publix, and Albertson’s.

Its current priority is to reestablish its distribution nationwide, and the expo has been a good place for the Zico to announce its comeback, said senior vice president of marketing Juliet Blake. She noted that Zico was able to get distribution back in a majority of its previous retailers.

The brand sponsored a seminar about hydration trends with members of its science advisory board.

Chief Executive Tom Hicks and other members of its leadership team were in attendance this year along with Rampolla and a new product in tow, the Zico Hydrate drink.

“The expo was such a great place for smaller brands to meet retailers that they might not have a chance to get an appointment with,” Blake told the Business Journal.

—Emily Santiago-Molina

Vegan Honey Co. Tries to
Crack Tough Nut

Laguna Niguel-based manufacturer Open Coconut launched its first line of products during the Natural Products Expo West. It makes vegan honey made from coconuts, as well as coconut chips.

The company says the technology used to make its environmentally friendly products dates back to 2007. In addition to its honey and chips, it also unveiled a plant-based coconut cheese and cream cheese at the show.

Founder Jay Ajmera has spent over 20 years in the natural ingredients and manufacturing sector.

“It is a tough industry to scale up, as there are lots of innovations for buyers to choose from,” Ajmera said of the event being a launching pad for new ventures.

“Nothing happens in this industry overnight,” he added. “It’s a long sacrifice and results are inevitable with persistence.”

Open Coconut will soon launch in spaces such as Amazon.com.

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