Today’s guest post comes from the aptly-named Catherine Greener, the CEO of co-founder of consulting firm Clear Green Advisors. Cat, as she’s known, is one of the sharpest people in the world of environmental consulting. A native of Detroit who is trained as a industrial engineer, she’s an expert in manufacturing, among other things, and began her career as a maintenance supervisor for Pontiac Motors. Cat knows how things get done, and she knows business, too–she has an MBA from Michigan and has advised Procter & Gamble, FedEx, Shell, Nissan and Ingersoll Rand, among others. She filed this report after a trip to Natural Products Expo West, a giant trade show held every year in Anaheim, CA.
Back at my desk in Boulder after three days at Natural Products Expo West, the largest convention of people in the natural, organic and supplements industries, I am tired and I have a list of people to email or call. But I am filled with an optimism that is rare after attending a trade show.
At Expo West, as it’s known, about 50,000 or so vendors, retailers, buyers and product seekers convened in Anaheim to learn about emerging ideas and and exciting new products in these high growth businesses, which encompass everything from raw organic energy bars to shampoo made from beer. I took the opportunity to listen to legends like Gary Hirshberg of Stonyfield Farm, meet authors including Paul Greenberg (Four Fish: The Future of the Last Wild Food) and enjoy a beer with Adam Lowry, Co-founder of Method, one of the leaders of a new wave of young entrepreneurs.
Expo West overwhelms the senses. The vast convention center is filled with organic chocolate that will stop you in your tracks, essential oils, raw vitamin drinks, gluten-free grilled cheese sandwiches— and something even for the eyes—the chance to be photographed with Fabio.
I attend Expo West to see trends. This year’s product trends were easy to spot: raw, GMO-free, gluten-free (and delicious) and Chia, which is not just for “pets” anymore, but is being added to foods for its health benefits (Omega-3’s and fiber).
But for me, at least, the most interesting trend at this year’s Expo West had nothing to do with products; it had to do with the companies that were exhibiting–the emergence of the Benefit Corporation, or “B-Corp”.
King Arthur Flour proudly displayed their B-Corp logo next to their other 3rd-party certifications. Why should this matter? Shouldn’t only the quality of the product matter to the shopper? “Consumers are interested in the type of company that you are, just as much as the kind and quality of the product that you make,” explains Tom Payne, Director of Marketing, at King Arthur Flour.
I may be going out on a limb, but it feels like a movement is growing here. Companies that are good for the world want to “occupy your cart, refrigerator or cupboard.” And shoppers seem ready to listen.
Consumers want to know more–not just about what they are buying, but who they are buying from. They want to know if there is “pink slime” in their kid’s lunch, or if their cans have BPA in the liner, and, if so, why a company felt the need to use it there. If a company can assumer its customers that it is providing them with the most natural and healthy product possible, and that it cares about the community and the planet, and that it embraces a new way of doing business, it can build a powerful brand around transparency, authenticity and trust.
I look forward to Expo West 2013. As for trends, I think we are going to see even more Certified B Corps. It’s the right marketplace. It’s the right message.