By Melissa Talley
What better way to get a feel for the diverse natural, organic, gluten-free, and non-GMO products that are on the market than to attend the Natural Foods Expo East– the largest natural food expo on the east coast! It was held on Saturday, September 16, 2017, at the Baltimore Convention Center. I had the pleasure of working for one of the vendors and experiencing it for myself. Prior to attending this event, I had no idea what to expect; I knew that my job was to promote Pamela’s brand gluten-free products, but I didn’t know that it would be such a memorable experience.
The plethora of natural products occupied almost 3 floors of the convention center, leaving room for 1,523 exhibitors to inform, engage, provide samples, and “hype-up” their products to potential customers. While my job there was to hand out Pamela’s gluten-free samples and work with their team to showcase their items, I found myself with wandering eyes, itching to learn more about every single product in the building. Fortunately, I was able to take an hour-long break to explore the three floors myself and one thing I can say is that one hour was not nearly enough.
The expo showcased kombucha teas, protein bars, granola, granola bars, microwaveable dinners, chocolates, pastas, milks, and even plain water. They had brands that were extremely popular, such as “Skinny Pop,” and other brands that weren’t as common, such as a prebiotic and probiotic bar called “Truth Bar.” Throughout my time exploring the convention center and talking to promoters, I realized that businesses love buzzwords. Almost every station I passed highlighted their product as “the best gluten-free item on the market,” or “inspired by the paleo diet!” It was eye-opening for me to see so many new products on the market. For example, The Modern Pod Co. promoted their hummus ball enclosed in a multigrain crust, and the company “LYNQ: Love Yourself No Questions” promoted “sneaking vegetables into kids diets” through a drink.
It was a stimulating experience to not only see, but also take part in the business side of the food industry. I got to see some of the finances behind attending this event as a vendor and was able to meet unique business people. For example, Pamela’s Products station was placed adjacent to “Three Jerks Jerky.” I first heard about this line of all natural filet mignon jerky on the show “Shark Tank,” where ambitious entrepreneurs present their business concepts.
As a dietetic intern and aspiring registered dietitian, I think attending this event was extremely important for my awareness of products on the market. I now understand what to look for in products as well as what not to look for. Future clients may ask me about certain products; now I have some firsthand experience and can help them make informative decisions.