What was big at Expo West this year? Here are three large themes running through this year’s 16,000 products on the show floor:


The CBD Land Rush

With the 2018 Farm Bill recently making CBD (cannabidiol), legal at the federal level, it wasn’t surprising CBDs were the big buzz of the show (although not having any psychoactive properties, CBDs will give you no buzz). You could sample CBDs orally from a dropper (I tried RE Botanicals, 25 mg Peppermint hemp oil), topically through a roll-on, in your coffee (Green Roads CBD), tea (Buddha’s CBD Herbal) or chocolate (Hnina’s Raw Dark Chocolate with CBD). We suspect many of the expected food and beverage brands with CBD’s will start to appear at Expo East in September.

One of the 5 finalists at Expo’s Pitch Slam, where one winner receives a $40,000 package from show sponsor New Hope Network, was Lumen, whose answer to natural food aficionados’ limitless desire for low/no processing, is a cold-pressed hemp plant sold in 2 oz elixir shots. And Lumen takes their Farm-to-Bottle proposition one better by only using hemp plants that are grown regeneratively – a process that repairs and improves a farm’s soil.

CBDs certainly have the feel of a land rush – a huge crowd of brands trying to stake an early claim. Many of them focusing on what makes their processing better than a competitor’s, while consumers are still struggling to understand the category benefits. These range from seizure control to anxiety repression to sleep aid to anti-inflammatory. As the saying goes, “there is margin in mystery”, so for the time being, there appears to be opportunity for many brands across a spectrum of supplement, beverage and food forms.


Protein Hangs Tough

America’s fascination with protein continues unabated. We expect to see trends come and go from Expo to Expo, but protein has staying power. Along with fat and carbohydrates, protein is a “macronutrient” meaning you need relatively large amounts of it. But the body doesn’t store protein the way it does the other two “macros”, so there is no reservoir – you simply have to consume more. The National Academy of Medicine recommends that protein make up from 10% to 35% of daily calories.

Add to that foundational health attribute, the weight loss potential of Paleo and Keto, and protein is the “call-out of choice” on labels across food and beverage. We always knew we’d get protein from meat and eggs, but in today’s world, we want our protein on the run – in salty snacks (Biena Chick Pea Puffs, 7g), cookies (Buff Bar’s 16 g), bars, (NuGo Slim, 16g), Frozen Waffles (Kodiak Cakes, 12g) and shakes (Premier Protein, 30g).

We doubt America is spending much time counting protein intake. Right now, it looks like the more, the merrier.


Food Tech

One of the Pitch Slam finalists was  Flore Precision Probiotics, from Sun Genomics. Flore has changed the game by combining microbiome analysis with direct-to-consumer delivery of custom probiotics based on your microbiome and your goals. So, rather than looking at a shelf full of probiotics distinguished only by CFUs, strains and price, Flore asks you to commit to microbiome testing, and a 3- month supply of probiotics customized for your microbiome.

Yes, there’s the “poop factor” – Flore requires a sample collection kit to analyze your digestive DNA, but you actually get some evidence of what you need and how your gut is changing over time.

Kind of reminds us of what happens when you add technology to exercise – you get Peloton, Orange Theory and MIRROR Home Gym – data-fueled transparency and a big lift in margin. Perhaps a glimpse into a Food Tech future and customized meal delivery systems as we unravel the microbiome.

Michael Bollinger
Michael Bollinger

Thanks to Michael, clients benefit from the breakthrough brand storytelling skills of Smith Brothers’ creative heritage, delivered with the speed, efficiency and real-time optimization demanded by today’s digital environment.

Michael joined Smith Brothers in 2005 as Director of Client Services, after spending the previous 20 years with DDB Worldwide where he was Senior Vice President, Group Account Director of the agency’s flagship, Chicago office.

Excited by Smith Brothers’ creative firepower and entrepreneurial spirit, Michael joined the Smith Brothers’ team with a vision for delivering big agency resources on a dramatically more nimble and effective platform.

Under Michael’s leadership the agency acquired digital agency, Hot Hand Interactive, in 2007. It added its Social Media practice in 2008. Developed an Analytics practice in 2009 and a Product Innovation specialty group – Sliced Bread - in 2016.

Layered onto its existing strategic planning, creative and media capabilities, Smith Brothers is now a force in the CPG marketing world – working with brands like Nestle, Del Monte, Heinz, Ghirardelli, Red Bull, and more.

Michael holds a B.A. in English from Union College