The Number One Word at Natural Products Expo East: Free

We’ve just come back from this year’s Natural Products Expo East in Baltimore – four days of seminars, client meetings, trade show gawking and general immersion into all things “natural”, and if there’s one word that still rings in my ears, it’s the word “-free.”

Notice the hyphen in front of the word? That’s not a typo. I’m talking:

  • Gluten-free
  • Dairy-free
  • Soy-free
  • Peanut-free
  • THC-free
  • Pesticide-free
  • Aluminum-free
  • rGBH-free
  • Sulfate-free
  • Sulfite-free
  • HFCS-free
  • Silicone-free
  • Sugar-free
  • Fat-free
  • and the big one – GMO-free

Everywhere I looked, it appeared that if you weren’t free of something, you weren’t natural.  (Of course that gets us into the definition of natural, a dark hole I’m not ready to enter on this blog post).

Stephen Hughes, CEO of Smart Balance, which has in the last couple years bought Glutino and Udi’s Healthy Foods, reiterated his enthusiasm for the gluten-free market at the keynote address at the Product-to-Shelf workshop.  This is not surprising considering the gluten-free food segment is the cornerstone strategy for Smart Balance.

At another workshop, the folks at New Hope Natural Media and Mintel spoke about the trending toward all things –free.

This increase in all things -free should lead to a cleaner food system because it raises awareness of what we are actually eating. Not so long ago big ag milk producers thought to introduce Bovine Growth Hormones to increase milk production. Concern about the health of the milk was raised, and pretty soon farmers who had never used the hormone could promote their milk as rGBH-free. Thank you rGBH for the unexpected marketing bonus to the smaller farmers.

At this year’s show, the big -free goes to GMOs.