An Expo of Natural Products Shows What’s Right and Wrong with How We Consume

Shift CollaborativeCommunity, Do Good, General

Baltimore is known for all things crab legs, soft shell, soup, cakes and steamed. But for three days in September the “Charm City” played host to more than 1,500 other food options when the Natural Products Expo East set up shop in the city’s convention center a few hundred yards from Inner Harbor.

The broad definition of the term “natural” reveals itself when introduced to an array of products centered on health, wellness, community building and sustainability. My assumption was that many of the products would be certified organic. I don’t know the official number, but it seemed that only a small percentage were actually organic.

Organic certification is a process for producers of organic food and other organic agricultural products. In general, any business involved in food production can be certified, including seed suppliers, farmers, and food processors.

Hundreds of booths crammed the convention’s three floors. The bottom floor, the most expansive, featured products currently on the market but fervently hoping for a Whole Foods to come by and shelve their stuff. Whole countries had their own special sections — like Switzerland — touting everything from yogurt, cream cheese to other dairy products.

All of the major players you see in your grocery store including Organic Valley, Late July and many other notable brands were in attendance. Peppered throughout the expo were health products like skincare items, lotions, and other medicinal applications that one can use to maintain a natural lifestyle.

The top floor included products that were not yet on the market. The sales people — all beautiful, young and eager to impress — were more aggressive than the floors below. Booth after booth included lots of kombucha, seaweed, and other trendy products ready to hit the shelves. Trends in the natural food industry, identified by the event organizer, included “The Plant Revolution,” “Wholegrarian Shopper,” and “Snackification” to name a few. I was looking for the products under “Sugar Vilified” but no such luck.

Tucked near the center lobby in front of the high glass panes overlooking Inner Harbor were the organic certifier tables. Our client’s table, Pennsylvania Certified Organic (PCO), one of the largest certifiers in the United States, was next to International Organic Inspects Association (IOIA). PCO certified products like Organic Valley, Harney & Sons, Honest Tea and Trickling Springs Creamery had representation at the Expo.

It was overwhelming to see all the various types of products in the convention. Only 1% of the natural food products on the market are organic certified. It’s hard to believe knowing how trendy natural foods and “organic” seem to be. Baltimore was a good host, though the Natural Product Expo West, slated for early next year in Anaheim, California, will be twice the size.


The amount of free samples and giveaways left me loaded with lots of strange and wonderful treats to truck back to the office. As an opportunity to challenge the writing team, we all took a product and found creative ways to write a product review. In the corresponding blog post, have fun reading some of the interesting ways we decided to review some peculiar products.

by Eric Sloss