Tale of Two Cities

It was the best of shows, it was the not-best of shows. And our entire BevNET team is just catching its collective breath from the frenetic pace of attending and reporting on them, the two major fall trade shows, Natural Products Expo East and NACS.

These two events are highlights of the beverage calendar year and set the tone for buyers forging ahead into 2018. The initiatives introduced and displayed by the marketers on the trade show floors represent what suppliers believe should be the products adorning the shelves of retailers across several key channels. Fall is usually the best time to launch brands as it coincides with the planning cycle for portfolios, planograms and shelf set execution. Needless to say, the timing of these shows is crucial to the success or failure of beverage marketers.

While the intent of both shows is similar, the contrasts couldn’t be more disparate. Expo East, situated in Baltimore, has become a strong younger sibling to the juggernaut Expo West. It has grown in stature, attendance and importance to the industry, and the excitement on the floor was palpable. I was so impressed with the array of products offered there. There were so many categories on display that it made my head spin: cold brewed coffees, bone broths, juices, natural energy drinks, coconut waters, chia drinks and other functional beverages, waters of every ilk, kombuchas, teas and dozens of other types filled the halls. Each was as exciting as the next. With about 180 beverage companies exhibiting, bannering hundreds of brands, the creativity of beverage marketers was in full flight. The show highlights the natural and organic brands– the industry and the consumer is heading. At Expo East the future is now. The halls were packed and I heard nary a disparaging word from all my exhibitor friends. Everyone thought the show was a home run.

Three weeks later, we headed to Chicago for NACS. I’ve been attending NACS for 25 years now. It was once a fledgling show, but it has evolved into a major trade event. I have a special spot in my heart for NACS, and what has happened there hurts a little bit. First, the number of beverage exhibitors was half that of Expo East. But even more concerning, most of the creativity I witnessed in Baltimore was not present in Chicago. Since it’s a convenience store show, I knew that I wouldn’t see the plethora of brands, and that proved to be the case, but even worse was that, to look at the beverage offerings that were there, you would not know about categories generating all the excitement. Even a lot of the exciting brands that are now owned by the big guys were rolled into their gigantic booths, diminishing their impact. The crossover between the two shows were around 50 exhibitor companies. The variety just wasn’t there. More important, the attendance was down, the aisles were never packed, and the marketers did share disparaging words with me. I hope it was an aberration and being in Vegas again will generate the excitement that has always personified NACS.

I love attending both shows, seeing old friends and making new ones. They serve the industry well, but I left Baltimore exhilarated, and Chicago deflated.