Feeling good is their business Convention: Natural Products Expo attracts a crowd here, reflecting what has grown into a $14.8 billion industry


September 12, 1998|By Shanon D. Murray | Shanon D. Murray,SUN STAFF

The Natural Products Expo East 1998, one of the largest conventions ever at the Baltimore Convention Center, has brought 18,000 participants and 1,500 exhibitors to town, all hawking one thing -- healthy living.

The trade show -- which is open only to retailers, distributors, manufacturers, importers and exporters -- officially began yesterday and will end tomorrow. The expo is a key opportunity to network and introduce new products, organizers said.

The educational component of the expo -- 55 seminars on events in the industry -- began Wednesday.

Exhibits feature such things as certified organic foods, dietary // supplements, alternative healing products, personal care products and health foods.

The natural products industry had its genesis in the 1950s with mostly mom-and-pop stores, said Kate Lawrence, president of the conference and trade show division of New Hope Natural Media, the Boulder, Colo.-based publishing company that sponsors the event.

In the past 15 years, natural products have developed into a $14.8 billion industry.

According to New Hope's research division, about 69 percent of XTC Americans take vitamin and mineral supplements, and 24 percent take herbal supplements.

"The consumers are driving this industry," Lawrence said. "People are now into leading healthier lifestyles by eating right and cooking with organic products and taking diet supplements.

"This population is going to retailers, and they are demanding more and more products."

The industry is made up largely of entrepreneurs, but mainstream retailers also have begun to distribute natural products, Lawrence said.

The company began the annual trade show 17 years ago in Anaheim, Calif. Four years later, New Hope Natural Media added an East Coast convention in Baltimore, Lawrence said.

Ann Stettner, one of the owners of Wild Thymes, a Medusa, N.Y.-based food company that makes chutneys, salad dressings and sauces, said the expo is a must for businesses in the industry.

"I come because this is the best exposure a natural food business can get," Stettner said. "All the buyers are here, and it's just critical to be here, too."

Eric and Lorie Zapf, owners of Boulder Bar, a San Diego-based company that makes natural energy bars without preservatives or refined sugars, used to attend only the expo on the West Coast, but they decided to attend the Eastern show for the first time.

"Some of the people we deal with are on the East Coast, and it's important to meet the people we're doing business with," said Lorie Zapf.

Pub Date: 9/12/98

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