“I’m just a kid from Youngstown, Ohio”
Maybe I will never get to the level of impact that Lebron James has had on Northeast Ohio, but I surely have never forgotten where I came from. The Arnold Classic (Arnold Sports Festival now) has always had a special place in my heart because it’s held in my home State of Ohio.
Here is a quick timeline on my history with the Arnold Classic:
- 2003 to 2006 — I was a broke high school and college kid that was curious about getting stronger and this event was inspiration, a source of education, and a place where I can get months of supplement samples for $10 a day (price of entry back then)
- 2007 to 2012 — I was still a broke college kid but I was also given an opportunity to work in the industry, so I became an ambitious supplement industry professional that wanted to know everything and everyone at these trade shows.
- 2013 to present — I am a management strategy consultant that helps the entrepreneurs, brands, and industry with insights that helps them navigate the dynamically changing and fast growing CPG market
As you can see from the timeline, I have seen the show from all angles over the last decade plus. As a consultant, I find it very important to “take off my work jersey” and put on “my consumer jersey” to look at shows in a unique way to help my clients.
What I like about the Arnold Classic over other supplement trade shows…
- Diversity in Attendees — not geographically like the Mr. Olympia (Columbus, OH is not a destination in winter), but because they have the massive “sports festival” attached, you get soccer moms, karate dads, runners, power lifters, etc. that roam the trade show floor. That might “frustrate some companies”, but to me, it helps you gain insights from the new “lifestyle” consumer categories that are now buying supplements
- Diversity in Exhibitors — similar to the above, because you have more diversity in attendees, you tend to have different exhibitors trying their luck to get some ROI from the Arnold Classic. For someone that works in several different CPG categories, this is great to see how these categories can do in a more “fitness-positioned” way
- More Energy — if you have been to the Mr. Olympia lately you know its just “blah” from energy. I think the Arnold Classic has created an environment that is exciting from the hallways to the trade show floor
Now, don’t get me wrong, I am not saying that consumer trade shows are a good marketing/branding/sales ROI for CPG brands. But, what I am saying is that it has its unique aspects that I appreciate. The industry joke of “50% of these brands we will never see again” still holds true!
So, what did the 2019 Arnold Classic teach the supplement industry?
Natural Products Expo West Matters Now
In recent years, the “silos of functional CPG” like natural, organic, and yes even sports nutrition have been converging together. Blurred brand and product propositions mean that having the Arnold Classic and Natural Products Expo West close together can now hinder the Arnold Classic. I still think we are a few years from that being noticeable, but its worth noting for the event organizers.
Convenience is the Arnold Classic Champion
Despite dates being closer to Natural Products Expo West, you still saw the trend of convenient “on-the-go” functional foods and beverages reign supreme in central Ohio. You had donuts, cookies, bars, pancakes, energy drinks (did you notice Monster Energy even had more activity this year to defensively combat the VPX Bang Energy movement?), pasta, condiments, and much more.
Convenience and “healthier for you” go together like PB&J protein bars…
Hardcore No More (well kinda…)
I noticed something slight and that was even the second biggest bodybuilding event in the world is starting to change its hardcore image. You saw more woman’s positioned and gender neutral packaging, more use of natural sweeteners, colors, and flavors and we can’t forget about my favorite trend in the supplement industry “Rainbows and Unicorns” (watch this video if you’re confused at my joke…)
…but it hasn’t completely shed its hardcore image 100% yet!
- Still the majority of packaging is black-dominant and male-forward
- Marketing Copy is still very aggressive
- Products are still yelled about as the hardest, strongest, and craziest ever
Influencers Aren’t Going Away
I have told this story before to my followers, but I remember maybe 4–5 years ago at the Mr. Olympia, I was at a very well-known leading “bodybuilding-focused” sports nutrition brand and the owner and his top-level bodybuilder athlete were making fun of the lines of people waiting to see a few “skinny kids”, as they said…
What they didn’t know then was the movement was just getting started with influencer-led fitness consumer brands. No longer did plastic trophies matter, as consumers appreciated authenticity and transparency with individuals that shared their lives on social media, over looking like a well groomed Michelin Man. Some question the influencer marketing movement but they simply haven’t seen the good ones in action.
Hats Off to Universal/Animal
Despite the changing competitive landscape, the best trade show booth experience continues to be from one of the longest standing supplement companies. No one can duplicate “The Cage” at the Arnold Classic from Universal Nutrition (Animal). If a brand (new or existing) wants to see how trade show marketing and experiential branding works, visit Columbus, OH in early March to see how they do it. You can’t copy it, so don’t even try, but you can appreciate how well aligned it is with the Universal Nutrition (Animal) consumer base. Its unapologetically them and that is what makes for a great trade show booth experience that will connect with consumers.