Consumers Lean Into Personal, Simple and True Brands

Reflections from Natural Products Expo West

By Amy Jude Uhl

With 3,600 vendors and 86,000 attendees, Natural Products Expo West in March was an event to behold. For five days, companies flaunted their newest and already launched products, vying for the attention of retailers who will put them on shelf and investors looking for opportunities in the expanding natural products marketplace.

One of this year’s keynote speakers, from Whipstitch Capital, noted that natural products have contributed all of the growth in grocery in the past three years. Millennials are leading that drive with 63% of them saying that purchasing can be a moral decision and 65% saying they will pay more for ethically produced food. Gen Xers are not far behind with the majority agreeing with Millennials. Natural products and their consumers are not just a fad or a trend. They are leading the evolution in how, why and what we purchase. 

One of the things that struck me at this year's expo was this statement from another branding agency about how to best utilize influencers: “Brands should seek to understand which values are most important to their consumers and choose influencers whose followers care most about their messages.” 

Well, that’s one way to try to get your message out. 

But we see that consumers are also seeking truth and transparency. They are searching for brands that are personal, simple and true. So we would challenge that messaging strategy. Instead of asking what is important to your customer, we would ask, first, what is important to you as a company?

A brand story starts with the founders, the history, the reason your product or company has come to be. You build on that story with your employees, your management, and their passions and causes both collaborative and personal. You fill in the gaps with moments of growth and inspiration and goals for your future. A brand should inspire a story that can be told over and over again, engaging the emotional decision making of your audience and growing your business.

Simple Mills is a great example of this strategy. Katlin Smith started Simple Mills in 2014 with the belief that it should be easier, simpler, to get nutrient-rich food, that a product really didn’t need 25 ingredients. She knew she was on track with her first recipes when she made muffins for her guy friends and they’d eat three or four at a time. “Something incredible happens when you eat real ingredients,” says Katlin. “Food should be simple, and that’s what we’re all about.”

Simple Mills’ brand story is evident in their mission statement:


Simple Mills enriches lives and bodies through simple, delicious, real foods. We strive to make healthful choices easy by offering food that tastes great in the moment and nourishes your body for the long term. We believe if you don’t recognize an ingredient, your body won’t either, so we handpick ours with purpose — only including things that nourish you. Nothing artificial, ever. We’re here to positively impact the way food is made, because we believe good health enables greater, passion-filled lives. Clean, nutritious foods, for a greater life. It’s that simple.*

Once you know who you are, the purpose you serve, and the future you hope to build, your brand foundation can be brought to life. Only then will you resonate with consumers who are compelled by your truth and your passion. They will be your biggest advocates, and they will bring along others who believe in your mission. This doesn’t work by simply finding the values that are most important to consumers and appealing to those. It works by being personal, simple and true to who you are as a company and as a product.

*Read more of Katlin’s story at

Amy Jude Uhl is Director of Growth for Deskey. She is the client partner who just “gets it.” Beneficiaries of her insight include Merial, John Freida, ProAmpac, Southern Company, Tucson Electric Power, Comcast, AT&T, Disney Studios, HBO, Belcan, Nitto Denko and Kentucky Purchasing Co-op.

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