“Expo West is the Super Bowl of the natural food industry, and we have been preparing for it and investing in it since last summer,” said Jordann Windschauer, founder and chief executive officer of Base Culture, a Clearwater, Fla., baker of gluten-free foods. “Once all of the major retailers canceled, it no longer was a good place for us to spend more time or money. That, paired with the potential health risk, it just was no longer worth it for our lean team.” (Food Business News, “The Expo West that Wasn’t,” by Monica Watrous)
On March 2, 2020, the Natural Products Expo West trade show that was to kick off on the following day was cancelled. The event was expected to draw more than 85,000 attendees and 3,600 exhibitors. For many established food and beverage companies, this tradeshow was to be their opportunity to showcase new products. For new food companies, this year’s expo was to be their big opportunity to invest a good portion of their marketing budget to wow buyers with their life’s creation and to generate valuable contacts.
In a now familiar story replayed over and over globally, concerns related to COVID-19 and subsequent travel restrictions created an intense challenge: participants who looked forward to attending were instead grappling with the heartbreak of major retail companies pulling out.
The pain of this cancellation was more readily able to be absorbed by larger companies. But the brands who were smaller or emerging market entrants were facing a decision that was not as easy to make. Do they prioritize public health concerns or the loss of significant investment dollars?
The answer in hindsight is obvious, of course. And the eventual cancellation took the indecision out of the equation. It also forced exhibitors to pivot and create new ways to compensate for the big loss and disappointment. And the industry came together to support one another: offering services or discounts to those companies hit hardest, retail buyers stepped up to create opportunities for pitches and meetings to make up for the loss of face time at the Expo.
And that loss is real.
“…New Hope Network, the Boulder, Colo.-based organizer of Expo West, said it expected a 40 to 60 percent decrease in attendance but still planned to proceed with the show, based on guidance from health officials. A little over a week later, New Hope said it would not reschedule Expo West and would shift its focus and resources towards Natural Products Expo East, scheduled for Sept. 23-26 in Philadelphia. The organizer also said it planned to work with exhibitors and attendees on future credits and support, setting up a $5-million rebate fund to assist small businesses ‘who are the heartbeat of this community.’” (Food Business News, “The Expo West that Wasn’t,” by Monica Watrous)
Food and beverage companies have always been resilient and innovative to not only producing new products but to be as nimble as possible with new marketing strategies. While it was terribly disappointing that Expo West was cancelled, there is no doubt that many of these companies will come out stronger as a result of being able to quickly shift gears in the face of adversity.
We encourage you to reach out to our COVID-19 Resource Team if you have any questions specific to your organization.