Natural Foods Merchandiser

Expo West celebrates 25 years of community

Twenty-five years ago, Doug Greene had a vision. As the publisher and editor of the 2-year-old Natural Foods Merchandiser, Greene traveled around the country, meeting natural products retailers who shared business strategies, struggles, successes.

"I knew all these amazing retailers, but they didn't know each other," says Greene, who is now an industry consultant. "I thought, 'Wouldn't it be wonderful to bring all these folks together in one place?'"

So in 1981, Greene created Natural Foods Expo to connect retailers with each other as well as the natural health community and manufacturers.

More than 3,500 industry members, including 1,200 retailers, attended the first Expo from March 29 through 31 in Anaheim, Calif., at the Anaheim Convention Center—not the current location but the older, spaceshiplike building shown at right. About 300 manufacturers exhibited, and 18 workshops and roundtable discussions featured innovative retailers of the time as well as business experts from outside the industry. Some of the seminars included "Business Survival in the '80s: the Changing Marketplace" and "The Role of Nutritional Counseling in a Modern Operation." "To Catch a Thief," one of the most popular seminars, featured retired con artist Frank Abagnale, whose life story was told by Steven Spielberg in the 2002 movie Catch Me If You Can.

The first show also featured store tours, an Expo tradition to this day. Retailers visited Mrs. Gooch's in Los Angeles, Down to Earth in Sherman Oaks, Calif., and Follow Your Heart in Canoga Park, Calif., which appears as NFM's Store of the Month.

Since March 1981, the natural products community has been connecting every year at Expo West, watching both the industry and the trade show grow. More than 38,000 industry members are expected to attend Natural Products Expo West 2006, to take in more than 1,700 exhibitors and 71 educational seminars.

To celebrate Expo West's 25th anniversary, the industry will gather at the annual Saturday night dance party, the Ethnic Groove Celebration, at the Anaheim Marriott Ballroom at 9 p.m. In the 25th Anniversary Lounge, clips of the new documentary Natural American, which features natural products industry entrepreneurs, will be shown.

Natural Foods Merchandiser volume XXVII/number 3/p. 34

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