One week prior to Natural Products Expo East 2011, Susan Leone, founder of New York–based healthy snack manufacturer Fruit Bliss, received her first production run of fruit bars. Some might think that's cutting it close for a trade show, but Leone has already been hard at work on Fruit Bliss since January 2011 when she founded the company with her husband, Isak Bengiyat. With her website, social media accounts, signage—and now product—ready, all that remained was a trip from Brooklyn to Baltimore.
As a first-time exhibitor, and a new company without distribution, Fruit Bliss joined nearly 1,500 booths on the show floor of Natural Products Expo East with one clear goal: to grow awareness of its product and name. How did the company do? Leone shares her tips for first-time exhibitors in a Q&A with NewHope360.
NewHope360: How did you decide to exhibit at Expo East?
Susan Leone: My partner, who is also my husband, has a packaging company that has worked in the natural products industry. He had attended Expo West a couple of years ago and Expo East last year. He knew of the show, and now that we are involved in Fruit Bliss, we decided it was the best way to try to get our product to the market and just get our name out there to retailers and distributors.
For us, as a first-time exhibitor, we were basically trying to get everything together: the product, our website, our fliers with all the product information, the furniture ordering, right down to the plates and the toothpicks. It's a lot to prepare.
NewHope360: You are so new that you aren't yet distributed. Would you recommend that for other first-time exhibitors?
SL: Most definitely. We met with a lot of retailers and distributors and people who were interested on both sides. Brokers as well. We had a sign out in our booth that read "Brokers/Distributors Welcome." We want to start small within our community and move out from there, but I feel like we really need to be working with distributors in order to do that.
NewHope360: What goals did you set to achieve at the show?
SL: Our goals were, first of all, to get our name out there. We have a Facebook page, are on Twitter and have a website, but unless people know the name "Fruit Bliss," nobody's going to be looking for it. [Expo] was our way to get our name out there to the natural products industry. There are a range of companies that exhibit there that are well known and have high volume of sales. There are also smaller companies there that I had never heard of. I felt like it was a good place for us to be.
NewHope360: How did you mentally prepare to pitch your product to every person who walked by?
SL: Maybe because it was the first time for us, we were very excited to tell people about our product. Fortunately, we received a really good reception. Everyone was super positive about the products. That kept our energy levels up after the first day. [Fruit Bliss] is something we personally really believe in, and what we're offering is something different. There are a lot of bars out there, but our bar is all fruit and nut based with no preservatives, no sugar and nothing artificial. It's based on dried mulberry, which is something that's not that common in the U.S. market. Dried mulberry is full of vitamin C, high in antioxidants and imparts the sweetness but doesn't overtake the rest of the flavors of the fruit combined with it.
We also have soft and moist dried fruits. A lot of dried fruit is tough and difficult to eat. Even my 2-year-old daughter likes these fruits because they're soft. Coming soon will be the chocolate-covered fruits, which everybody loved [at Expo] but we're still working on production right now.
NewHope360: How did you stay healthy during the show?
SL: Unfortunately, I was just coming off an illness and ended up losing my voice the first day. I did go to the supplements side to find some really good cough drops or lozenges. Those were helpful, but by the end of the day I was croaking out words— it was horrible!
Besides that, the Fage yogurt booth was right near us, and they definitely provided us with a midmorning snack. I drank a lot of water, and I have to admit I had a couple of cups of coffee throughout the day. At least once during each day I went around to the booths to sample, but I didn't actually have a real meal until evening. And of course I ate our fruit bars and chocolate-covered fruits!
NewHope360: What's the one thing you wish someone had told you before exhibiting at Natural Products Expo?
SL: Maybe the pace in regard to the amount of people who come through the show. It seemed like the mornings were always super busy. We were constantly cutting up the fruit bars and putting out fruit. At times it felt a little overwhelming. Next time we might have an extra person in our booth to make it easier to speak with people and have everything prepared.
NewHope360: Why do you think it's essential to exhibit at a trade show?
SL: Even though Expo East took place in Baltimore, people came from around the country. So it was definitely a good way to connect with small retailers, larger retailers, distributors and brokers and to get our name out there. If we had not done Expo East, I feel like it would be so much more difficult to start to establish a name for ourselves. Having people being able to taste the product is also really essential. You can only get so far with pretty graphics and a nice logo.
NewHope360: What's next for Fruit Bliss? What came out of the show?
SL: We received orders from small retailers that we're starting to fill, and we are setting up meetings with some distributors and brokers. We're pursuing things by starting local in the Northeast.