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Natural Products Expo

Advice for Expo West freshmen from 5 sophomores

These natural food entrepreneurs were in your shoes a year ago. Here, they offer advice for your first year at the big show.

Natural Products Expo West is just a few weeks away, and if you haven’t been before, you might be wondering if you are ready for it.

You probably are, but you probably aren’t. We talked to five entrepreneurs who made their first trip to Expo West in 2018 to find out how they prepared, what they did at the show and what they are doing differently as they gear up for this year’s trip to Anaheim, California:

Responses have been edited for length and clarity.

Why did you decide to go to Expo West 2018?

Spirov: I was working with a business coach, and we decided I needed to get out of my hole in Houston, Texas, and meet people in the industry.

Bernstein: I visited a show before I decided to exhibit. Being there is a necessary step to take us to the next level. I wanted to have a live iguana at our booth to attract attention, but that wasn’t allowed. We used plush iguanas instead.

Carone: In October 2017, we won the pitch-slam contest at Naturally Boulder and the prize included a free booth at Expo West. We couldn’t have afforded it otherwise. We had a good time and decided immediately to return in 2019.

Linde: I attended a couple of times, and it’s a good place to meet buyers and investors. There’s no bigger show for natural products; it’s the who’s who of the industry.

How did you staff your booth and will staffing be different this year?

Mavridis: Make sure you are well-staffed. We will have three brand ambassadors, rotating so two are in the booth at a time—one cooking and one serving samples. I am also bringing my social media coordinator. I want to be free to talk and make sales. I want to be there the whole time because I am the brand.

Bernstein: You should always have two or three people working your booth if you can afford it. In a 10 feet by 10 feet booth, it’s crowded, but it works. You never know when the perfect person will come along that you need to speak with.

Carone: We will have more people at our booth, including our director of marketing and my cofounder. Last year, there were only three of us. Now, we’ll be able to experience more of the show and see the new products and trends. We’ll also have ore quality time with the buyers who come by.

Linde: Last year, we had three people, but it’s pretty tight in a 10 feet by 5 feet booth. We have the same size booth this year, but we will have only two people.

Spirov: I’m spending money to have people in the booth who can offer tastings so my sales manager and I can talk to potential buyers. I’m keeping it really simple. The whole show is about the people you meet.

How are you changing your approach to the show?

Linde: We brought a lot of promotional materials we didn’t need. If the buyers want to talk to you, they’ll give you their business cards; they won’t take yours. All the brands bring too much swag, and the looky-loos take whatever they can, especially on the last day of the show.

Mavridis: For the 2018 show, we were lucky to be placed with similar brands. I found out that you could ask for particular placement, so I asked for this year to be with like-minded brands such as those focused on Whole30 and Paleo diets.

Bernstein: I will bring more samples. I want to take good notes as I gather business cards. If you can, take some time to walk the floor and see what other businesses are doing with their booths. There are very creative people and creative booths.

Spirov: Last year, we brought too many full-size samples. I spent a fortune on shipping. None of the buyers took samples. This year, we will offer tastings of our products. We also had too much paper, such as lists, that no one was interested in.

Carone: We brought a whole pallet of samples; this year we are taking half as many. Fortunately, we could donate what we didn’t use. We also arranged our accommodations earlier because last year we were at a short-term rental and had to drive to the show.

What surprised you most about Expo West?

Bernstein: Many people there think everything is a sample. Anything in a customer’s reach can be taken. One of the 12 plush iguanas disappeared the first day. I’m going to believe they don’t think they are stealing.

Carone: We thought the show would be a step up from a farmers market, but it was completely different. We totally didn’t know we’d be so busy. We were pretty overwhelmed.

Linde: No one’s coming there to buy your product. The benefit of the show is to increase awareness of your brand, to meet people and to create relationships.

Mavridis: It is crazily overwhelming. Delegate, so you aren’t trying to do everything yourself. By the end of the third day, my voice was gone.

Spirov: It’s not really an order-taking show. The leads we got were as valuable as the actual business conducted. The industry is pretty small. Don’t look over the people you’re talking to. They may have value beyond getting you a sale. I learned a lot from talking to other salespeople.

What advice do you have for this year’s rookie exhibitors?

Bernstein: Prepare for every contingency, but prepare for the unexpected. You might have to be flexible because things will come up.

Carone: Try to be present and take it all in. It’s going to be stressful. You’ll learn a lot about your team and about the industry.

Spirov: Don’t look over the people you’re talking to. They may have value beyond getting you a sale. I learned a lot from talking to other salespeople.

Linde: Have fun. Wear comfortable shoes.

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