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Natural Foods Merchandiser

Expo East: Attendance Down, Attitudes Up

Show attendance down, but retail seminar and higher buyer-exhibitor ratios

“Expo East was down in attendance; there’s no secret about that,” says Erica Stone, Natural Products Expo East show manager. Total attendees totaled just over 21,000—still a whole lot of people, but down significantly from the 26,000 who attended last year.

The biggest declines in attendance were among exhibitors, which brought less staff to man each booth, though 1500 exhibitors still made the trip. “The highlight was that the ratio of buyers to exhibiting companies was much higher than past years, approximately twelve to one,” Stone says. “and the quality of the buyers was higher too.”

In many cases, independent retailers sent only their top people, the ones trusted to make major purchasing decisions. “Expo West can be a circus, but at East the general consensus was that it was easier to have targeted conversations,” Stone says.

Though the show floor may have been quieter—not necessarily a bad thing—attendance at retailer education and other events was unexpectedly high. “Registrations to events suddenly took off the week before Expo opened. “We experienced packed houses for most of the education events, which was a pleasant surprise,” Stone says.

The retailer education events offered hands-on, practical advice on a wide range of subjects. At their best—for instance, Chris Kilham’s impassioned defense of traditional herbal wisdom and excoriation of big pharma—the education events were not just informative, but inspiring.

Given the tenuous economic climate, attendance for East was impressive, with total numbers bolstered by a variety of Expo-sponsored programs to entice attendees. For example, attendees who came via public transportation were reimbursed for travel expenses, and those lucky enough to qualify for the hosted buyer program had airfare and hotel covered.

Out on the show floor—the true measure of a trade show’s success—there were plenty of smaller companies, including first-time exhibitors, ready to add their wares to a still-burgeoning industry.

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