Veteran showgoers share their best suggestions to help fellow retailers maximize their time in Anaheim. Find out what they have to say.

Melaina Juntti

March 4, 2024

6 Min Read
Natural Products Expo West features education sessions and buying opportunities for retailers.

As any retailer who has attended Natural Products Expo West can attest, this show is big—and it’s only gotten bigger in recent years. As the industry’s premier trade show, Expo West is also incredibly busy, booming with energy and bubbling with excitement. It can be lot for anyone to take in, let alone a retailer attending for the first time—or for the first time in a long time.

“We’ve been going to Expo West for over 25 years and have watched it grow and expand in so many ways,” says Shannon Hoffmann, co-owner and president of Wichita, Kansas-based GreenAcres Market. “Even for a seasoned attendee, it can be overwhelming. It’s so easy to get lost wandering the aisles looking at great products.”

Expo West also seems to go by in a flash. With countless innovations to discover, vendors to meet, deals to strike, education sessions to absorb and cohorts to see over just a few days, it can be challenging for attendees to pack it all in.     

To help retailers optimize their time at Expo West and have the best show possible, show veterans offer these words of wisdom. 

1. Account for travel time

Expo West can get quite congested, both inside and around the Anaheim Convention Center. This is especially the case in the morning when the exhibits open, and near the close of the day. Plan accordingly.

Related:Selling natural and organic: Education sessions for retailers

“Give yourself plenty of travel time from your hotel to the convention center if you are trying to make a seminar or a meeting,” Hoffmann says.

2. Stay hydrated

Hydration is key to fueling long days on your feet and constant conversation.

“With so many vendors to visit, it’s easy to forget to drink water,” says Lea Quale, marketing and membership engagement director at La Montañita Food Co-op in Albuquerque, Gallup and Santa Fe, New Mexico. “We like to bring a water bottle to refill at water fountains, or take advantage of the vendors handing out water.”

3. Forage the full convention center

Don’t bypass any of the showcase areas, suggests Bryan Reed, senior director of grocery and wellness at Mother’s Market and Kitchen, which operates 12 stores in and around Los Angeles. 

“The North Halls, Arena and upstairs areas of the convention center, as well as the Fresh Ideas Organic Marketplace, offer exciting product opportunities that are new or early to market,” Reed says. “These are often the areas where you’ll find items that other retailers don’t and that can differentiate you from your competitors.”

Besides, he adds, many of the major brands that dominate the main hall are the probably the same ones that you’ll visit with a broker at some point.

Related:8 ways retailers can prep for Expo West

“Use your walking time wisely, and be a forager for unique and emerging items, brands and segments,” Reed says. “If I am short on time and have to prioritize, I will give up some time on the main floor before I’ll give up time walking every area that provides opportunity to see new, emerging and unique products.”  

4. Take notes

“It’s a big show, and you’ll forget who you spoke to about that great product you tried,” Reed says. “Take a notepad, organize your categories and note products within those specific categories. This will help you organize your impressions and, later, your post-show attack plan.”

5. Snap photos

Smartphones can be workhorses at Expo West, allowing retailers to snap photos of products, sales sheets, ingredients lists and even business cards to reference later.

Taking pictures is also a great way to avoid toting around tons of paper, says Cheryl Hughes, owner of The Whole Wheatery in Lancaster, California. She suggests keeping a charger on hand to prevent your phone from dying.  

6. Don’t waste

Most vendors will eagerly offer samples, but it’s perfectly OK to decline, especially if it’s a food or drink you wouldn’t enjoy or any product that your store wouldn’t carry. 

“Take only what you will really use, eat or share from booths—don’t be wasteful,” Hughes says.    

7. Don’t sabotage your stomach with samples

Even when taking only the food and beverage samples that you’ll consume right away, a retailer can easily, inadvertently fill up on them. That is never ideal.

“Try not to sample your way through the show, or you’ll be miserable by the end of day,” Hoffmann says. “Make sure you eat a real meal.”

Jamie Nessel, director of product and purchasing at Bi-Rite Family of Businesses in San Francisco, agrees—and offers up a smart strategy for sample-taking: “To spare your belly, pick a specific group of products to focus on each half-day, and stick to tasting only those. Chips on Wednesday afternoon, chocolate on Thursday morning, jerky and meat snacks on Thursday afternoon, etc.”

8. Use booth visits strategically

Retailers typically have umpteen booths to visit in a relatively short timeframe, so it’s wise to optimize your encounters with key venders. 

“When you find a product you’re interested in onboarding, use your time at the booth to ask the brand team about money—placement offers, promotional and demo support, EDLPs,” Nessel says. “Many folks come to Expo ready to deal, so make sure you capitalize on those opportunities.”

9. Learn, learn, learn

Expo West is teeming with educational opportunities. “Go to panels and events where there is relevant and new information to learn,” says Christie Z. Pettys, food product standards manager at Natural Grocers.  

Also take advantage of talks or lectures given by vendors, Quale advises. “You may find some interesting information on the brands you plan to sell and [it may] help you boost sales by having that backstory.”

10. Network everywhere

Expo West provides unparalleled opportunities to network with other members of the natural products industry, including fellow retailers, brand owners, brokers, distributors, thought leaders and influencers. Quale suggests taking advantage of the many meetups and social events held before, during and after show hours to further your existing connections and make new ones.

11. Take breaks and get rest

Given all there is for retailers to see, do and experience at Expo West, it can be challenging to find downtime. But Pettys stresses the importance of taking periodic breaks throughout each day to rest the body and brain.   

And if partaking in evening activities, don’t stay out too late and sacrifice restorative sleep. Keep in mind that Expo is a multiday event, says Quale, and you want to stay fresh throughout.

12. Devise a follow-up plan 

“You saw a lot of great products, and you’re excited, but having a post-show attack plan is key to maximizing the show’s impact on your business,” Reed says. “Meet with your team post-show, compare notes, compare impressions and have an action plan.”

From these downloading sessions, Reed adds, retailers can determine which products from the show fit within their short-, mid- and long-term plans. “Knowing what products are must-haves now and what products should be filed away for the next category review will help make Expo West sustainably impactful to your business throughout the remainder of the year.”

About the Author(s)

Melaina Juntti

Melaina Juntti is a longtime freelance journalist, copy editor and marketing professional. With nearly two decades of experience in the natural products industry, she is a frequent contributor to Nutrition Business Journal, Natural Foods Merchandiser and Melaina is based in Madison, Wisconsin, and is passionate about hiking, camping, fishing and live music. 

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