By planning ahead and taking measures now, retailers can make their trade show experience more efficient and fruitful.

Melaina Juntti

February 20, 2024

5 Min Read
Expo West 2024 Anaheim
Expo West 2024 AnaheimBryan Beasley Photography

Natural Products Expo West will be here before we know it, and it’s not too early for retailers to start planning. After all, with several thousand vendors spread across nearly 500,000 square feet of exhibit space, they’ll have a whole lot of ground to cover.

“This is the largest natural food show in the industry, and it provides opportunity to see more products than will presented at any other trade show in the industry,” says Bryan Reed, senior director of grocery and wellness at Mother’s Market and Kitchen, which operates 12 stores in and around Los Angeles.

“It is also a madhouse,” Reed adds. “Therefore, time—and particularly quality time with vendors—is a challenge.”

According to retailers who’ve attended Expo West, the key to optimizing your time at the trade show is planning ahead. Here are eight steps retailers can take in advance of the show to make the experience smooth, enriching and ultimately productive.

1. Assemble an Expo West team

If it’s feasible for your store to send more than one person to Anaheim, then do it. Two team members can tackle the trade show more effectively than one—and if you can send three, four or five people, even better.   

With multiple store representatives onsite, retailers can “divide up the floor to provide maximum coverage,” says Cheryl Hughes, owner of The Whole Wheatery in Lancaster, California, who has been attending Expo West since the early 1980s.

Colleagues can also discuss discoveries with one another and offer second (and third) opinions on products the store may want to onboard. Plus, at the very least, experiencing Expo West together is great for team-building and bonding.

2. Set goals

No matter if you’ll be attending solo or with colleagues, take time to thoroughly contemplate your objectives for Expo.

“Understanding what you are trying to accomplish at the show will ensure a successful show,” Reed says. “How many days do you have at the show? Where are you in your category review calendar? Are you focused on key categories? Do you want to stay open to all categories of products?”

Determining your goals and planning accordingly, Reed adds, “will help you and your team utilize your time efficiently while at the show.”

3. Make a shopping list

Retailer say it’s helpful to make a “shopping list” long before setting foot on the show floor. The list can include key categories you’re looking to fill, new product types you’d like to see and even the vendors you want to make sure to visit.

“There are so many vendors, many who are not applicable to your business,” says Lea Quale, marketing and membership engagement director at La Montañita Food Co-op in Albuquerque, Gallup and Santa Fe, New Mexico. “Gameplan ahead of your trip with your team to hit up the vendors you know you want to see, and save the ancillary till the end.”

4. Schedule meetings with vendors

Setting up specific times to connect with vendors at the show can behoove both parties.

“We learned early on the importance of setting meetings with key vendors so we could manage our time and theirs,” says Shannon Hoffmann, co-owner and president of Wichita, Kansas-based GreenAcres Market. “Ask your broker for your region’s vendor contact and have them help you set an appointment, or reach out [to vendors] directly. Confirm before you go, and be there on time.”

5. Set up broker walks

Hoffmann also suggests prearranging time to walk the floor with brokers, as they can help you navigate the show and connect you with interesting exhibitors not already on your radar.

Christie Z. Pettys, food product standards manager at Natural Grocers, recommends this approach too. “When [we] have been looking for specific meat and cheese, we’ve walked the floor with someone who set up four or five 10-minute meetings for us and then took us around for one hour and made the introductions,” she says. “We got to see vendors in a very timely fashion.”

6. Map out your route

“Really look at the layout of the Anaheim Convention Center and plan a route for walking around it each day because it’s so big and easy to miss a vendor you need to go by,” Pettys says. “It can easily take 20 minutes or more to walk somewhere, and you don’t need to waste time doubling back three times and lose an hour.”

Looking at booth maps in advance and mapping out a route will also help you stick to your objectives, notes Jamie Nessel, director of product and purchasing at Bi-Rite Family of Businesses in San Francisco. “With all the distractions on the floor, it’s easy to get thrown off track or to miss the vendors you’re specifically seeking out,” she says.

7. Make dinner reservations

Restaurants around the Anaheim Convention Center and even farther afield fill up quickly, says Hoffmann, so make a few reservations in advance of your trip. For excellent suggestions, check out New Hope’s curated list of diverse cuisine offered by top-notch Orange County restaurants, all within a roughly 30-minute drive of the venue. 

8. Test-drive comfortable shoes

Ask anyone who has attended Expo West: Comfortable shoes are an absolute must. “There are miles of vendors, and you easily get thousands of steps daily,” Quale says. “Keep your head in the game by keeping your feet happy with cushion-y soles and good arch supports.”

To ensure that the shoes you think will be comfy can actually support eight or more hours on your feet, give them a good test-drive in advance of the show. The last thing you want is to find out on day one that your shoes are too worn out or less supportive than you’d assumed.  

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 NewHope.com. Melaina is based in Madison, Wisconsin, and is passionate about hiking, camping, fishing and live music. 

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