Roy Bouskila, from Soft Gel Technologies, remembers the massive tree on Katella Avenue, just before reaching the Anaheim Convention Center. Its humongous smooth trunk, its sprawling branches that could be easily scampered up. Post-show klatches have been held sitting in those branches. A signature tree if ever there was one.
“A beautiful tree on the corner near the arena with massive branches,” said Bouskila. “I love—and miss—seeing it every year. We don’t get trees like that in Israel.”
Is it a banyan tree? A fig tree? Nobody seems to know the genus or species, but many an Expo conventioneer can tell stories of going or coming into the Expo West fairgrounds and pausing with friends and colleagues to admire that stately tree.
And those are memories before getting into the show. Before grabbing and gabbing with new or old friends. Before grazing the show floor of a thousand delicious, gluten-free, organic, non-GMO, fair trade, vegan samples.
Maybe that’s part of Natural Products Expo West’s charm—for much of the country, coming as it does at the start of March, it heralds a break from a long cold winter, a getaway from cabin fever, a hint at the luscious springtime that’s upon the land.
“I miss leaving the Chicago winter and sitting in the sun outside the convention center,” said Suzanne Shelton, principal at The Shelton Group, which has been conducting public relations and marketing for supplements companies for decades. “I miss seeing friends and colleagues, because no matter how insanely busy my schedule at the show is, reconnecting with people I’ve known for years just feels fantastic.”
Ahh, the people. There seems to be a common theme in the natural products industry. Is it the hippie earnestness of people who want to change the world—and what better way than in providing healthier, yummier foodstuffs for the masses? Engaging the global supply chain to make sure the riches are shared equitably? Expo West just exudes this peaceful, easy feeling. There always seems to be a certain sort of kismet abounding at Expo, as if it’s a Grateful Dead concert but the music arises from each individuals’ hearts.
“Each time I’m at a show I get this all-over happy feeling because of the combination of passion, compassion and kindness that is our industry,” is how it’s described by Risa Schulman, Ph.D., president of Tap-Root, a consultancy that specializes in applying science to successful product launches. “I really, really miss seeing everyone and just being in the vibe of the ecosystem.”
Gretchen Daugherty also speaks the word “vibe.” As if it’s a palpable thing. Which, let’s face it, we all know it is.
Daugherty, an account manager at UNFI, speaks of “the incredible vibe of meeting with new brands and connecting face to face with brands that have launched. Glad there will be a virtual Expo West this year and hope to see you in Philly!”
A perfect pitch right there—Natural Products Expo West will come to life in the lives we’ve grown up with in the last year. That is, screen life.
You’re on your own, however, to replace the libations from the Hilton or Marriott lobby bars. But wherever in the world you are by late May, it’s finally as warm as Southern California in early March. Maybe not with palm trees. Maybe not with the beach nearby.
But close enough, I’ll wager, that your mind will drift back. To a meeting, a chance meeting …
“Arriving,” said Sunni Herbruck, an account exec who has drifted out of the natural products industry but still keeps in touch with those of us still swimming in the pool, “Marriott on the right—or is it left? Hilton on the left—or is it right? Day two or three, the Expo and New Hope banners go up, more people arrive, along with excitement. Conferences start, friends and colleagues arrive. I love and miss it! Show floor opens, what a rush!”
Good times. Triple-bottom-line business. Networking—just a fancy word for hanging out and loving our friends.
Can we call people we work with friends though?
“My husband always comments that I talk about seeing all my friends,” said Schulman. “In his business, they aren’t friends.”
So it’s true. We really do change the world. One friend. One heart. One soul at a time. Along with a macrobiotic exotic superfruit berry while discussing something wildly esoteric. With friends.