For Debra Stark, owner of Debra’s Natural Gourmet, Natural Products Expo is, and always will be, about community. At Natural Products Expo East 2021 in Philadelphia buyers and brands will convene to share not only new launches and innovations, but also stories of survival and resilience. It’s an unwavering empathy and a passion for those companies that “nourish and sustain us” that motivate Stark as she returns to another expo.
Below, Stark shares what she’ll be looking for on the show floor and the “proud mama” feeling she gets when members of her staff attend expos for the first time, becoming part of this industry’s ever-evolving narrative.
What are you most looking forward to about a return to in-person events?
Debra Stark: There’s nothing like being at Natural Products Expo East or West and being able to catch up with old friends. Friends in the industry, New Hope Network friends, fellow retailers that we’ve gotten to know over the years and whom we count on. Shows have always been a place for lots of hugs. I don’t know about you, but I’ve yet to be able to give anyone a hug on Zoom!
As always at shows, for me it’s about the stories; this year the stories will be about survival. About the community of companies and stores and our customers and how we all helped one another get through challenging times. Philadelphia is known as the city of brotherly love, something we can all use more of.
What makes you notice a brand at Natural Products Expos?
DS: We notice brands with clear, concise messaging. We notice brands that care about ingredients and are working hard to make our planet safer and more habitable. We notice brands that want to nourish and sustain us.
Certainly, if you’re a new company at Natural Products Expo East and we ask how we can buy your product, don’t tell us we can buy it at Whole Foods (no disrespect to Whole Foods!). Understand the difference between distribution, wholesale and retail. Have a simple, compelling elevator pitch. Be able to catch our attention in 30 seconds.
How has your approach to tradeshows changed over the years?
DS: My anticipation each year and my excitement are the same. I’m always excited. I always look for new little companies who are doing something that makes me say “wow!”
When I go to the shows, I have great fun bringing staff who have never been before. It’s such a hoot watching their eyes widen when they first take in the show floor. I love seeing how jazzed they become, and I go home like a proud mama after watching them learn and interact with all kinds of folks.