A preview of Expo West events, with advice for covering the show from key natural products retailers.

It’s that time of the year again! Natural Products Expo West, hosted by New Hope Natural Media, is once again coming to the Anaheim Convention Center in Anaheim, CA from Thursday, March 7th to Sunday, March 10th. On Friday and Saturday, the show floor is open from 10:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m., and on Sunday from 10:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. Co-located with several other events (Engredea; Nutracon; Fresh Ideas Organic Marketplace; and Beer, Wine, and Spirits Marketplace), Expo West provides invaluable knowledge for those looking to improve their stores and products.

Retailer to Retailer: Expert Advice
 Natural Products Expo West is the biggest venue of its kind, attracting retailers nationwide to engage with their peers in the natural and organic products industries. It also provides attendees with the opportunity to sample new products and identify trends that will allow them to best serve their customers.

Expo West, however, is not just for newcomers looking to get their start in the industry. Seasoned veterans return year after year to stay on the cutting edge of the market. According to five retailers interviewed for this piece, the biggest draw of Expo West 2013 appears to be non-GMO and gluten-free products. Both have had significant impacts on the industry. Gluten-free diets have increased in popularity over the past few years, leading many retailers to tailor their stock to meet this demand. Meanwhile, makers of non-GMO products seek to help consumers make informed decisions about what is in their food.

Wendy McLain, a health and body care/mercantile merchandiser at PCC Natural Markets, Seattle, WA, is excited to hear PCC’s director of public affairs, Trudy Bialic, speak about GMO labeling at the show. “The GMO issue—and the right of consumers to know what’s in their food—are very important to PCC and our shoppers,” says McLain.

Her sentiments are echoed by fellow PCC employee, grocery merchandiser Scott Owen. When searching for new items to bring to his store, Owen looks for products that are “organic, Non-GMO Verified, raw/unprocessed and fairly traded.”

The enthusiasm for non-GMO products is felt by many in the organic food industry. Mo George-Payette, COO/director of purchasing at Mother’s Market & Kitchen, Costa Mesa, CA, states, “Non-GMO is a hot topic and we support those products that make a conscious effort to use only the best ingredients.”

Though obtaining non-GMO products is certainly important for these retailers, they each have their own priorities when it comes to shopping for their customers. McLain looks for “clean body items that meet our ingredient requirements and are value items. I am also looking for more mercantile items that show value and align with our values.”

Pat Sardell, founder and owner of Country Vitamins, Corvallis, OR, wants “specialty dietary supplement products, particularly up-and-coming condition-specific supplements,” while George-Payette will seek out strong relations with “vendors, spanning across all categories at our seven locations: grocery, perishable, food service, vitamins, body care, hard goods, books, etc.”

The project manager of Health Foods Unlimited, Dayton, OH, Thomas McDonald, has a very specific agenda in mind while walking the show. He says, “We will be looking at line extensions with our current vendors and also anything that would add value for our customers and to our core competency or values.” McDonald shies away from “hype items that can have a short run or questionable research.”

When it comes to navigating the Expo, the interviewees advise fellow retailers to pace themselves. “Know that you most likely will not visit every booth you anticipate seeing,” said Sardell. “It’s too big of a show. But wear comfortable walking shoes!” McLain agrees, adding that spending “a limited amount of time at each booth” is most productive.

George-Payette goes into more detail on how to make the most out of your Expo West visit. She states, “To save time, as it can be overwhelming and easy to get stuck at one booth longer than anticipated, seek out products/companies of interest, swap info and follow up afterwards…also, a must visit section is the ‘basement level-Hall E,’ which offers a great selection and innovative products.”

Sardell goes even further, urging attendees to be organized—starting with the online agenda. She states, “I pick and choose from their exhibitor list, organize it in numerical order and print it out. Once I’m at the show, I number the orders I bring by booth number so that I can be sure to drop off the known orders I have created while home in the store, and then cross them off as I complete that visit.”

Sardell also advises retailers to bring pre-printed address labels and business cards: “This is an incredibly social industry, and you will make lifetime friends and business colleagues who will continue to inspire you and encourage you.”

For McDonald, a good first impression is the key to a successful Expo experience. He says, “Don’t be a bag person…if the item interests you, have samples and buying information sent to the store in your buyer’s name. Don’t eat everything or be too grabby. The impression you make may be an important and lasting one.”

So, there you have it. Pack your best walking shoes, budget your time, and above all, have fun. Natural Products Expo West promises to be four days to remember.

Expo West Conference Sessions (Paid)
This year, Expo West is instituting a new program, one that will allow attendees to access a number of exhibits including the general education sessions, the keynote speaker and Engredea education, for $95. All the sessions will be held at the Anaheim Marriott.

March 7. The only session on Day One, “Nanotechnology in Organic Products & Packaging,” covers one of the hottest issues in organic: Is nanotechnology a threat to the industry? It will be held 1:30–2:45 p.m. in Ballroom 6.

March 8. Things pick up steam around lunchtime (11:30–12:45 p.m.) on March 8th in Ballroom 6 with featured speaker and author of The Engine 2 Diet, Rip Esselstyn. Next up, “Managing Your HABA Department,” will educate retailers in Ballroom 9 (1:30–2:45 p.m.) on which health and beauty products they should carry in their stores. At the same time in Ballroom 8, speakers in “Our Voice, Our Values: Millennials Speak Out on the Future of Wellness” will discuss younger consumers’ influence over the purchase of natural and organic products.

Those looking for the latest news about GM foods should head over to Ballroom 6 (2:00–3:15 p.m.) to hear a speaker from the Non-GMO Project cover “Managing the Non-GMO Message: Updates and Trends for the Natural Products Industry.”

The filmmakers of Dive!, a documentary about—you guessed it—dumpster diving, will lead a discussion, “Reducing Food Waste in Your Store” from 3:30 to 4:45 p.m. in Ballroom 8. The last two sessions of the day, “Retail Dietitians: How Supermarkets are Marketing Wellness” (3:30–4:45 p.m.) and “Social Media Metric: The Retailer’s Guide to the Galaxy” (4:00–5:15 p.m.) will be held in Ballrooms 9 and 6, respectively.

March 9. Tracie McMillian, best-selling author of The American Way of Eating, will deliver the keynote address in Ballroom 6 from 9:30 to 10:45 a.m. “State of the Industry,” an imperative discussion for retailers, marketers and suppliers, follows McMillian’s address from 11:00 a.m. to 12:15 p.m. in Ballroom 8.

Gluten-free diets are increasing in popularity, making the “Gluten-Free and Cross-Contamination” seminar a must for retailers. It will run from 11:30 a.m. to 12:45 p.m. in Ballroom 9.

Looking to get inspired? Well, “Your Creative Leap!” will give attendees the motivation to reach their goals in Ballroom 8 from 1:00 to 2:15 p.m. “The ‘Dr. Oz Effect’: How to (Legally) Profit from Dr. Oz’s Recommendations” will guide retailers on which Oz products sell better than others in Ballroom 9 from 1:30 to 2:45 p.m. The last sessions of the day are “Understanding & Utilizing the Wisdom of DSHEA with Customers in the Retail World,” (3:00-4:15 p.m. in Ballroom 8) and “Which Half of My Advertising is Working?: Invaluable Tips for Using Coupons, Co-Op and Cleverness to Create Measurable Marketing” (3:30-4:30 p.m. in Ballroom 9).

March 10. The only session on the final day of Expo West is “Retailer Town Hall: Defining ‘Natural’ Together,” an interactive discussion with attendees taking place in Grand Ballroom E, 9:00–10:15 a.m.

Expo West Exhibitor Sessions (Free)
Attend Expo West’s Exhibitor-Sponsored Sessions absolutely free!

March 7. First up is a session (8:30–9:30 a.m., Ballroom 1) about “GMO Labeling: Current State & National Efforts.” Then from 10:30 to 11:30 a.m., the Sustainable Food Trade Association will host the seminar, “Supply Chain Code of Conduct for the Organic Food Industry,” in Ballroom 1.

Smartphones have taken over the way we live, socialize, and now, according to session host Living Naturally, purchase organic food. The seminar “Get Smart: How Smartphones and Mobile Apps are Transforming Retail” will explain the phenomenon from 12:30 to 1:30 p.m. in Ballroom 1. In the same venue, “What Retailers and Manufacturers Need to Know about Organic Products,” hosted by OMRI (2:30–3:30 p.m.) ends the Exhibitor Sessions for the day.

March 8. Friday kicks off with “What’s Next? New Chapter Founders & CEO Share the Whole Truth,” from 11:30 a.m. to 1:00 p.m. in Ballroom 5. Next, in Ballroom 1 from 1:00 to 3:30 p.m., sit in on “From Financing to Exit: Successful Strategies for Connecting with Investors,” hosted by Nutrition Capital Network. Around the same time, from 1:00 to 2:00 p.m., “How ‘Natural’ is Natural? Exploring USDA’s Biobased Certification,” hosted by Seventh Generation, will be held in Ballroom 3.

A marketing and strategy professor will head a discussion in Ballroom 5 on how to use modern marketing tools and techniques to strengthen sales and visibility in, “Independent Retail Marketing-Best Practices and Fresh Ideas,” from 2:00 to 3:30 p.m.

March 9. Fungi Perfecti hosts the first Exhibitor Session of the day, “Immunity for Life: Mushrooms for Healthy People and Planet,” from 10:30 a.m. to 12:00 p.m. in Ballroom 6.

Are you doing something wrong in your store? You won’t find out unless you attend the Delicious Living-hosted exhibit, “Why Are You Still Doing That?” in Ballroom 1 from 10:30 to 11:30 a.m.

The thinkThin panel: “Finding Weight Wellness Through Emotional and Physical Wellbeing” runs from 12:00 to 1:00 p.m. in Ballroom 3. Across the way in Ballroom 1, AHPA will host “Botanical Safety Myths and Misconceptions” from 12:30 to 1:30 p.m.

From 1:00 to 2:30 p.m., the Nordic Naturals-hosted session, “Growing Need, Growing Supply: Setting the Standards for Sustainability” will run from 1:00 to 2:30 p.m. The Expo West fun ends with the final Exhibitor Sessions “Enhancing Brain Function with Nutrients,” hosted by Doctor’s Best from 2:00 to 3:00 p.m. in Ballroom 3 and “Groundbreaking Technology for Enhanced Digestion, Assimilation and Energy,” hosted by Enzymedica from 3:30 to 5:30 p.m. in Ballroom 5.

Special Tracks (Paid)
For an additional fee, attendees can experience the Expo West Business Program Sessions. They all take place on March 7, starting with The Specialty Diets Forum, in which keynote speaker Robyn O’Brien will provide retailers with knowledge on how to best serve their gluten-free, vegan and allergy category shoppers.

The “Early Entrepreneur Track” is designed to assist those seeking to create a brand or product in the natural, organic and health product industry for the first time.

Department of Commerce experts will be holding court to help established companies expand their brand overseas with the “Export Track.”

Mother knows best in Expo West’s newest Business Program, “Marketing to Mom’s Track,” which will focus on the expertise of mothers and how their reviews can influence your brand.

Special Events
There will be many special events held at Expo West, but none more meaningful than the Vitamin Angels-hosted League of Angels. Vitamin Angels aims to reduce global child mortality by providing infants and children with the essential nutrients they need to fight off diseases and maintain good health throughout the rest of their lives. League of Angels will bring awareness to the organization’s mission Thursday night, March 7, 6:00–8:30 p.m. at the Angel Stadium of Anaheim. Mingle with colleagues while enjoying cocktails/appetizers, a DJ, batting cages, a Twitter wall, mini putt and more.  General admission is $100 in advance.

Other events include:
March 7: Retail Store Tour (extra fee), 8:00 a.m.–2:00 p.m.
March 7: The AHPA Herb Walk (extra fee), 1:00–5:00 p.m., Fullerton Arboretum.
March 8: Better Breakfast, 7:30–10:00 a.m., Marriott Marquis Ballroom
March 8: Women in Naturals Networking Event, sponsored by Reserveage Organics, 5:30–7:00 p.m., Anaheim Hilton, Fifth Level Sunset Deck.
March 8: Evening on the Plaza: Manitoba Harvest’s 15th Anniversary Party, 6:00–8:00 p.m.
March 9: Early Morning Yoga, 7:00–8:30 a.m. at the Anaheim Hilton Avalon Ballroom
March 9: Evening on the Plaza: Organic Valley’s 25th Anniversary Party, 6:00–8:00 p.m. WF

Published in WholeFoods Magazine, March 2013