Expo West Exposés: What Went Wrong?

Abigail R. Harris
March 3rd 2020

by Abigail R. Harris – Executive Director, Provender Alliance

As you have probably heard by now, New Hope officially postponed Expo West less than 24 hours before the scheduled starting time of workshops and seminars. As of noon on Monday, New Hope was still updating its website with the message that the show would go on, even while estimating that 40-60% of attendees were canceling. 

On March 1, two major and very public “call-outs” occurred on LinkedIn, exposés of sort by two dissatisfied exhibitors.

One was written by Daniel Lubetzky, founder & executive chairman at KIND Bars, titled “We Need to Talk: Why KIND won’t be at Expo West, and why the Natural Foods community may need to re-examine our relationship with the organizers”. The other is by Sagan Schultz MD, co-founder & CEO at beverage start-up WellWell, “”New Hope Must Cancel Expo West 2020: An Open Letter Regarding Covid-19.”.

In Lubetzky’s post, he relates to the value (and values) of membership-based trade groups. As a membership-based organization, Provender fits right in with this equation:

 “If you compare the costs to exhibit at Natural Products Expo vs. exhibiting at the Specialty Foods Show, the gap is stark. The Specialty Foods Association is a membership-based group: it is there to serve the manufacturers and retailers. It charges a fraction of what New Hope charges. New Hope is there to serve itself, and thus its policies and terms are so much more onerous – including techniques to upsell. Just one example: SFA gives priority based on seniority – so even if you are a small company, if you’ve been exhibiting for a while, you get to choose your booth early; but Expo’s system incents you to set up ever bigger booths because otherwise you lose priority to choose your booth location.”

His words remind me of why Provender Alliance’s table-top show ‘Meet Your Makers’ is especially meaningful. We value each of our exhibitors, both large and small, and we assign booth locations with equal priority to all.

As Lubetzky also points out, Expo’s last-minute decision to postpone the show is creating a substantial financial impact on many exhibitors and attendees. Many exhibitors had already notified New Hope that they were pulling out, even at the tremendous economic losses they would incur, because they were unwilling to risk the health of their staff with the coronavirus variables still unknown.

The full list of scheduled exhibitors for Expo West include several prominent Provender Alliance manufacturers, including Bob’s Red Mill, Dr. Bronner’s, Eden Foods, Honey Mama’s, Host Defense Mushrooms/Fungi Perfecti, Lundberg Family Farms, Natural Value, Once Again Nut Butter, Nancy’s Probiotic Foods/Springfield Creamery, Nature’s Path Foods, Redwood Hill Farm & Creamery, The Stash Tea Company, Traditional Medicinals, and Wilcox Family Farms. (About half of them had already notified New Hope that they were pulling out.)

A rough estimate based on an informal survey by Sagan Shultz of exhibitors would suggest that the collective loss among Provender member companies is in the range of three-quarters of a million dollars.

Lubetzky continues, regarding speaking out to New Hope/Expo West: “Facing any monopolist is intimidating.”

Businesses in our industry face another version of “monopoly,” too, with the significant consolidation by mega-corporations in the natural products trade.

That’s why forging stronger relationships amongst our membership is a top priority, where principles and values are considered an integral part of a successful business.

Were you a registered exhibitor or attendee? How has Expo’s late-breaking decision affected your business? Please email us your experience, and we’ll put together a roundup of stories to share with our community.

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Daniel Lubetzky’s essay: We Need to Talk: Why KIND won’t be at Expo West, and why the Natural Foods community may need to re-examine our relationship with the organizers.”

*Sagan Schultz MD, co-founder & CEO at WellWell, a beverage start-up, wrote a letter to the senior management team of New Hope Network/Expo West: “New Hope Must Cancel Expo West 2020: An Open Letter Regarding Covid-19.”