Natural Products Expo West, the world’s largest natural products tradeshow, was cancelled by the show’s organizer, New Hope Network on March 2nd, one day before the show was scheduled to start due to the coronavirus threat. Some natural product industry members criticized New Hope Network for the late cancellation as many people had already traveled to Anaheim for the show, and some exhibitors were even setting up their booths.
For several days prior to New Hope’s decision to cancel, many exhibiting companies were dropping out because of the coronavirus threat.
“We were listening to the community and the position of our community changed pretty rapidly over the course of Sunday to Monday, in terms of companies that were choosing to voluntarily cancel or pull out of the show due to the coronavirus situation,” said Carlotta Mast, senior vice president of content and insights at New Hope Network, in an interview with Food Dive.
New Hope initially said Expo West was postponed, and said it would re-schedule it later. But two weeks later the company said it was cancelled, which was the first time in 40 years that the show wasn’t held. Instead, New Hope said it would focus its efforts on Natural Products Expo East, which will be held in September in Philadelphia.
Expo West is considered the premier event in the natural products industry, and is considered essential for newer companies wanting to enter the market.
The Hatchery, a Chicago-based incubator for food startups, had 11 members planning to attend Expo West. Most of them were new companies, and some were planning to launch at the show.
“It’s a huge blow and it’s pretty heartbreaking,” CEO Natalie Shmulik told Food Dive. “The fact that we got a message from New Hope super late Sunday night saying that this was happening, I don’t think that was an appropriate way to handle it. That is the email that officially put people on a flight.”
Brian Erickson, new markets program manager at the Minnesota Department of Agriculture, said his team was riding in a rental car from Los Angeles International Airport when they heard the show was postponed.
“If you’re going to postpone an event, you don’t want to do it a day and a half before when you have people traveling from around the world to go there. Of course, this decision was, I’m sure, agonizing for them as well. It’s not good for anybody, but the timing was particularly problematic,” he told Food Dive.
Daniel Lubetzky, founder and executive chairman at Kind, was even more critical. In a blog that appeared on LinkedIn, Lubetzky wrote that New Hope’s “communication and lack of leadership have missed the mark. Specifically, they seem to be forcing companies to choose between having to lose what to many of them is the largest investment of the year or to face what could turn out to be a potential threat to their health and wellbeing.”
$5 million fund established to support industry members
Lubetzky said he hoped that New Hope provides full refunds to exhibitors who lost money because of the show’s cancellation. If they don’t, he said: “It may be time for our community to re-evalute our relationship with New Hope, and to explore whether to create an alternative trade show.”
Following the show’s postponement, New Hope Network established a $5 million fund “to support emerging brands significantly affected by the Expo West 2020 disruption, ensuring we help many of our most vulnerable and impacted community members.”
New Hope also announced the formation of an independent advisory council to help establish criteria to best manage and most fairly disperse of the $5 million fund. The 20-member council includes John Foraker, co-founder & CEO, Once Upon a Farm, Julie Smolyansky, CEO, Lifeway Foods, Tony Olson, owner & CEO, SPINS, and Brandon Barnholt, president & CEO, KeHE, among others.
Sources: Food Dive, Daniel Lubetzky, New Hope Network
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