Natural Products Business School: Expo East buyers share top tips

What’s the secret to a game-changing tradeshow? Actually, there a few—and industry veterans shared them during the “How to Have the Best Expo East Ever!” session at Natural Products Business School.

Have a plan—and a story

“It may sound oversimplistic, but you’ve got to have a plan,” says Edgar Vargas, director of Growth and New Ventures at Vilore Foods, a leading importer and distributor of Hispanic brands. “Create a list of companies you’d like to talk to, then hop on LinkedIn to find connections and see who from the company is going to be there,” says Vargas, who spent a decade navigating shows as a buyer for 7-Eleven Inc. Targeting specific individuals and even connecting ahead of time helps you optimize your time at the show, especially when a show is only one or two days. And, while you want to be open to the serendipitous opportunities that arise, having a plan helps you make sure you talk to the people you really want to connect with.

What’s the most important thing to bring as you make your rounds? Your story, says Vargas. “At the end of the day, brands are selling their story, and you have to be able to craft your story in different ways depending on who you are talking to,” he says. Know how to convey your brand’s story differently to a buyer from 7-Eleven than you would to The Turnip Truck. That’s a key to beginning to build the relationships you want to start at the show.

Staff your booth with knowledgeable team members

Staffing a booth with the right people is as important as stocking it with the proper products, says Robin Brett, director of purchasing for Kimberton Whole Foods. “Make sure you have someone with a high level of expertise at your booth who really knows the product, the distribution and the ins and out of deals and promotions,” says Brett, who has worked for decades in his family’s six independent Pennsylvania stores. While you might not walk away with a signed deal, having someone who is savvy not only about the product but about operations, such as warehouse locations and promotions, will move you closer to that goal.

Get ready to talk sustainability

“A lot of our customers in the natural channel already have in mind to do the right thing for their body and for their families,” says Jasim Rosil, health and beauty buyer for Nashville’s three Turnip Truck stores. “The next frontier in the natural channel is providing products that also do good things for the planet.”

If your brand is doing those good things, show it on banners and signs and know how to talk about it. Be ready for questions about your brand’s sustainability efforts, because you’re going to get a lot of them. “I know it’s something my consumers are looking for, especially during a recession when people are even more mindful about where they spend their money,” Rosil says.

Questions you can expect include these:

  • Are you carbon neutral or negative?
  • Or, are you thinking about it?
  • Do you invest in regenerative agriculture?
  • What are your efforts toward sustainable packaging?
  • Are you using less plastic? Ocean plastic? No plastic and glass or cardboard?
  • Are you a Certified B Corp?
  • Are you incorporating sustainable practices with your people as well as your products?

Follow up effectively

“We get hundreds and hundreds of emails daily—and that’s just for things we have to get done, not even including pitches,” Vargas says. When you send follow-up emails to people you meet at Expo, make them stand out by reinforcing the story you shared during the show. If you found anything in common with them, mention that, too, he says. “That’s been the most successful with brands for us.”

What’s not a successful strategy for Expo East? To find out, watch a replay of How to Have the Best Expo East Ever!

To learn more about this program and others, as well as a broad variety of brands, head over to NPEV. Not yet registered? Register for free here. For more information about becoming an All-Access Member of Natural Products Expo Virtual Community and to obtain access to premium on demand and live content, industry benefits, buyer meetings and more throughout 2022, please click here

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