Are You Expo Experienced? Insiders Share Tips for the Best Expo West

Natural Products Expo West, first launched in 1981 and held every year since, at the Anaheim Convention Center in Anaheim, California, is the world’s largest natural and organic products trade show. Spread across five days, this year’s event, held March 12th to 16th, is expected to attract more than 65,000 trade visitors and over 3,000 exhibiting companies.

For business leaders, founders, entrepreneurs, retailers and others in the natural channel, attending Expo West is considered essential. However, as it can be costly, time consuming and a bit overwhelming, we asked industry insiders and colleagues their favorite tips to make the most of the show. Read on for some helpful hacks to maximize your Expo experience.

Karen Farrell, VP of Brand Services, PRESENCE
First, be sure to visit PRESENCE’s Hospitality Room at Expo West, Room 210A, at the Anaheim Convention Center. Trade members are welcome to visit during show hours for snacks, beverages, a place to meet or take a break, and to catch up with Presence Marketing team members.

On a self-care level, realize that all the restaurants and coffee shops are going to be crowded, for breakfast, in particular. Consider putting together a Whole Foods Market (or other) order with some basics for your hotel room to be delivered the night you get there. That way, you can get some nourishment and avoid long lines. Also, throw a healthy snack in your bag for nourishment during the day. This helps avoid ‘trade show stomach.’ I only sample things I haven’t tried before — samples are meant to be samples, not lunch! Also, make restaurant reservations well in advance of the show, preferably within walking distance, if possible. And if you can, consider making hotel reservations for next year’s (2025) event as soon as possible, as hotel space near the convention center fills up fast and is always in demand.

Leanne Thorsson, Director of Health and Natural Foods, Traditional Medicinals
Set appointments in advance; everyone’s time is tight at Expo West, so if you’re not on the calendar, you may not get the meeting. There’s always excitement and an extra level of engagement at the show. Plan in advance what you wish to accomplish — if it’s to visit booths, make a plan of what you want to see. We schedule meetings with account executives, regional managers, and major retail, distributor, and other key partners. This year, we are meeting with two new export partners for the first time; the event gives us an opportunity to meet with them in person and say hello. The show is a great way to get that human interaction, make the connections, talk about some of the larger items, and then set the stage for future conversations. Also, be sure to make unplanned time to walk the show and let some magic happen.

Stacy Gangestad, Director of Sales Management, Gimme Seaweed
Working as an exhibitor on the brand side, none of us in sales ever want to leave the booth, so that makes for long days. Taking a walk each day and getting some fresh air beforehand helps set the stage for the rest of the day. Wear comfortable shoes and get the extra padding under the carpet for your booth. We’ve learned over the years that a lot of initial conversations happen, but not a lot of business decisions are made at the show. It’s all about the follow up from there.

Also, consider after hours networking opportunities at Expo West: go out to dinner with brokers and retail partners; attend events where there may be opportunities to connect with key buyers and other decision makers. Sometimes, you might run into a key contact just by going to the Hilton and Marriott lobbies, where many gather after each day of the show. We exhibit in Hall E — it’s a great location and the days go by fast because of all the positive energy and great vibes down there.

Jonathan Lawrence, VP of Center Store, Fresh Thyme Market
I’m a huge fan of Expo West. It’s very impressive, but can be very intimidating, not only to retailers and new buyers but also to brands (especially new brands). Tip number one is to capture the retailer’s attention. First thing you want to do is share the highlights around your brand strategy, specifically, why did you create this product and what makes it different from other products currently on shelf.

Have a positive and open-minded attitude. Be open to having conversations with people at all levels. When you’re talking about your brand, your product, talk to everyone that will listen, because  everyone’s a consumer. Your product could be the next new product they tell people about. They might be able to give you great feedback, they might be able to make a great connection for you. Talk to the other brands when you’re at your booth. Some of those best connections are the people right next to you. The natural foods community is all connected.

Be efficient with your time. There are thousands of brands out there, so you don’t get a lot of time. Make sure you’re prepared. Have your elevator pitch ready, have maybe a sell sheet, and product samples ready. Make sure you’re engaging. Don’t be sitting back behind your booth. Don’t be on your phone, looking down. Act like you want to be there, enjoy it, enjoy the fact that you’re in front of all these people at the biggest trade show.

I would focus on new retailers or new people that you don’t have current relationships with. And then keep conversations going. Not everything happens on the trade floor –  great connections can be made in hallways, in passing on the show floor, off the show floor, and at dinner. Utilize all the time that you have. While you’re there, you’ll have plenty of time to rest when you get home.

As a retailer, once we get home, we’re exhausted. But then Monday comes around and it’s back to work. Take a little time, but then make sure you’re following up. I would say a personalized note, don’t just send a canned email, that’s not very personal, it doesn’t show that you took the time to connect after. Send samples, I would say between a week to two weeks after. If it goes further than that, it might not be top of mind anymore. So, make sure you act fast.

Benji Fitts, Director of Growth Strategy, SPINS
So, you’re at your booth, spent a lot of money to get to Expo West, you’re meeting people, shaking hands, all that sort of fun stuff. And you’re going to need this little piece of paper, your sell sheet, to talk about your product.

There are just some simple things that you can do to make sure that your sell sheet looks good. First of all, it’s usually a piece of paper, 8 ½” by 11”, usually double-sided. You don’t have a lot of visual real estate so really, this has to be an amalgamation of the best things that you could possibly say about your product. Be brief, be succinct, and get the message across. Second, if you have the sell sheet in front of you, squint your eyes at it and if the biggest, most unique thing about your product, or whatever message you’re trying to convey, isn’t immediately apparent, then it needs to be fixed.

These shows are really all about discovery, finding out what’s new, what’s next. If this is what’s driving your product, is what is differentiated, innovative, what’s new and fresh about whatever you’re making, make sure that’s the primary message that a user is going to receive whenever they pick up one of these pieces of paper.

The storytelling element is really what drives a lot of the passion behind things. It’s a very passionate group of buyers, it’s a passionate industry, so lean into that a little bit, right? Make sure you’re highlighting sustainability and the key differences between you and the competition. It’s also smart to sometimes talk about your distribution partners or other people who you are already partnered with…and don’t forget to put your contact info and a call to action. Don’t just put a name and a phone number on there, but say, ‘Give me a call and let’s do business together.’

Allison Salvati, VP, Compass Natural; Former Marketing Lead for Bhakti Chai and noosa yoghurt
If you’re an exhibitor, you’ll want to collect contact information from as many people as you can who visit your booth. It’s up to you to collect that data; New Hope won’t share attendee or exhibitor contact lists. As such, it is recommended to purchase one or more seats on Expo West’s lead retrieval app. With it, you can scan badges using your smartphone camera, and at the end of the show, download contact info for every individual you and/or your team scanned. Also, consider cost-effective opportunities to amplify your brand at the show, including applying for a NEXTY Award for your new products, displaying in the New Product s Showcase, and considering some of the more budget-minded sponsor opportunities for brands at Expo West, such as the Retailer’s Early Access Box. Check in to your Expo West Exhibitor Hub dashboard often so you don’t miss important deadlines, such as shipping to the show. Take advantage of Expo West social media tools, too, to promote your exhibit at the show.

Jim Slama, Managing Director, Naturally Chicago
Expo West is the big kahuna of trade shows in the natural products industry. Last year 65,000 attendees came to visit the booths of 3,000 vendors showing their wares. For brands, there is no better place to connect with retail buyers.

Michael Movitz, Cofounder, Brandjectory; Managing Partner, The Movitz Group
My advice would be to attend as many social events as possible to network, network, network! I also suggest using a digital business card like Blinq or Flowpage. They’re easy to use, environmentally friendly and, in addition to contact information, can include links to your website, social media profiles and other online resources. Also, don’t forget to fully charge your devices and bring a portable phone charger – trade shows can be draining on your device’s battery, and having a backup charger can be a lifesaver.

Kelly Miano, Brand Strategy, Innovation and Launch Leader
Follow up. All of those connections you made are great but all that is forgotten if you don’t follow up in the weeks/months following Expo. Be selective in your sampling — try not to go back and forth between savory and sweet, your stomach will thank you. Drink more water than you think you need. It will help with headaches and you won’t be so tempted to try every sample. It’s easy to get sensory overload; it’s ok to take a break when you need it. Expo can be stressful — we’re on little sleep, excited, nervous, under pressure to land a sale. Everyone is trying to pack in as much as possible into a few short days. Assume positive intent, be gracious and kind. This is our industry, we are what we make it.

 This article is based on personal interviews with industry leaders; a seminar hosted on February 7th, 2024, by New Hope Network and Naturally Boulder entitled “Beyond the Booth: A Blueprint for Creating Unforgettable Tradeshow Experiences;” and a February 15th, 2024, webinar hosted by Naturally Chicago, “Master Your Retailer Sell Story for Expo West.” You can access the Naturally Chicago webinar recording here.

Steven Hoffman is Managing Director of Compass Natural, providing public relations, brand marketing, social media, and strategic business development services to natural, organic, sustainable and hemp/CBD products businesses. Compass Natural serves in PR and programming for NoCo Hemp Expo and Southern Hemp Expo, and Hoffman serves as Editor of the weekly Let’s Talk Hemp Newsletter, published by We are for Better Alternatives. Contact steve@compassnaturalmarketing.com.