Editor’s Note: Since this story was originally published, New Hope Network made the tough call to postpone this year’s Natural Products Expo West, which was set to begin March 4 in Anaheim, Calif. The rescheduled date is expected to be announced by mid-April as show organizers pursue a pre-summer time frame.
“As with all our events, it was the intention here at Expo West in Anaheim to follow official guidance from local authorities and to listen to the voices of the community we serve and support, in order to maximize the health of the industry,” Fred Linder, group president of New Hope Network, said in statement late March 2. “Today, it is clear the majority of those voices are saying they want Expo West but not this week. And so we are being guided by that majority in postponing the show.”
As food industry stakeholders prepared to depart for one of the largest trade expos in the nation—Natural Products Expo West, which was set to get underway this week in Anaheim, Calif.—show organizers were anticipating a 40% to 60% drop in attendance from previous years due to rampant concerns and related corporate travel restrictions amid the spread of COVID-19, commonly known as coronavirus.
As of midday March 2, four new patients have died from COVID-19 in Washington state, bringing the total number of deaths in the U.S. to at least six as the coronavirus spreads throughout local communities around Seattle, local health officials were quoted as saying in media reports.
“Many of our partners due to attend Expo West have urged us to continue with the show. Many have suggested we postpone it. The polarity of responses leaves us in a difficult position, as we do not want to upset or let down anyone in our community,” officials from New Hope Network, which runs the bicoastal Natural Products Expo events, said in their latest statement. “Our primary concern is and will always be the safety of our guests and colleagues. We are monitoring the situation and following the guidelines set forth by our federal and local government and health agencies and are in close ongoing contact with local Anaheim authorities.
Based on the above information, New Hope officials said they intend to “continue to serve and support the industry by moving ahead with Expo West 2020,” but it acknowledged they are weighing their options, including looking at other venues in the Anaheim area.
“The motivation behind this decision to continue on with the show is to serve and support the community we are part of and that Expo West helped to build over the last 40 years. We weighed the supportive advice from authorities and our community while balancing the financial impact to all involved,” according to an excerpt of the statement undersigned by New Hope Network’s Fred Linder, group president; Scott Owen, EVP; and Carlotta Mast, market leader.
The show organizers said they have received official notice that some exhibiting companies have opted out of participating, a list of which can be found on the Expo West website, and said they have also received information that retail buyers from Kimberton Whole Foods, H-E-B/Central Market, Costco, Advantage Solutions, Mom's Organic, Harris Teeter, National Co-Op Grocers, Whole Foods Market, Fresh Direct and Cambridge Naturals will also not be participating
“Despite the decreased attendance, we believe there will still be a robust level of activity throughout the Expo West campus, and we are hearing from exhibiting companies still planning to attend that they are looking forward to connecting with their peers and doing business while in Anaheim,” New Hope Network officials said. To ensure the health and safety of those in attendance at Expo West, the show team is taking "very specific control measures around the show and on-site facilities,” including:
- Asking those traveling from countries with a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Level 3 travel restriction to refrain from attending.
- Adding washing stations outside and hand sanitizing stations in the convention center in addition to the existing ones provided by the building; plus adding hand sanitizing stations in the Marriott and Hilton hotels.
- Overseeing that all food safety and sampling guidelines are adhered to, in cooperation with the Orange County health agency personnel who will be on-site.
- Implementing the cleaning of all high-traffic areas multiple times daily in addition to the standard overnight cleaning.
FMI Offers Coronavirus Resources
FMI has released new materials for its members in order to assist the food industry’s preparedness planning for COVID-19 via a Coronavirus Preparedness Checklist and Coronavirus and Pandemic Preparedness for the Food Industry guide.
FMI has also compiled background information on a dedicated website to support planning and communications efforts and said that if a pandemic develops, it will necessitate engagement across a host of areas, including healthcare, store operations, supply chain, food safety, workforce, emergency management and media.