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Ready or Not

Like Bob, I’m also preparing for Expo West with lots of anticipation, and not about the weather. This year’s attendees can’t be blamed if they’re feeling uncertain about what awaits them. That’s because the past month in health and wellness, like many before it, has been been full of both positive activity around new initiatives and nervous monitoring of the economic downturn.

On the positive side, a number of retailers are embarking on new campaigns. For example, IGA USA launched a “Hometown Healthy Challenge,” complete with a sweepstakes, that aims to educate shoppers about the MyPyramid guidelines. Wal-Mart Stores, meanwhile, is pushing deeper into sustainability territory with a distribution test of new types of hybrid trucks. I could go on but you get the point: there’s lots of positive energy.

On the other side is the nervousness that stems from the economic downturn. Whole Foods recently reported first quarter comparable-store sales down 4% and net income off more than 17%. A small but notable holistic drug chain, Elephant Pharm of Berkely, Calif., just declared Chapter 7 bankruptcy, citing the economic downturn and tightening of the credit markets.

Further underscoring the mixed landscape of developments, consumers are increasingly confused – and shell shocked – in the wake of yet another round of food recalls, this one related to peanuts. A new study by Burson-Marsteller and Penn Schoen & Berland Associates found that 93% of consumers are aware of food recall issues and almost one fourth expect that it will change their long-term food buying behavior.

Hopefully Expo West will help make sense of all this mixed news. Given the impressive number of industry leaders in attendance, that will almost certainly be the case.