The Natural Products Expo West experience is downright effervescent with unknowns. Will retailers find exciting new products to carry? What trends will reveal themselves at the show? One thing is certain for PCC Community Markets in Seattle: “If Expo is scheduled to happen, PCC will be there,” said Steven Jamieson, one of the company's merchandisers.
“We feel it is important to show up for the natural products industry, to identify trends, network and share with brands what we are hearing from our shoppers in terms of what they would like to see in the way of innovation,” he said.
As with most Expo-attending retailers, PCC Community Markets launches into its show strategy well before the team treks nearly 1,200 miles from Seattle, south along the Pacific coast to Anaheim. The team works with New Hope Network and its hosted buyer program to get things rolling. It identifies which PCC employees will be attending, and for how many days. Sometimes PCC leaders are invited to speak on panels, and that always requires focused preparation.
And once New Hope releases the schedule of in-person events, PCC plans how the team will spend its time at the show.
It's all about education
While some retailers plan on making at least some purchases at Expo West, 16-store PCC skips the buying. For PCC, Expo West is more about meetings, education and discovery than opening wallets.
Conference programming stands as an important component of PCC’s Expo West plans.
“Education is a big part of what we love about Expo,” said Jamieson. For his part, he always plans to attend each day’s keynote, to participate in Climate Day, and to pay close attention to the State of Supplements presentation.
Emerging trends can also dictate which talks Team PCC attends.
“In years past, CBD was a huge part of our education schedule as we worked to develop our strategy on standards for the category,” he said. “Talks regarding sustainable packaging and J.E.D.I. are also prioritized.” J.E.D.I. stands for justice, equity, diversity and inclusion.
Walking the show involves a balance of spontaneity and premeditation. BIPOC concerns and innovations in packaging and sustainability always dwell at the center of PCC’s Expo West radar. Employees arrive at Expo understanding these are important, and they keep their eyes open for brands that speak to PCC’s desires along these fronts.
PCC attendees also create a master wish list, packed with specific items they would like to find. This year, they are looking for certified organic pumpkin seed protein powder, which will replace an item currently sitting on the shelf. But with focused searching also comes the thrill of chance encounters. As PCC team members navigate the show — trying samples, speaking with vendors and brands, connecting with old partners — they also remain open to products that aren't on the wish list.
Buying decisions are made back in Seattle, after the show is over and employees have returned with suitcases full of samples.
According to Jamieson, elements that influence buying decisions include certifications, distribution and breadth of products that meet PCC’s ingredient standards (if they are bringing in the product direct) and PCC’s own category review calendar.
“In the age of COVID, items with a solid supply chain and finding products that fulfill a pinch point in our business are also prioritized,” Jamieson said.
This article originally appeared on New Hope Network, a Supermarket News sister website.