New Hope Network had been under increasing pressure to cancel this week's event in California, but up to yesterday had continued to state the show would go ahead.
But last night it officially pulled the plug on the event, saying: "It is now clear... that the majority of our community want the show, but they do not want it now."
Last minute decision
The novel coronavirus (COVID-19) has sparked fear in the US and called major events and conventions like Expo West into question. Every March the Expo is held in Anaheim, California, but Orange County declared a state of emergency on February 26 over new COVID-19 cases.
Expo West faced an increasing number of cancellations from exhibitors: by 12pm PST yesterday more than 200 exhibitors had said they would not be participating. The organizers were also predicting a 40-60% drop in attendance.
On Monday evening, New Hope sent an email to attendees and posted a statement online officially announcing the cancellation. They emphasized that it was a tough decision to make last-minute, considering many people were already on their way to Anaheim in preparation.
They discussed next steps in the announcement:
"1. Natural Products Expo West in March 2020 is officially postponed, with the intention to announce, by mid-April, a new date.
2. It is our intention to work with all our Exhibitors and Attendees on future credits and support, with particular focus on the many entrepreneurs and small businesses who are the heartbeat of this community, for whom we are going to stand up a rebate fund of $5m targeted at their specific needs.
3. It is our intention to deliver a Natural Products Expo West event before the summer to serve the community, either in Anaheim or a suitable alternative location.
4. We are already working on how we deliver a much-enhanced Expo East in September in Philadelphia, serving and supporting the community with the best show we have ever had on the East Coast."
Reactions on social media were swift, with many expressing their support of the decision. Over the weekend, hundreds of exhibitors, retailers, buyers and general attendees publicly withdrew from the event, citing health concerns.
On Sunday night, New Hope was doubling down on the event and insisting that it would take place, but warning that it would see a 40%-60% drop in attendance compared to previous years. Further drop-outs on Monday cemented the decision to postpone.
Fred Linder, Group President of New Hope, said “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 maximise the health of the industry.”
“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.”
Reactions and alternative options
Several companies posted on LinkedIn Monday night in support of the smaller brands who often invest thousands of dollars into Expo West to gain exposure, connections and deals. It’s unclear exactly how New Hope will address the financial setbacks from the postponement, but others have stepped up in the meantime.
Cameron Gould-Saltman, a senior category manager at Amazon, offered his platform to emerging brands impacted by the debacle. He encouraged them to contact him for consideration for Amazon’s physical stores.
Playfull, an online gaming platform, wants to assist with the excess products arriving in Anaheim with no Expo or attendees to receive them. Those interested can contact the brand.
“If you are a brand that was planning to attend Expo West and have product that has already been shipped to Anaheim, we would like to purchase your product and pay for freight to have it shipped out to our community of gamers,” Playfull said.
Others offered alternative meet-ups and events in the Los Angeles area for those already in town and looking to salvage networking opportunities.
Cannabis brand Papa & Barkley is inviting stranded attendees to their Pasadena campus for an “Expo West CBD Outpost--a cannabis and CBD education experience and brand immersion.” On March 4 they are offering an open-house style event with panel discussions and lunch.
RSVP is required and they promise CBD massages, DIY balm and bath soaks, a skincare refresh station, and retailer/buyer/press meetings.
Vivo Life, a plant-based brand, also announced they would host their own event on March 5 in Los Angeles, encouraging those interested to contact them for more details.
Still others had a sense of humor about the whole ordeal, such as Lifeaid Beverage Company. They revealed that their team had produced branded protective masks ahead of the event to pass out during Expo West.
And co-founder Aaron Hinde said they “jokingly offer the masks to any of the organizers of Expo West in the event they want to go incognito for the next few weeks as they deal with the #CancelExpo fallout.”