Coronavirus-Related Cancellations Threaten Natural Products Expo West Trade Show in California

If you follow myself or Grovara Co-founder/President Abu Kamara on social media, you probably have seen us posting about an exclusive Happy Hour we’re co-sponsoring with our partners at SPINS at the Sheraton Park Hotel, #THIRSTYTHURSDAY, next week at the Natural Products Expo West 2020 trade show in Anaheim, Calif.

Some of the biggest innovators in the natural and organic food & beverage industry will be on hand to sample trendy bites, imbibe cocktails of the future, and move to the sounds of world-renowned DJ violinist Kat V.

Only problem? It’s quite possible hardly anyone will show up.

It’s not even 5 pm on Friday on the West Coast, and we have heard that approximately 10 percent, or about 9,000 of some 90,000 registrants, have cancelled their plans to attend Expo West, which begins next Wednesday, because of the increasing concern centered on the spread of the Coronavirus.

It’s not just a few skittish hypochondriacs who are cancelling. The list apparently includes some of the largest and most global brands, like Nestle, Redbull, and Kelloggs.

Two weeks ago, we blogged about how the global shipping industry could no longer afford to ignore the Coronavirus, as container availability and freight rates began to fluctuate.

This afternoon, the World Health Organization raised the global Coronavirus risk from “high” to “very high.” Orange County, Calif., the home of Expo West venue Anaheim Convention Center, has already declared a local health emergency.

As someone who has contracted both Lyme disease and Dengue Fever — preventable viruses that come with many oft-ignored precautions (wear long pants, drink only bottled water) — I can tell you that these kinds of viral threats are not to be trifled with. One of the other hats I wear is founder of nonprofit The R.E.L.I.E.F. Foundation, and through our important work over the last decade-plus, we have traveled by the dozens to far-flung corners of the globe to assist in clean-up, recovery and rebuilding efforts after natural disasters. When you do this kind of work in environments where risks of contagion are elevated, you quickly learn to take every precaution.

*DINNG* (Oh look, there’s another email from a brand saying we won’t be able to meet at Expowest as he is cancelling his trip)

Expo West, for its part, is being vigilant.  Yesterday, Expo West issued an email “Update on Coronavirus (COVID-19)” that acknowledged the majority of Chinese exhibitors are unable to participate, that a “small number” of companies have reduced their presence, and that the Orange County emergency decree does not impact the Expo West event.

The update email also offered a list of health and safety tips that cover basic things like thorough hand-washing, but also to “Consider replacing the typical business handshake or hug with an ‘elbow shake’ or fist bump.”

At an event where sampling prepared food is one of the primary reasons for gathering, remembering to pack your travel container of hand sanitizer and wash your hands won’t make much of a difference.

We are all too aware that many companies and organizations, including the event producers, have a ton of resources already invested in one of the natural industry’s biggest annual events.

Though, considering the rapidly developing nature of this health crisis, a little more pause would be prudent, and it is important that all of us in the industry consider what is best for our employees and our customers.

Maybe it’s best if our attention is turned toward our industry’s response and safeguarding against potentially escalating the risks.

If the show does go on, and we’re at Expo West five days from now, it will be imperative for some discussion to be had about threats like global pandemics to our food and supply/trade systems. And maybe some branded face-masks for swag.

A little preparation goes a long way, and you know what they say about an ounce of prevention.  A missed trade show surely costs less than a pound of cure.