‘We’re coming together stronger’ says NPE


Days after it was announced that Natural & Organic Products Europe (NPE) had been assigned new dates in July due to growing concerns about the coronavirus, Rosie Greenaway interviews event director Carol Dunning and Diversified Communications MD Carsten Holm about how the ‘incredibly difficult’ decision came about

Can you talk us through the process of deciding to reschedule?

Carsten Holm: Natural Products is the most important event in the year for our industry, for natural health stores, independents and also larger retailers who come together to do business. There’s so much innovation happening and it’s more important than ever with the [coronavirus] crisis going on. None of us knew what we were dealing with even four weeks ago and it felt like, at that time, maybe was it the flu? But, clearly, we’ve moved on very fast from that to a much more serious situation. What’s absolutely key to us is our exhibitors and visitors – our community. We are just the facilitators, but putting on an event like this is a huge undertaking, it takes an awful lot of planning – for us but also, crucially, for exhibitors and visitors who are coming from throughout the UK and internationally, So when we realized how difficult the situation was becoming we felt it was important we gave people ample warning to re-plan. The calendar for trade shows in this country is really busy, so it’s very difficult to get dates that are suitable for the industry. We’ve talked to people about what is the right thing to do; we spoke to about 30 exhibitors before coming to the decision. We decided to do it in the first week of July – beginning of summer, when it’s likely that things will have calmed down, but also out of this crucially busy time for the health stores. They’re incredibly busy with customers who are fighting the issues they’re dealing with – coronavirus. So, it felt like the best thing for the community is to delay and the response has been incredible.

I think it’s absolutely crucial that we continue to have a forum where we meet – even though it’s a couple of months later

Carol Dunning: We knew people’s costs would increase the later we left it, so that was also important to us. The decision-making … was day to day, hour to hour. We’ve never known anything like it. It’s shifting sand. We went out with an email on a Wednesday saying ‘We’re running’, and in all good faith we were, from what we knew at that moment in time. The next thing we knew, things were escalating beyond our imaginations.

In the show’s history have you ever encountered a situation like this before?

CD: Yes, similar in that we took NPE from Olympia over five years ago and moved to ExCeL. It was huge for our industry – a massive feat to take them to another area of London. Obviously since then it’s continued to grow and blossom to what it is today and that’s just thanks to the whole industry that supported us. The show looks amazing today and that’s because of all the decisions we’ve made together.

The 2020 show will now take place over 7-8 July. What were the key considerations around holding it in summer?  

CD: Going into July it was important to pick the first week – well, it was the only week [available] – but we felt it was workable at the very beginning of summer. This is significant; we’ve never been outside of April. This is an extraordinary year and it’s uncharted territory but we’re going to make the best of it.

The decision-making … was day to day, hour to hour. We’ve never known anything like it. It’s shifting sand

CH: When we moved from Olympia to ExCeL people came with a really positive attitude. When people realized it was the only option everyone came behind it. This is a massively important event, not just for our industry but for the UK. It’s important that we have this annual celebration but it’s also important that we all continue to support each other and the best way we can do that is by coming to the event in July where we’ll have some surprises up our sleeves.

So the new dates could a help rather than a hindrance?

CD: I think the new dates could benefit everybody. We’re not taking this lightly that there are some challenges for some of our retailers – we appreciate that, and this was a very tough decision. But in the end, it was either that we went with it or we didn’t go with it. I know for our community as a whole we would always want to be inclusive and I’m just hoping that people can see that Natural Products is an important calendar date, it is running and they can make their plans accordingly.

When you started calling exhibitors to tell them the news, what was the reaction?

CH: It’s been incredible. People have been so supportive. We couldn’t make this decision on our own; the community had to lead. The community wanted to see a [date] change and people were starting to ask questions. We’ve seen what’s happened to some other events. It’s not right to decide so late that people can’t make plans. We feel we’ve done the right thing with the support of the industry.

I think it’s absolutely crucial that we continue to have a forum where we meet – even though it’s a couple of months later

CD: Suppliers spend a lot of their time planning for this event – it’s all of the hundreds of suppliers that come along, set up their stands, launch new products, meet retailers and network. So, it’s to support them in what they’re trying to do. I’m hoping retailers will understand, support our industry suppliers and make plans to visit on either the Tuesday or Wednesday.

CH: Some people have said ‘Can you forego a year?’ but you can’t do that. The industry is at a crucial stage of its development – the way we’re looking after our personal health, the way health stores are becoming more important within the health of the nation, and also food … the way we’re eating. Our sector is where the innovation is happening. Our sector is going to be the future of a more sustainable country. I think it’s absolutely crucial that we continue to have a forum where we meet – even though it’s a couple of months later.

CD: We’ve already had emails from retailers saying ‘We’ve still got to buy products’, so the exhibitor list online is even more crucial as a connection; we’ll make sure that’s as prominent as possible. We’re still serving our community.

These are testing times for the country. What can our industry do to pull together over the coming months and get through this?

CH: I think all we can do is stay positive. These are completely uncharted waters and no one has any idea what’s going on. As a country, we need to get through it – businesses need to plan, retailers need to plan. The opportunity is to support each other, come together and support the suppliers who are coming to the show in July by coming as visitors. Let’s carry on as much as we can. Business as usual. Maybe there’s an opportunity to do something which will go down in the history books as the best event because we did things differently.

July will be a celebration that demonstrates how important our health stores are in helping their communities

CD: July will be a celebration that demonstrates how important our health stores are in helping their communities, boosting their immunity, building their health with natural and organic products. I think it proves that when a country has a challenge like this the NHS cannot be on its own. The health stores are on the front line, supporting their communities, and at the moment they’re very busy. Hopefully, by July they can come and have a celebration of what an amazing job they’ve done. Lobbying the Government to recognize health stores as a true partner in the nation’s good health is something that I’m going to talk to the NAHS about, and the HFI. It’s important that we use this leverage now to get the recognition that health stores deserve.

CH: Internally we’ve come up with the slogan ‘Coming together stronger’ and we really hope that the industry will come together and come out the other end stronger. We appreciate everyone’s amazing support through what has been a very difficult time for everybody.

CD: See you in July for the summer festival.

CH: The festival of health!