Pure Merchandise Expo East 2021 Ideas from the Contemporary Thyme Market

For Jonathan Lawrence, Senior Director Food and Natural Living at Fresh Thyme Market, the “treasure hunt” for natural products is on the agenda at the Natural Products Expo East. Having attended around 30 Natural Products Expos, Lawrence knows a thing or two about what it takes to discover emerging brands.

While his approach to the exhibition hasn’t changed, Lawrence’s enthusiasm for returning to personal shows in a new location and with what he knows will be a showcase of innovation has reached new heights. Here he gives advice to young brands exhibiting this September (tip: keep your mind open and your phone in your pocket) and why he’s ready to get a little lost at the show again.

How has your approach to Natural Products Expo East changed?

Jonathan Lawrence: By not having the last three or so, I think we really figured out what we were missing. It was part of your season, it allowed category buyers and managers to break away from their desks and get away from the daily grind so we can chat with the community and the industry to see what’s innovative and what brings that back on our shelves. It was tough without that, so I think we’re going to start with the same model as in the past.

We have our set meetings and then we give our teams time to just speak up and see what’s new that you’ve never seen before. Natural Products Expo East is our chance to go on a treasure hunt and without the live shows we missed it. So for us, it’s the innovation pipeline that’s critical to our industry because as brands grow, you’ll see them in more conventional stores. This is part of the chain, but for our kind of business we need to keep leading, so for us it’s about getting back in touch, seeing them in person and seeing what’s new.

What is your advice to companies taking part in Natural Products Expo East for the first time?

JL: Go in openly. For everyone it will be a little different, a little more difficult; it won’t be as easy as it used to be. But the retailers, we owe it to the sellers, the sellers owe it to the retailers; This year we have to work a little harder. As for the new brands, if you’re behind the booth, don’t be on the phone. Be out there, get people’s attention, do something new and innovative, talk about it, have fun. Be patient, enjoy yourself, and know that you are part of a big industry. And when you’re new I think you have a head start that you don’t realize because we’re looking for you.

The brands that we saw before, we connect with them and look for the new, but we are really looking for new brands. Show your best because you never know who is going by. And this year without [paper] Badge, I think it will be great because you don’t know who a big buyer is and who the independents are who are going to bring your product to market. Spend the time there, don’t just spend it with those who have 50-70 stores because you will grow your brand with these independent stores and then hopefully with my team too.

What is your favorite part of going to Philadelphia?

JL: Besides just seeing people again, which is going to be fantastic, I think because Natural Products Expo East is in a new location. There were great things in Baltimore, with the restaurants and everything else, but I think it’s going to be fun to just have a new hotel, a new convention center and be lost again.

Just figuring out where everyone’s going to hang out after that will be the new fun thing too. So more than anything, I think we’re just getting back to what we love, which is building brands and being with people who are in the industry. That’s the great thing: people change positions, they change companies, but everyone stays in the industry and there is a reason because it’s a great group to belong to. So the reconnection will be the greatest thing for our team.

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