BOSTON — The dramatic growth of the food and beverages category at drug chains and its intersection with the channel’s wellness positioning will be a focus of this year’s National Association of Chain Drug Stores Marketplace Conference.
“Take a look at what’s happening in the front end,” says Jim Whitman, senior vice president of member programs and services at NACDS. Expanding presentations of consumables ranging from fresh salads to wine are complementing drug chains’ emphasis on healthful offerings, he says, noting that food departments can even be tied to pharmacies.
In light of that, Marketplace is expected to draw a number of first-time consumables suppliers and expanded exhibits from previous attendees. The event is being held from June 25 through June 28 at the Boston Convention and Exhibition Center. “Our members are interested in the category, which creates interest from new suppliers who have an opportunity to talk to retail decision makers,” says Whitman.
Issues surrounding consumables slated to be discussed in depth include shelf life, quality and product rotation.
The return of the conference to Boston is an enticement for NACDS’ many East Coast-based members. Early registration is tracking very positively, Whitman points out.
As in past conferences, the event will start on a Saturday with the “Meet the Market” program and continue on Sunday with the simultaneous retailer preview of the show floor and “Meet the Retailer/How to Do Business With” program for exhibitors. Monday’s business program will feature Kantar Retail chief knowledge officer Bryan Gildenberg.
NACDS is endeavoring to ensure that “Meet the Market” has the right mix of new and veteran attendees, Whitman notes. “The challenge is to nail down the exhibitors’ focus — who they are and what they are — to make the match with retailers that much better,” he says.
The conference will also explore social media and innovation, among other topics.
“We have an unbelievable group of people who come to Marketplace from both the retail and supplier sides,” Whitman says. “There’s a lot to discuss beyond buying and selling products. There’s interest in expanding horizons by looking at trends and industry developments.”
“What we strive for is to have people come to Marketplace who will understand it and be successful. It does nobody any good to have people come to the show who are confused by it.”
That’s why NACDS is constantly refining web pages that provide Marketplace information as well as booth locations, appointments and scheduling. That also explains an expanded digital component for the event’s Product Showcase. More visuals for the showcase will be available beforehand online as well as at the show.
Also tied to the conference will be NACDS’ new mobile web site, m.nacds.org, as well as mobile applications launched last year and Twitter and Facebook postings. M.nacds.org, which premiered at the Regional Chain Conference, will continually evolve at the NACDS Annual Meeting, Marketplace and Pharmacy Conference.
“It’s the wave of the future,” says Whitman. “With smartphones and iPads becoming standard operating equipment for industry executives, they’re much more mobile.
“They’re moving fast, but there are still people who like paper. So we’re looking at both as the world transitions.”
People considering attending Marketplace can get a taste of the show at NACDS’ online guide to the event, which is customizable for the size and scope of any business.
NACDS.org also has links to various resources for attendees, and the association will conduct a webinar for prospective attendees.
The exhibitor section of the web site has a complete list of resources, notes Larry Lotridge, vice president of conference services at NACDS. “We do a lot to make sure the participants succeed,” he says. “We know we have the decision makers there, so we provide a lot of tools, including specific tips for first-time exhibitors.”
First-timers will get phone calls from veterans and can take advantage of a mentoring program available to any attendee.
“Not every exhibitor is a large CPG company that’s been around for 80 years,” Whitman says. “Many companies considering coming are relatively new, and we’re trying to help them.”
The first two days of the conference will promote face-to-face meetings, he adds. “We’re trying to put that human touch out there. With the crowd we get, we’re trying to reach out to as many people on a one-to-one basis as is possible.”
Distilling the conference, Whitman says: “In this day and age everyone puts a value on how many people they meet, how many new people they’re meeting, what kind of response they’re getting, what they’re learning and what competitive edge they’re gaining. That’s what Marketplace is all about.”
As busy as participants are, retailers and suppliers take care to hear each other out, he adds. “They bring a set of resources and abilities to the equation that allows them to talk to their counterparts on the other side to identify and exploit opportunities for growth. It’s not a one-way conversation. It’s a double-lane highway as we march together arm in arm.”
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