In the Aisles: Connecting virtually

Dan Ochwat
Executive Editor
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When the New Hope Network first announced it would be postponing Natural Products Expo West — which has since been canceled and won’t be rescheduled for 2020 — it felt like the first shoe to drop, the first meaningful impact the coronavirus had on the private brand and retail industry as it started to take root in the United States.

That was March 3 and for the weeks following, nearly every meaningful event was being canceled or postponed, including the Private Label Manufacturers Association’s leadership conference and its show in Amsterdam, ShopTalk, NACDS Annual Meeting and more. From there, as COVID-19 crept in deeper, reaching all 50 states, retailers and companies nationwide began taking further steps to implement work-from-home rules, cancel non-essential travel, prohibit visitors and stop facility site visits.

This is where a lot of private brand suppliers sit today.

And the new normal is connecting virtually. As Store Brands posted yesterday, C-P Flexible Packaging announced it was instituting virtual press checks for its private brand and brand manufacturer customers so they could approve packaging graphics and see a run virtually. The company arranged to have light booths, 4K webcam equipment and secure videoconferencing software in the facility.

For networking opportunities, trade shows are truly irreplaceable, and companies are feeling that maybe now more than ever. In the meantime, companies are meeting virtually. In the wake of Expo West, the retailer Fresh Thyme posted on LinkedIn that it would be holding special virtual networking events on the platform RangeMe, creating a dedicated section on the site to review product submissions from companies. Online retailer Thrive Market did the same to replace the canceled show. Store Brands published a Q&A with Thrive Market on how it uses RangeMe to source private brands; it’s in the March issue of the magazine.

With short supply on canned foods, frozen foods, cleaning supplies, toilet paper, etc., RangeMe hosts primarily emerging brands for stores to connect with, and in that regard the platform has helped retailers expand its list of suppliers.

RangeMe is owned by ECRM, a company that also announced a program called Efficient Supplier Introductions (ESI) to give buyers a chance to see and experience brands in real time. They have constructed dedicated arrangements for food and beverage, general merchandise, health and beauty and pharmacy.

As for the companies that had to cancel live shows, they are also developing content virtually to help bring retailers and suppliers together, as well as continue educational sessions.

To go along with elbow greetings, for the time being, anyway, it appears company’s need to get used to making virtual connections, which thankfully help keep business going.

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