PALM DESERT, Calif. — “Health and wellness is a journey,” said Ken Nemeth, kicking off this month's Health Beauty Wellness Conference of the Global Market Development Center, Colorado Springs, better known as GMDC. Nemeth is the member chairman of the association and president of Valu Merchandisers Co., Kansas City, Kan.
The event had been renamed this year from the Health and Beauty Care Marketing Conference, and refocused with an afternoon-long session on wellness awareness.
Health and wellness “is a freight train and you want to be on it,” David McConnell, GMDC's president and chief executive officer, added.
Attendance trends at the event — which followed several industry consolidations — was mixed, McConnell told SN. The total number of companies was up 2% to 295, while the number of business delegates declined 5% to 728 from last year when the event was held near the Dallas-Fort Worth airport.
“I think there is a real opportunity to grow our event next year based on the very positive reception to our initiatives in and around health and wellness,” he said. The health and wellness theme also will be integrated into GMDC's spring General Merchandise Marketing Conference next year, he added.
However, the afternoon-long educational presentations are likely to be broken up into different segments next time, he noted. This was the view of many retailers and wholesalers polled by SN, although they also recognized the importance of the topic and the effort that went into the program.
“Over the years, GMDC has always tried to keep up with change, and stayed out in front,” said Frank Simmons, director, nonfood, Merchants Distributors, Hickory, N.C. “This was a perfect example of it. Take the name of the event: the Health Beauty Wellness conference. It is very positive.”
The afternoon session was “really, really good,” he added, suggesting that the panel discussions would have better presented first than late in the day.
“I think the educational program was very good, very well thought-out,” said Anthea Jones, group vice president, center store, Bi-Lo, Mauldin, S.C. “It was a very good start. The only way you continue to grow that and see it thrive is to do more sessions.”
While emphasizing the importance of the content, he suggested that GMDC look at how it is presented and break it up. “Five hours is quite a long time.
The rest of the conference meetings with suppliers was “very productive,” Jones said.
Jay Goble, vice president, merchandising, Valu Merchandisers Co., agreed that the length of the session was a bit much. “On the other hand, each of the speakers was relevant. But since this is the year C [‘Care’] becomes W [‘Wellness’], I thought that it was correct to spend additional time on the topic,” he said.
Using ‘wellness’ as a unifying theme for the conference was a positive change, said Charles Yahn, vice president of sales, retail development, customer service and pharmacy, Associated Wholesalers Inc., Robesonia, Pa. “If you are trying to be everything, you don't get any focus,” he said.
The supplier meetings remained the most valuable part of the conference for Sue Vodika, HBC buyer/category manager, Bashas', Chandler, Ariz. “I would prefer to have more [short supplier meetings] and fewer long sessions,” she said.
Many also were critical of the make-up of the consumer panel, citing the need for more diversity of participants and viewpoints.
“The majority of our customers are probably not the wellness customer; they are more the average, everyday shopper, and I thought they needed to look at that more closely,” said Nick Barainca, director of nonfood, Scolari's Food & Drug Co., Sparks, Nev.