Karen is the director of marketing/digital strategy and the specialty foods editor at Food World and Food Trade News. With many years under her belt in the hospitality, food & beverage, and retail food industries, she transitioned to the media side of the business in 2011. She can be reached at

Officially declared a “public health emergency of international concern” (PHEIC) by the World Health Organization on January 30 and a “public health emergency” for the United States by Health and Human Services Secretary Alex M. Azar II on January 31 of this year, COVID-19, better known generically as just the coronavirus, is wreaking havoc on all industries, including the grocery world. While some players are benefiting from it right now, such as the retailers themselves whose shelves are getting cleared out as people are shopping like it’s the apocalypse and the companies that make hand sanitizers, soaps, and surgical masks, other organizations are not so lucky and are taking a big hit. Most notable right now are the players on the trade show circuit. According to the German expo trade magazine m+a, organizers in Asia, Europe and North America have canceled or postponed at least 440 trade shows in just one week alone amidst fears of spreading the coronavirus. This number is already continuing to climb as mounting pressure forces organizers to cancel despite their desire to go by the showbiz credo, “the show must go on.” Case in point:  Natural Products Expo West, which calls itself the “world’s largest natural, organic and healthy products trade show,” fully intended to proceed with this year’s show despite a projected drop in attendance of up to 60 percent from last year when it drew more than 86,000 attendees from 136 countries. However, as more companies cancelled their booths and many retailer buyers announced they would not be in attendance, New Hope Network, the organizers of the trade show, had to pull the plug at the very last minute and postponed it to a yet unannounced future date. Unfortunately, most of the exhibitors still planning on participating had their booths, products and people at or en route to Anaheim and its convention center, making for a huge monetary loss that can’t be recouped. Those taking the hardest hit are the emerging brands, who not only really need the exposure to the retail buyers, but also who cannot afford to lose the large amount of money a show like this requires – it is literally make-it-or-break-it for these companies. And while it was nice to see companies and industry insiders on LinkedIn proposing ideas and offering solutions on how to give these brands the exposure and face time they deserve, it unfortunately will not be enough and for some, there will be no Expo West next year for them, or any trade show for that matter.  Since the Expo West postponement, the Seafood Expo North America (also referred to as the Boston Seafood Show) announced it will be postponing its annual March show and IRI just sent a mass email cancelling its 2020 Growth Summit which was scheduled for late March/early April in Orlando.

On a lighter note, Safeway launched its third annual “Kick Hunger” campaign this month with fun supermarket scavenger hunts at two of its locations. Local media personalities competed in a friendly race to see which team could fill a grocery cart in the shortest amount of time with a set grocery list. At the Baltimore Canton location, Justin Schlegel from 98Rock and Bryan Nehman from WBAL NewsRadio duked it out with former Baltimore Ravens player Jameel McClain and team mascot Poe and Mindy Basara and Jason Newton from WBAL-TV to emerge as the victors of this year’s race. At the Washington DC- Georgetown store, Patricia de Lima from El Zol 107.9 FM Radio and Shack ND Pack from WPGC 95.5 FM Radio outpaced three other teams that included Washington Redskins legend Gary Clark and his teammate Redskins cheerleader Christal, ABC7’s “Good Morning Washington” hosts Robert Burton and Ashlie Rodriguez, and Zulema Tijero of El Tiempo Latino and Anthony Tilghman of The Washington Informer.  The events kick off an in-store fundraiser for the entire month of March in which Safeway stores  in Maryland, DC and Virginia will collect customer donations at checkout to benefit the Maryland Food Bank and the Capital Area Food Bank. Additionally, the items that were collected during the scavenger hunt were donated to the corresponding food banks.

Once again, Elda Devarie and her company EMD Sales continues to awe and inspire me with their philanthropic spirit, most recently with a big push for the “Bags of Love” program. They managed to rally more than 150 volunteers from community partners Giant Food, Safeway, McDonald’s, BB&T Bank, El Tiempo Latino, Boost Mobile, Kaiser Permanente, Amerigroup, R&G Insurance, Integrated Insurance, Maryland Auto Insurance, CareFirst, Cool Associates, Newman’s Own, LAYC, Mary Center, Montgomery College Aces, Armand Hugon, El Zol Radio, Ke Pachanga Radio, Univision, Telemundo, Washington Digital Media, and Latin Opinion News to help pack care packages with more than 40 donated grocery items that will be distributed along with a gift card to needy families at 34 locations in Maryland, Washington DC and Virginia this month. Even Tom Lofland, president of the eastern division of Safeway and his vice president of merchandising and marketing Matt Boyd were on hand till the very end packing boxes for this noble cause. The morning started off with breakfast and pastries provided by McDonald’s. The day was punctuated with a mix of upbeat Latin music that kept the volunteers motivated and energized as they filled each box along a very efficient assembly line. After all the boxes were packed and sealed, a nice lunch was provided for all the participants courtesy of Giant Food.


The program, now in its 11th year, originally emerged as a collaboration between EMD Sales and El Tiempo Latino. With the support of strategic partners formed by companies, institutions and individuals, it was able to offer 500 bags of food in its first year. Since then that number only continues to grow with 800 boxes packed this year.

I am so proud of Elda and the impact she continues to make in the community, both with her generosity and with her ability to call to arms a dedicated team for the greater good. Despite all of her success, she always puts the needs of those around her to the forefront. Congratulations to her and the team at EMD on another successful Bags of Love initiative!

Until next month…


Karen can be contacted via email at: