A Fireside Chat with Aaron Skelton



In this in-depth interview, we talk to Aaron Skelton, President and CEO at the Canadian Health Food Association (CHFA) who joined the team in September of last year. We wanted to spend some time getting to know him better, understanding his vision for the association, some of the challenges he anticipates along the way and his insights on what the future holds in the post-pandemic world.

Tell us a bit more about yourself and your background?

Having been in the industry for over 16 years, including time on both the retailer and supplier side, I try and understand the nuanced challenges felt by each and the need to facilitate the interactions between these two groups.  With experience in strategic planning, team development, retail and manufacture operations, product development and sales planning, I see tremendous potential and opportunity for the future of CHFA and for the shared success of all those within the industry that support it.

I’m excited about these opportunities ahead and when I’m not working out on my bike trainer or chasing my two and four-year-old around, I have been working very closely with the team to carve out a new path and direction for CHFA. We are constantly working to inspire our Members with insights, trends, new products, how-to’s, and more to help drive what’s next. We were born from our natural ability to connect the industry through our events, and our ability to foster lasting relationships and are now creating even more, opportunities for these connections to happen, outside of our traditional live trade shows.

What is your vision for CHFA?

It’s continuing to build on all the great foundational work we have done while making sure we are meeting our Members needs by evolving as they evolve given the new realities and new normal we are all facing.  This means creating a member-focused service environment within the association that will support their needs while expanding on our current offerings and value. We will do this while delivering a best in class member experience and making it a priority that our association is reflective of the diversity that exists within our industry.

How are things “different” at CHFA since you have joined?

We’ve always focused on ensuring we support and deliver value to our Members so their business can thrive.  For over 50 years we have produced first-class, industry-leading trade shows, connecting thousands of retailers to suppliers and manufacturers allowing them to have meaningful conversations and make lasting connections.  We are building up from this foundation and have successfully pivoted our live trade shows to the virtual world, creating even more opportunities for collaboration and connection.  This has also helped in our new direction and promise of delivering the benefits of our trade shows all year long with our new approach of “the show is always on.”

Our regulatory affairs and government relations department strives to positively influence government policy, to benefit our industry. In the last five years, we’ve had 208 meetings with MPs, Senators or Parliamentary Staffers and responded to a total of 37 consultations. We continue to build on these strong working relationships meeting face-to-face with decision-makers to address the concerns of our members on an increasing and ongoing basis.  I have been part of these meetings and discussions and truly believe our Members’ voices are being heard.  We will continue to amplify these efforts and are broadening our expertise as we expand our focus to food and CBD initiatives, again ensuring our members’ needs are addressed.

We have continued to engage consumers through our Healthier by Nature platform that includes social channels with an extended audience of 211,000 followers. Sharing health and wellness news, promoting our members’ products and the positive impact they have, has been valuable to both consumers and our membership.  This year we are expanding these efforts with the launch of our first-ever, virtual consumer show.  This a BIG deal and the team has been energized by the value this is creating for our Members.  Building from our platform and audience, the Healthier by Nature Expo, taking place March 20, has been created to give our members the opportunity to directly connect with an audience of health and wellness enthusiasts they have been struggling to engage with this past year.

What can Members expect now?

Our role is to foster a successful and vibrant health food industry and to achieve this we really act as the hub and spoke, connecting all the players within this space.  We truly represent the entire industry, not just a group within the industry.

Whether you’re a supplier, distributor, broker, retailer or manufacture, if there are things you need to be successful, we act as a conduit connecting you to these resources.  We have endless solutions to different challenges. Did you get a problem? We’ve got an answer.  We’ve always ‘got a guy’ for that.  We’ve earned the right to say we’re the experts, know the experts, and connect our Members with the best.

How are you delivering on these expectations?

Now more than ever our Members are looking to connect and access resources so they can support themselves and navigate in this ever-changing environment. Through the evolving positioning of CHFA, we are facilitating access to these resources. Our members miss the ability to come together, to have meaningful conversations that allow them to support and accelerate the success of their business. We are creating a space for that to happen beyond our live trade shows.

We have developed new membership platforms, which have been designed to give our members even more value by delivering the benefits of our trade shows, all year long. We are keeping Members informed with the latest industry trends, research, insights and training. This includes reports, webinars, live and virtual speakers series’ and a committed Member Care Team.

We help accelerate the growth of business, by providing access to leading industry experts, creating opportunities for mentorship and networking. We continue to provide a unified voice for the industry in Ottawa, ensuring our Members interests are heard and their business priorities are understood. We have created new ways to connect through our virtual events, giving our Members a platform to come together, network and make new connections during a time when face-to-face meetings are just not possible.

What do you see as the biggest challenge when trying to meet these expectations?

We are not yet known for this. Our biggest challenge is enabling the conversations so that our Members and the broader industry understand that we are more than a trade show organization. We are evolving and driving value and support in new ways. When we are able to connect and have conversations the excitement and support have always been significant.  We need to continue to have these conversations and create opportunities to share how we can support our members and hear openly from them on what they need. I always encourage Members to reach out to our Member Care Team directly at membership@chfa.ca.

What changes for CHFA coming out of COVID-19?

We will continue to focus on the opportunities. Building upon what we have started, and not simply reverting back to where and what we were. What you will see from us is the continued build on our foundation and the expansion on what we have developed and the areas we have proved to be very successful. We will also focus on growing in the areas that are most important to our Members as their businesses evolve to meet new consumer demands and behaviours. Simply put, this means more connections. More networking. More mentorship. More opportunities to grow your business. A stronger voice for our membership.

Where do consumers fit in all this and how does CHFA facilitate these interactions?

More than ever consumers recognize the benefit of being proactive and maintaining optimum health. At CHFA our vision is Canadians achieving better health, naturally and it is through a partnership with our members that we will be able to achieve this.

As consumers are taking more accountability for their own health, our Members are focused on helping them achieve this, which is why we created the Healthier by Nature Expo. This is our first virtual consumer event that will give our members a platform to connect and engage with consumers in ways that have been very difficult during the past year.  It will allow Members to leverage their influencers and ambassadors to create experiences through brand activations that will not only educate but also inspire consumers, creating value for all participants. You can find out more at healthierbynature.ca/expo

What’s the final thing you want our readers to know?

We are just getting started!  And there is nothing we want more than to connect with you. On April 16 & 17 we are hosting CHFA Connect which we have reimagined to create a ground-breaking, virtual event that is going to bring us all together as a community to inspire creativity and foster collaboration. There’s never been a more important time to engage with buyers, service providers and your peers to strengthen these connections while also forming new relationships and creating new business opportunities for your business. Find out more at chfaconnect.ca


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