The COVID-19 Trade Show Challenge
It’s been announced that the in-person component of January’s IPPE is now canceled, we can add one more to the list of food technology trade shows that have had to cancel as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. Many of these show organizers have tried to provide a virtual solution, not necessarily to replace the in-person exhibition (that’s probably asking too much of the technology at this stage), but as an alternative avenue to satisfy the industry’s need for education and matchmaking. Some shows have done better than others building this virtual event and we all hold out hope that IPPE and some of the other virtual food-focused exhibitions will be successful as we transition through this unprecedented time.
Over these past many months, it’s been interesting to hear the adjustments FPSA members have made to continue servicing their customers, while also trying to develop new leads. Some members are inviting clients to visit their plants to discuss new capital projects. Others have tried their hand at the virtual shows, while one member is actually developing their own virtual trade show. Other members have simply learned to be more creative and efficient in their virtual outreach. In fact, some of these adjustments were interesting enough that FPSA held a webinar about this topic – Virtual Selling Playbook – where a panel of members shared these great ideas with the membership. Of course, if you work in the food and beverage industry, probably none of this comes as a surprise. After all, as many of us say, “We gotta eat”, and those food manufacturers need the support of the supplier industry to keep feeding the supply chain.
And yet, one prominent supplier recently said, “this is just a transitional period until we get back to going to trade shows.” This is borne out by some data and some history.
In a recent GES webinar, they pointed out that in a survey this year of 1,300 trade show attendees, 88% of respondents revealed a willingness to resume attending trade show exhibitions, with a majority of these requiring risk mitigation strategies such as mask mandates, temperature checks, and social distance requirements.
As for the history, this Association’s roots go back to the 1880s when a collection of equipment manufacturers came together to address the challenge of showing their equipment to customers given the high cost of travel for the equipment or for their customers! This group of forward-looking entrepreneurs formed the Canning Machinery and Supplies Association with the goal of creating an exhibit where all equipment manufacturers for the food industry could come together every few years to show off the latest technology. While the name and scope of the Association would change over the years, as obviously the technology has, this strategy would continue to meet the needs of food and beverage manufacturers for the next 130+ years.
This is why food industry trade shows are still viable in the age of the internet. After all, given the complexity of modern food processing and the investment that goes along with it, what food manufacturer is going to sign that PO without seeing that stainless steel up close and personal? With a sales cycle that can easily stretch past a year, who is going to rely strictly on the virtual environment when making CapEx plans that need to be successful?
No, the trade show will return, at least for the food and beverage industry. Obviously, this talk is somewhat premature as we wait for news of vaccines and watch out for a second wave, but today’s food industry is resilient. Suppliers and manufacturers will continue to find ways to make this work until the next time we are all able to get together to see the newest technologies that will help the industry grow to even greater heights. After all, we gotta eat!
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