Food Entrepreneur - May 12, 2020 - 3

FOOD ENTREPRENEUR

COMMENTARY

Don't stand so close to me

Trade shows will be different in a post-pandemic world
BY MONICA WATROUS

May 12, 2020

©RCFOTOSTOCK - STOCK.ADOBE.COM

R

emember Natural Products Expo West last year?
Tens of thousands of people jammed into the
Anaheim Convention Center, a frenetic roar of entrepreneurs and executives, investors and sculpted fitness
bloggers chattering and munching on health food for four
days in March.
In a new era defined by social distancing, that scene
seems strange now, otherworldly even. Will industry
trade shows ever look like that again?
It is a question worth pondering as dozens of conferences are canceled or postponed through the spring and
summer and replaced by video demonstrations, virtual
showcases and similar solutions. Such digital alternatives
are less costly and time-consuming to attend and may
offer event planners and exhibitors an expanded reach as
the pandemic constrains large gatherings for the foreseeable future.
The Institute of Food Technologists announced it
would cancel its annual meeting to be held in July at
McCormick Place in Chicago and instead host a "virtual
event experience" that will be "an engaging, accessible
and inclusive platform to convene our global community, enabling us to connect, learn, share knowledge and
advance the science of food and food innovation," in the
words of IFT president Pam Coleman.
The Research Chefs Association's annual conference
and trade show was scheduled to begin April 15 in San
Diego. After canceling the event, association leadership
pivoted to a virtual meeting featuring a series of live
and recorded webinars scheduled to go online April 20
through June 16.
"While canceling the conference meant members
will miss the networking opportunities, another major
benefit of the event are the learning opportunities," said
Chip Potter, executive director of the RCA. "Sitting down
and hearing from experts across a wide variety of topics is
critical for people to use the knowledge and drive product
development."
Virtual events
will likely remain
a fixture even as
restrictions on the
size of gatherings are
lifted. Many industry professionals
may be restricted by
corporate travel bans
and tighter budgets,
or cautious about
crowding into conMonica Watrous is the managing
fined spaces, shaking
editor of Food Business News.
hands and sampling
Email mwatrous@sosland.com.

Suddenly the normal activities of
industry events appear riddled with
health risks.
bites skewered on a toothpick. Suddenly the normal activities of industry events appear riddled with health risks.
This altered landscape is highly problematic for
startup entrepreneurs, who rely on trade shows to gain
visibility and captivate retail buyers. Such events often
represent the largest expenses in a small brand's budget
but are necessary in the early stages of a business. Innovation must be seen, smelled and tasted, and founders
require the real-time feedback to refine and scale product
offerings.
Another shortfall of virtual events is the potential for
webinar fatigue. People are staring at screens more than
ever lately. Attention spans are shorter. Distractions are
unavoidable. Technology fails. A product pitch may be
interrupted by a screaming child or internet outage.
It is difficult to predict what shape the trade event
landscape will take in the coming years. Will there be
fewer of them? Will fewer people attend? Or, following
a prolonged pause on in-person interactions, will trade
shows assume renewed importance?
What will Expo West look like next year?
Virtual content offers value in the absence of meetings, but it cannot yet replace the networking, engagement and interaction that occurs during real events.
The groundbreaking innovation introduced by food
entrepreneurs may be stalled from hitting shelves in the
meantime. ▪
Food Business News

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Food Entrepreneur - May 12, 2020

Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of Food Entrepreneur - May 12, 2020

Food Entrepreneur - May 12, 2020 - 1
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Food Entrepreneur - May 12, 2020 - 15
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