Why I attend trade shows

First, if you are not in the produce industry, you may be wondering why I’m so often asked this question. Let me explain.

The produce industry encompasses every segment of the life cycle of fresh fruits and vegetables, from seed companies to growers, packers, transportation, and logistics to wholesale distributors and retailers. Several times a year this unique network that make up the produce industry, comes together to highlight their paramount innovations. Companies delight in sharing their new products or services, and buyers are on the hunt for business solutions and connections with their suppliers. Next week, the largest North American produce trade show is taking place in Orlando, Florida.

Of course, trade shows occur in every industry, from technology to the beauty industry and everything in between. It is one of the most efficient ways to meet a bunch of people, versus traveling to meet all your customers or suppliers, in person, at various locations.

But trade shows do not replace the intimate, in-person visit to a company headquarters. They are just a plus. And you get to see what other companies are doing.

My first produce convention was during my time in college. I was living in the San Francisco Bay area and the big produce convention happened to be in San Francisco that year. So, my mom, Frieda, encouraged me to skip classes and drive over to the convention hotel to “work the booth.”

I can vividly remember all the growers and customers – it was a definite whirlwind as a first timer. But the buzz, the people, the enthusiasm, was intoxicating. Plus, I am a people person, so meeting all those new people completely inspired me. It is not a surprise that for the next three years of college, I would “skip class” to join my mom at the various industry trade shows.

Over time, the number of trade shows increased each year. In fact, at one point, I counted more than ten regional and national produce trade shows occurring in one year. With so many options, buyer attendance at shows decreased and the only thing that was increasing was the cost for suppliers to exhibit and staff a show.

In fact, in 2017 I encouraged my company to scale back. We stopped displaying at 90% of the trade shows, and after experimentation, we chose the events with the highest client attendance and engagement. My prediction was that trade shows were dying, and few would be viable in the future.

And then COVID hit.

Now, there were zero opportunities to see growers and clients in person. Zoom and Teams meetings were the new norm. Ever heard of “Zoom Fatigue”? Well, I can tell you it is real. And one of the worst parts of Zoom meetings, is when people do not turn on their cameras, so you have no idea if anyone is there.

Well, now that vaccinations and boosters are here, and large companies are allowing their employees to travel on business, the trade show business has become active again. I attended my first in-person produce industry event in July and I’ll admit, it was a little strange. No masks, lots of handshakes and hugs with rooms filled with people sitting close together listening to speakers. But I survived. And it was nice to reconnect with people in person, after two and half years of living behind a screen.

Fast forward to next week. The recently merged Produce Marketing Association and United Fresh Produce Association are now the International Fresh Produce Association, and they are holding their inaugural global produce and floral trade show. Formerly, this October trade show had attendees from all over the world and attendance was close to 20,000 people. It consisted of three days dedicated to meetings, cocktail parties, keynote speakers, panels and of course aisle after aisle of booths.

This year, the vibe and attendance are a bit less intense. The exhibit hall has fewer booths, and we’ve noticed many companies are not exhibiting. Pre-registration is barely at 10,000 people. And surprise, surprise, my company decided to exhibit this year, after a 5-year hiatus.

Why are we exhibiting? We have changed a lot since COVID and the best way to demonstrate that is in-person. We have a 10 ft x 20 ft booth and are taking several members of our sales, marketing, and buying teams. And we are excited to show off the fresh look and feel of our brand. You see, we leveraged the pandemic to our advantage. We conducted consumer research and refreshed the look and feel of our packaging. If you have seen our products at your local market, or online, then you know what I mean. Our new look rocks! (Oops, guess I should be more humble)

But that is not the entire reason we are attending this trade show.

We are going because people do business with people they like and people whom they trust. And the best way to get to know people is by meeting them in person. Face to face. Smile to smile. Make eye contact.

I love people and to be successful in business you must like people. I anticipate that next week’s trade show in Orlando will be energizing, stimulating, and inspiring! And I can’t wait!

Karen