Produce trade shows: then, now and in the future

10/10/2013 08:48:00 AM
Tom Karst

Tom Karst  Think about it; how is the trade show of today different than the trade show of 2000, or of 1990?

I would have to say they feel much the same.

California avocado bag? Check.

Lanyard and nametag? Check.

Today, as in years past, you walk into a large convention hall and you see aisle upon aisle, booth upon booth. It looks much the same as it always has.

Of course, there are chocolate-covered strawberries to be appropriated, spin the wheel games to be played,  slick four-color product sheets to be deposited in bags.

The trade show is still about face-to-face interaction. It is about relationships.

Yet if the trade show feels the same, the world around it is changing. Google gives the world 24/7 365 days a year answers. Networking occurs online at LinkedIn and in social media forums like The Packer Market.

There is a sense of change all around us in the produce industry, a sense the world is a different place in some just-out-of- grasp way.

One reader comment to a story that we put online this week about a Mexican company coming to PMA to expand its avocado exports brought that to mind. The reader had seen enough transformation in the avocado market, not withstanding growth in consumption:

"Enough already!!! As a California avocado grower I would like to thank the US government and Mexican imports for ruining the California Market. When I became a grower in 2003, the Super Bowl was a big promotion for us. Since 2007 our market hasn't been a viable market until April. We have about a four and a half moth window to sell our fruit and the majority of that window is inundated with imports. Mexico should be allowed in the US, but only as a supplemental product."

Another reader responded this way to that comment.

“You’re fighting a superior product with higher oil content and better flavor. Get competitive.”

If the nature of the avocado market has changed over time, the context of trade shows also has gradually shifted.

The basis for involvement in any trade show is the business value that it provides. As such, the increasing numbers of regional trade shows are competing with national trade shows like PMA and United in the quest for return on investment.


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Duane Eaton    
PMA  |  October, 10, 2013 at 12:56 PM

Tom, In a 1995 PMA Board presentation on the future of conventions and trade show I wrote: "A question we need to consider is 'Will the convention and exposition become one of these obsolete tools?' Will teleconferencing, virtual reality trade shows (on CD-rom, over the Internet, etc.), compact disc product catalogues, digital compression, interactive video communications, on-line file sharing, company downsizing, the consolidation of buying power, the growing outsourcing of operations functions, the growth of the virtual office, etc., etc., etc., combine in some way to make the convention and exposition an obsolete concept?" Here we are 21 years later and you are posing a similar question. It is a question that our staff, volunteer committees and Board consider on a regular basis. At PMA our daily mantra is "how do we add more member value?" That is really the key to the future of any event or any organization. If you can contune to provide and add member/customer/shareholder value you will continue to be successful. Tom, I have to argue that the trade show has changed quite a bit over the past 25 years. Exhibitors are more attuned to offering solutions rather than products, marketing to get buyers into your booth continues to shift to digital, booths are better designed to conduct business, education sessions are more interactive, and so on... Yes we still have avocado bags and chocolate strawberries, but those bags are now made for laptops, tablets and smart phones instead of notepads and pens. See you in New Orleans.

Greg Johnson    
Lenexa, Kan.  |  October, 10, 2013 at 02:14 PM

It's also a day shorter, with only 2 full days of expo time. That shows respect for attendees' valuable time.

Tom K    
Lenexa  |  October, 10, 2013 at 02:32 PM

Good thoughts Duane. "Disruptive" innovations are liable to break out anywhere, including trade shows. Keeping ahead of the changes is the challenge. Tom

cindy    
Calif  |  October, 14, 2013 at 04:24 PM

I am interested in seeing this conversation continue and would welcome many opnions on the mattter. I am very intrigued and pleased to read today's story about Dole changing their focus at the PMA by keeping it in line with their specific goals also used at the United convention in the spring. It makes sense and it makes me think we should follow suit within our own company focus for trade shows moving forward. Our time at both conventions is spent meeting with our key customers, so why not have our space either on our off the show floor support that very important activity for our staff. Conventions are about those important but infrequent face to face meetings, but also sharing innovations in the industry and new opportunities, so how can we all ensure that the time works for us in a way that is best for our company and long term business relationships?

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