March 31, 2020

Amid coronavirus cancellations, United Fresh takes its trade show online

Instead of canceling its annual trade show and convention, like so many associations have done recently, the United Fresh Produce Association got creative.

United Fresh LIVE! is a new free virtual event that will connect produce suppliers, customers and other stakeholders and provide education in similar ways that an in-person trade show does. It will virtual booths for exhibitors, live chatting, presentations, discussions and programming that can be viewed live or after it happens, much like a webinar.

The trade show and convention had been planned for June 16-18 in San Diego. The new LIVE! online event will take place will happen throughout the week June 15.

The announcement of switching from an in-person event to a virtual one came at 4:30 p.m. EDT Tuesday, March 31 during a virtual press conference with United Fresh President & CEO Tom Stenzel, United Fresh Board Chairman Michael Muzyk of Baldor Specialty Foods and Danny Dumas of Del Monte Fresh Produce, who is the board chair-elect.

“It’s going to look like you’re walking through a trade show,” Stenzel said. “There is going to be educational content, meetings and discussions. We’re creating all those experiences online that we love and enjoy in person.”

The event will take place on an existing platform that has been customized for United Fresh and its exhibitors. Each exhibitor will be able to change its online booth, so to speak, to fit its needs, just like an in-person booth. Exhibitor reps will be able to interact with attendees either live or through messaging.

Education sessions, awards presentations and other interactive events will happen throughout the week. Attendees who want to participate can do so live, but the events still be viewable at any point afterward.

Stenzel used an awards presentation as an example of how this format can be more inclusive. “If we have a live feed with 25 (retail) produce managers, instead of just those 25 managers seeing it, everybody who works in that store chain will be able to watch it.”

Not having the in-person show, which was in the final stages of planning — including having secure a venue, hotels and exhibitors — isn’t financially desirable, and Stenzel added securing the online platform to have the virtual event took a “substantial” investment. Muzyk added that exhibitors have reacted overwhelmingly positive to the online alternative, however.

“We went to them and said with the money you’re saving on airfare and hotels, would you still be willing to pay for a booth,” he said. “Not only did most of the people say yes, we got new people who didn’t have a booth to sign up.

“I think this will become an industry standard moving forward.”

Stenzel said United Fresh isn’t looking to go solely to virtual events and added he hopes United Fresh Washington in September will still take place.

“We’re never going to give up in-person events,” he said. “I know the produce industry well enough — they want handshakes; your word is your handshake.”

United Fresh LIVE! will debut at www.unitedfreshlive.org, with preliminary information and sneak peaks in the coming weeks. To stay informed, subscribe to United Fresh LIVE! on the website to ensure announcements will be delivered direct to your inbox.

— By Zeke Jennings, managing editor







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