To say how much we cherish the opportunity to spend quality time with long-time friends in the industry while making new ones is an understatement. After the past year, we have an even deeper appreciation and perspective for how valuable events like Viva Fresh and Southern Exposure can be. Seeing many of your faces for the first time in more than a year was a breath of fresh air and exactly what we needed to feel renewed excitement for the year we have ahead.
Of course, there was a great deal of anticipation, both eager and cautionary, about these first two in-person events occurring post-pandemic. Many of you who did not feel quite ready to attend have been anxious to hear how these events felt – did they feel the same? Different? And most importantly, safe?
While we have recapped our thoughts on both of these regional trade shows in this post, it is important to note that yes – the experience was not exactly the same as it has been in previous years, and that’s a GOOD thing.
At this time in our history, we believe it is unfair and unrealistic to expect perfection from industry associations like TIPA, SEPC, CPMA and even United Fresh as they navigate adapting to the new challenges we all face as a result of the pandemic. We are truly grateful for the staff of our trade associations who are working to create NEW experiences that bring us together while respecting newfound boundaries and social norms that have changed the way we do business.
We’ve found that even in light of a sticky start to 2021 so far with still so many unknowns, marketers, exhibitors and attendees showed up to gather, network and celebrate being together at both Viva Fresh and Southern Exposure 2021.
Here’s what we gathered from our own participation in both:
The Viva Fresh Experience
Having our first in-person event since the pandemic here in our own hometown was certainly a plus! Our friends at the Texas International Produce Association (TIPA) did absolutely everything they could to make this show a safe and positive experience for everyone, including:
- Requiring masks to be worn inside the convention hall.
- Providing color coded badge options (green, yellow and red) to offer visible cues to others about your level of comfort with personal distancing.
- Monitoring temperatures upon entering the reception and convention hall.
- Spacing booths out with extra space between and widening the aisles to ensure there was plenty of space to have distanced conversations. While foot traffic was certainly healthy, at no time did the floor feel too crowded or “shoulder to shoulder.”
- Creating several large areas with distanced seating and plastic barriers available for people to safely take a meeting or sit down for a conversation.
We really enjoyed that TIPA chose to make Viva Fresh all about the networking and the connections, making education take more of a back seat (for now). The exhibitors we spoke with were overall pleased with the retailer attendance and interaction they received during Viva Fresh and the opening reception’s partially outdoor venue space made it easy for everyone to interact within their level of comfort.
Highlights from Viva Fresh
Booths & Collateral
The Guava brand embraced the increased popularity and user-friendliness of QR codes with a display of large, easily scannable codes available for each of their products. Rather than grab a piece of printed collateral, booth visitors were able to hold up their phones and pull up product specs and information right to their smartphones in an instant!
This simple and clean yet eye-catching booth stood out as one of our favorite booths on the show floor. Newcomers Produce Team LLC brought their a-game with a display that you couldn’t help but notice. Plus, they had beautiful collateral available that matched the overall booth aesthetic. Combined with their welcoming and joyful demeanor, we would say their overall branding felt consistent and on-point at the show!
This Mexico-based company known for their Fair Trade papayas and sweet honeydew showed up with new collateral to display, including a visual “Path to Papaya” sheet demonstrating their advantage as the grower-shipper as well as a recipe card for a papaya immunity shot complete with a branded shot glass. They also debuted many of the other products they can source such as jackfruit, bananas, limes and other tropical fruit.
MandaRosa Red Mandarins
While this new varietal was announced by Pro-Citrus Network in early 2020, this was our first opportunity to see and taste this product in person – and WOW! Not only is this fruit absolutely gorgeous, but it has a rich taste and is easy-to-peel, just like other mandarins! We can’t wait to get our hands on more of these AND think they are perfect for snacking or as a cocktail ingredient to give drinks a beautiful flavor and hue.
Another newcomer to the Viva Fresh scene, Freshcourt immediately caught our attention with their variety of prepared guacamole products. The show floor was surprisingly empty of new, innovative packaged convenience products, so these perfectly portion items were a huge hit – not to mention the fact that they are DELISH! We especially loved the various avocado smoothie pack flavors, like coconut and blueberry.
The Clean Eating Challenge
What incredible results and dedication! Congrats to all of those who participated and are experiencing positive impacts on their health. Our products are the answer to so many health related woes and this is such a great reminder of why we love what we do!
You can watch videos from the participants here: https://vivafreshexpo.com/category/clean-eating/
The Southern Exposure Experience
As one of our favorite events of the year, we could not wait to be welcomed by the unmatched southern hospitality that SEPC’s annual Southern Exposure event provides. Orlando provided a warm welcome in more ways than one, with absolutely gorgeous weather and friendly faces so full of joy to be together again. The folks at SEPC worked hard to offer a safe space for the event, including:
- Temperature checks before entering education sessions and the convention hall
- Spacious seating in all education sessions
- Delicious meals and food options all served by hotel staff wearing the proper food safety gear
- Wider aisles in the convention hall with several areas to have distanced conversations
- The Virtual Garden platform so that those who did not want to attend in person could still get in on the action virtually and participate in education sessions
The Swan & Dolphin Resort hotel bar was one area of caution for those still uncomfortable being in close-knit spaces. The bar became quite packed with eager fresh produce industry faces, many of which have been fully vaccinated and were ready to hug necks and toast to each other mask-free. Of course, this space was completely optional to interact in and something that anyone who was uncomfortable could easily avoid and would not have impacted the overall show experience!
Highlights from Southern Exposure
Interactive & Engaging Education
While TIPA chose to focus on the networking aspect of the tradeshow experience, SEPC kept a heavier focus on education with several insightful and informative sessions that we highly recommend watching if you missed them!
Specifically, The Power of Produce session featuring insights from 210 Analytics was particularly illuminating, provide tons of juicy nuggets for fresh produce marketers and product innovators pondering where to go from here following the pandemic. Then, the keynote luncheon from Disney’s Head of Innovation and Creativity, Duncan Wardle, was interactive, engaging and incredibly powerful – a MUST listen for produce marketers eager to take their thinking to the next level. We’ll be implementing some of Duncan’s creative exercises with our own team on a regular basis… more to come on this!
Embracing the Theme
The stand out booths at the expo were the ones that fully embraced the Star Wars theme! While there were a few exhibitors that embraced their inner Jedi, our absolute favorite was the Luv Fruits booth – they took it to the max with their “May the LUV be with you” backdrop, coordinated outfits and adorable Baby Yoda swag.
According to the affirming data presented in the “Power of Produce” session, shoppers have a new-found interest and motivation to purchase food products that provide health benefits, especially immunity! We were excited to see a few products on the showfloor embracing this and playing up this messaging in a way to inspire decision-making at the point of purchase, with packaging like CeCe’s Veggie Co. Health-Focused Bowls Nature’s Eats health-benefits focused packaging and display. This is exactly the kind of messaging that will help you stand out in the produce department and motivate shoppers to come back for more!
There will be a great deal of lessons learned from these first few events and things that undoubtedly will be approached differently for events that will take place for the remainder of 2021 and likely into 2022 – but the bottom line is that we owe it to event organizers this year to come in with an open mind and positive outlook, ready to give productive feedback that can make us better vs. expecting absolute perfection right out of the gate. We’re so proud of how both of these two associations showed up and created the best experience possible for all of us in these challenging times and we hope that as things begin to open back up, the experience can begin to feel “as normal as possible” in the months to come.