COVID-19 has directly impacted every industry in some capacity. With in-person tradeshows on hold yet the need for produce business to continue on, United Fresh decided to take its originally scheduled San Diego convention online. As the novel coronavirus pandemic halted most travel and large meeting facilities became converted community quarantine centers, United Fresh planned for and unveiled a virtual international tradeshow alternative known as United Fresh LIVE!
The risks of hosting a multi-day online convention included losing out on revenue collected from exhibitors and show attendees. As the first major produce industry event being held during COVID-19, would anyone actually attend this virtual event? Benefits to carrying out a socially distant, online gathering with thousands of potential participants from around the world provided the only safe and viable alternative to conducting the summer’s biggest produce gathering albeit a virtual version.
Thousands of attendees participated for free simply by registering online to experience the initial United Fresh LIVE! The daily lineup of activities included general and breakout sessions like a physical convention would, but participation levels were higher as exhibitors who are normally busy getting their booths ready for visitors on the convention exhibit hall floor had the ability to attend and be part of those sessions. Virtual booths were accessible 24 hours per day, while two hours each day were dedicated for virtual attendees to interact with representatives from exhibiting produce brands. Zoom happy hour mixers provided safe, but fun digital settings to meet other virtual show attendees from across the globe.
The closing session of the show allowed industry experts to share their feedback on how valuable the virtual convention was. United Fresh LIVE! gave companies an opportunity to have more of their employees attend a tradeshow than normally would since travel expenses to host cities can be cost-prohibitive and often limit the number of participants. The consensus was that the virtual show was successful considering it was the very first show to try this format to see if it could work and it did. Everyone also agreed that face to face contact is still going to be part of the industry and future tradeshows when it’s safe to do so. There was also a shared opinion that having a virtual component is something that can successfully facilitate business in the short-term as online meetings and presentations can quickly take place and will most certainly be part of a business process in both the short and long-term.