The worldwide spread of Coronavirus brought trade shows and exhibitions to a screeching halt in early 2020, with humongous postponements and cancellations foreshadowing a grim future for live events. Amid the pandemic, necessity again proved to be a mother of invention. The crisis has forced the industry to explore alternative digital spaces with online exhibitions. For businesses, digital platforms were seen as an afterthought or add-on essentially for expanding audiences or engagement beyond the reach of physical spaces.
Given industry stakeholders’ health and safety, Informa Markets India organized the Food Ingredients India & Health Ingredients (Fi India & Hi), and the ProPak India expos in a virtual format on 14 and 15 October 2020. These B2B shows are known for offering products and technologies in food and health ingredients, processing, technology, and packaging.
The two-day Fi India & Hi virtual expo featured Ajanta Chemical Industries, Ajanta Food Products Company, Azelis (India), Brenntag Ingredients (India), Cargill India, Gujarat Enterprise, Hexagon Nutrition, Mintel (Consulting) India, Roquette India, and Universal Oleoresins. Simultaneously, the ProPak virtual expo featured V-Shapes, Koch Pac-System, Uhlmann India, Mespack India, and Emerge Glass. The virtual show ran alongside a two-day virtual conference.
The Fi India and Hi and ProPak India virtual expos were supported by the Association of Food Scientists & Technologists, AFST-Mumbai Chapter, Indian Flexible Packaging & Folding Carton Manufacturers Association (IFCA), Authentication Solution Providers’ Association (ASPA), All India Food Processors’ Association (AIFPA), SIES School of Packaging, Indian Institute of Food Processing Technology (IIFPT), Suman Consultants and the Health Foods and Dietary Supplements Association (HADSA).
Virtual shows – a new technology era
We have adapted to the new normal and transitioned to Zoom calls, Microsoft Teams meetings, virtual conferences, and webinars. Similarly, the trade show industry is adapting to virtual events in a big way. With the right technology, these virtual exhibitions or trade shows have the potential to fill the void. Nowadays, these virtual platforms’ offer an experience similar to a high-end computer game – rich in graphics and detail. Technology allows the industry stakeholders to interact as normally as a typical video call virtually.
The virtual trade shows bring many innovations that attempt a similar feel and experience to compete with live face to face events. The Propak and Fi India & Hi virtual shows offered users a virtual lobby, exhibit halls, conference halls, and an information center. Each exhibitor had an online booth where the companies displayed (click away) collateral, videos, white papers, and demos. The visitors were also allowed to live chat with exhibitors, request callbacks, and connect with the company’s social media.
Decision-makers may be lured to come online!
The crowded trade shows and exhibitions are so 2019. In a typical trade show, companies showcase their latest products and technologies, salespeople connect with their old customers and meet new ones, customers meet (casually or seriously), learn about new products, and more. However, there is no denying that the virtual events’ secret to success is to increase customer service and reducing friction for attendees.
Speaking of the virtual experience at Propak, an exhibitor said, “Actually what I could sense was, no decision-maker comes online, only mid- or junior-level decision-makers, startups looking for easy, economical, innovative solutions are visiting. These cannot be serious buyers, at least for expensive tech solutions. Somehow decision-makers at the least need to be lured to come online.”
“Decision makers are generally not tech-savvy, and real businessmen wish to see and touch the product and meet in person; that has been the tradition. Although a virtual show is a good and economical option, there has to be understanding from both sides.”
“To be honest, I do not know if I am exerting so much effort on someone online if it is really worth it unless I know who it is? And at the end, you realize you have been communicating online with a person who turned out to be a supplier and not an interested customer. Whereas in a physical exhibition, you know where and how you need to direct your energy. One can’t be very sure of the results – especially for expensive technologies,” he said.
Other exhibitors rated their feedback about the show as ‘OK’ and ‘Satisfactory.’ “I think it’s easy to access information from the comfort of one’s office or home,” said one Fi India & Hi exhibitor.
Despite the tech-savvy virtual shows, Propak and Fi India & Hi were not successful enough in roping-in many exhibitors to the virtual event. The season of pandemia, while not over, asks us – will these virtual shows take the place of the actual trade shows? Can they? And, are we ready to accept this as a new normal? The questions gain significance because even in mid-October, it is not clear how long the pandemic will persist before we see those crowded aisles again!