Something new is coming this way.
United Fresh LIVE!, the June 15-19 virtual produce event, will be a brand new experience for the industry.
The COVID-19 pandemic created the need for the event.
“I didn’t expect to be a co-chair for one of the first live (virtual) events for the produce industry, but it ends up that it turned out this way,” said Abby Prior, vice president of sales and marketing for BrightFarms and co-chair of the United Fresh LIVE! Convention Committee.
“I’m really excited for what we are putting together for the produce industry; it is certainly going to be new and it’ll be a refreshing and exciting way to engage in a time when we’ve all been a little more quiet,” she said.
United Fresh acted with speed in response to the crisis, Prior said.
“Many trade organizations have decided to cancel (their events) and I thought United took a real leadership position here and finding a way for our industry to engage this summer,” she said.
“For BrightFarms, (the United Fresh expo) has always been a big part of our summer selling strategy, and I know a lot of other companies feel the same way.”
As co-chair of the convention committee, Prior said that planning for the event has meant embracing new technology.
“I think the fact that United Fresh was ready to move forward so quickly with this live event is a real representation of how the industry is changing and how much opportunity there is to engage with each other in new ways and with consumers in new ways around produce.”
Bringing both community and education to the event was a top goal, she said.
“More so than with any other industry or category that I’ve worked in, produce has a lot to do with relationships; and we built those with each other over time, and these shows are a way to bring that together,” she said.
At the same time, Prior said United Fresh LIVE! will bring learning as the industry grapples with COVID-19.
“What is the industry going to look like when we come out of this? What can we as fresh produce growers, shippers, processors, learn from each other in terms of this really interesting time? And so it seems like now is more important a time than any to be together, to be learning from each other, to be engaging with each other.”
The goal of United Fresh is to not miss the opportunity to get the industry all together, and to come out of this stronger and engage as a community, Prior said.
The virtual platform that United Fresh LIVE! will be hosted on is simple to use, she said, and brought the focus on content to exhibitors versus extraneous details.
“It’s about the conversations that we want to start at our booth, the types of videos and the types of materials, and how we want to engage,” Prior said.
That is in contrast with many traditional trade shows, where energy is spent on logistics, flights and schedules.
“We’re enabling ourselves to put a lot more value in the content, into the experience, and to really think strategically about what we want to put out there, because there are less logistics to plan for,” she said.
One big plus of United Fresh LIVE! is its extended reach, she said.
“One of the really huge benefits for us is that we’ve never been able to extend the invite to a show like this really broadly throughout our organization, for time, for cost, for all of those things,” she said.
“So the fact that it’s free, and that there are all sorts of ways to access it means that every everyone in BrightFarms will get a chance to participate in it,” she said.
Other suppliers and buyers feel the same way, Prior said.
“It is really an opportunity to increase the breadth of learning within the organization and provide more access to more people,” Prior said.
In addition, online content is available for a much longer time compared to the standard trade show.
“Typically when we are at a trade show, there is a 12-hour window where if you missed it, you missed it,” she said.
“In this case, all of the content will be available through the beginning of September, so there’s a there’s a much longer window to be able to capitalize on the investment in time and energy that you’re putting into the show in order to get more out of it.”
Looking to the future, Prior believes there is room for both in-person events and virtual events. The new realities of COVID-19 make the virtual world more accepted, she said.
“Even the experience of working remotely for the last couple of months; we would have never dared to ask a retailer in the past for a virtual meeting, for fear of what that meant,” she said.
“I think what we’re all learning is that in a lot of cases, (virtual meetings) really gives us the opportunity to engage with more people more frequently and gets us all off planes a little bit more and putting more time towards the effort.”
Rather than either/or, Prior sees both in-person events and web-based gatherings in the future.
“I think we will find times to be physically together, and probably more times to be virtually together as well; (I) think there’s value in both.”