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Unconventional Conventions

As we turn the corner on six months into the Pandemic and closing out summer we are starting to miss some of the things that were our seasonal favorites like… Trade Shows! We kind of complain about them in advance however we all depend on them for networking, finding products and reconnecting with our friends and like-minded people. 

The days of crowded convention floors, free samples and endless totes of schwag are on hold for now…

Since we cannot gather in mass, how do we keep this tradition going? I spoke with a few different food and beverage trade shows to see how they are adapting their programs and offerings to facilitate distance-conventioning (new term). They all seem to have a different approach which is kind of exciting. The path of conventional conventions was well worn and there wasn’t much room for changing the formula. Now that the entire platform has changed there are no tried and fast rules. This leaves a lot of room for innovation and different strategies. 

Here is a preview of what we can expect over the next couple months from some of our Trade Shows…. 

Free Tickets!! That’s right. Pretty much every trade show I spoke with is offering the participants free tickets to try their show. As this is a grand experiment for trade shows they are really trying to incentivize people to join in and get on board with the program. To do this, they are offering free tickets so there is no risk or high commitment to give it a go. 

Digital content is a rather large component of all these shows. Whether it’s video or power point or pod casting, everyone is working on supplying ample amounts of pre loaded digital content that will provide high value to participants. 

Networking and connecting is the heart and soul of these events and that is what they are trying hardest to give us. Now here are the three main shows we connected with – 

Coffee Fest – in the US which features three major shows a year across the country. 

Santé Magazine – which is a food, wine and spirits magazine that has been around for a couple of decades and is now getting in on the trade show game. 

Global Coffee Festival – This event is by Allegra Events which does the New York Coffee Festival as well as Amsterdam, London, Milan, Cape Town, LA, and Sao Paulo. 

Three very different shows with three very different approaches. 

Coffee Fest – an event operated by Clarion Events (one of the largest show runners in the world) not only providing content for their specific show date but are actually continually streaming presentations and providing guest speakers every week to grow and keep their audience through this period. This is Coffee Fest To Go throughout September with a fresh event scheduled for October.

Coffee Fest To Go continues in October with new webinars, more participants and even greater value in October.

Their show in August had 76 exhibitors and over 500 products to explore. Each of the products could be searched and then create a direct connection to have a chat or to set up a meeting online or on the phone. Erika Lowery who has been “ of” of the show for years said, “this show was really set up to drive engagement. When the industry came to a halt, trade show budgets went out the window so our strategy was to figure out the best possible way with the lowest possible investment to allow our exhibitors to meet with buyers.”

“it was amazing to see how happy people were just to see each other again.”

Erika Lowery – Coffee Fest

This became an even more important function as many business that are still in operation were having trouble connecting with suppliers and representatives as people have changed jobs or offices have been closed so this provided a tremendous service. Lowery continues, “I hosted the first webinar and it was amazing to see how happy people were just to see each other again.”

Global Coffee Festival is focusing on providing at least 50% live content during their show slated for October. Half of the content will be pre-taped so they can have a continuous event streaming around the world with speakers and sponsors joining from a variety of countries. The format is similar to a telethon however this one is interactive. 

Global Coffee Festival by Allegra Events will be taking a different approach with 12 hours of continuous live content streaming.

The Sensory Experience (an F+B Therapy event) will be hosting group tasting and inviting participants to engage in a shared tasting experience by using kits with identical and labeled taste samples that correlate to the video. 

Santé Magazine is always providing content through their magazine and will increase this offering with live demos, virtual group wine tastings and live speakers. 


Santé Magazine has been a resource to food, wine and spirits for over 15 years.

But what really differentiates each of these festivals is how they present this content. Coffee Fest is streaming free Webinars on Vimeo and also using Zoom to host live speeches and breakout rooms for networking. They are using surveys and feedback constantly to adjust and refine their process and offerings. 

Santé is going all the way with a fully immersive Virtual Reality environment where you can stroll the showroom floor, have spontaneous interactions with other attendees and make great connections. You have the option to move to breakout rooms and give presentations and sign deals on the spot. The Santé VR Symposium starts this October.


Santé Magazine is innovating with an immersive VR experience where you enter an entirely new world, pick an avatar and virtually tour the latest in food and wine.

We are all longing for the days to get back to the world. In the meantime, these festivals are working overtime to give us as much of the trade show magic as they can. It will save our feet and absolve us of the shwag clutter pile we normally have to deal with when we get home. 

Has anyone attended an online trade show or event this year? If so, we’d love to hear about your experience in the comments. 

By Jake Leonti – CEO F+B Therapy

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