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A resurgence of trade shows in 2023 proves that the industry is hungry for face-to-face engagement. In April, the Canadian Produce Marketing Association (CPMA) event in Toronto hit a historical record with more than 4,200 attendees. SIAL, a food and beverage show was also well attended in Montreal in May.


Here are my toplines from attending CPMA and SIAL.


Sustainability is still very important. Many different packaging ideas are available. The end result is good for the environment but there still needs to be work done to make these options efficient in a high-volume plant situation. Mesh baskets in produce, paper bottles (with a liner) and compostable plastic wrap were all interesting.


CPMA had an entire section dedicated to innovation. Attendees could speak to people from these businesses and get a better understanding of the innovation. They were all together which made it easier than searching the trade show floor.


Processed products are coming to the market ‘less processed.’ We had a period where plant-based protein products were the rage, but many were very processed. Although consumers were excited to get protein from different sources they were concerned about the amount of processing. Products this year involve less processing and will be merchandised frozen.


Air fryers are popular kitchen appliances. We saw some products developed specifically for consumers who want to cook in their air fryer. Alternative Kitchen had plant-based protein products that taste really great and have the right mouth feel.



Any trade show is an investment in time, resources and money. To get the best return, you need to do homework before the show, during the show and after you return to work.


Before committing to any show, you should define your purpose for attending. A list of defined goals should guide your decision making. It is also a good checklist to assess your success and your return on investment.


Your goals can be one or a few of the following:


  1. Find new customers to grow your sales
  2. Find a broker to represent you in the market
  3. Find a distributor
  4. Check out your competition
  5. Look for new packaging or marketing ideas
  6. Re-establish relationships with existing customers
  7. Look for ingredient, packaging or other input suppliers
  8. Learn from the content sessions at the show
  9. Explore opportunities with suppliers for logistics or other channel partners
  10. Introduce new ideas, flavours or concepts to gauge industry feedback


Remember, you probably can’t do it all so identify the priorities that will benefit your business the most.


Once you know why you are attending it is beneficial to think about some strategy to ensure you come home with the sales or other resources for your business.


Considerations for your strategy before the show include:


Do you need a booth?


A booth can be a critical component to showcase your offering and attract prospective buyers. It can also be a lot of expense, work and prevent you from accomplishing some of your goals.


How many people do you need at the show?


If you are trying to see a lot of things at the show or set up meetings it is very helpful to have a few people to take care of the booth. These can be long days and you want to provide the best impression.


Be proactive


Reach out to existing or prospective customers in advance. Try to arrange a time to meet in person or have them stop by your booth. The more you can arrange in advance the better your experience will be. You can usually find a list of attendees and exhibitors on the trade show website. This is a great place to find people and set up meetings during the show. Do not wait for them to come to you.


Create a schedule


Look at the trade show hours, content sessions and your pre-scheduled meetings. What is realistic and figure out who will be where and when. Remember to leave some time for people to walk the trade show floor. I like to walk the show when it is only open to exhibitors. You can see things differently when it is less busy.


Plan your sampling


Trade shows are great opportunities to showcase your products. You can forecast the samples you will need with the following formula:


(Days of trade show) x (Hours trade show is open each day) =Total sampling hours

(Total sampling hours) x (realistic number of samples per hour) = Samples required


The variable is realistic number of samples per hour. If you are just feeding people, you might give out a sample every minute. If you are planning to have meaningful conversations perhaps only 30 samples per hour is realistic. Keep track of the samples so you have this information for planning next time.


Considerations for your strategy during the show


Treat your existing customers and the real potential customers differently.


I am not a huge fan of bringing something to a trade show your existing customers have not seen or heard about. You want a relationship with these people so no surprises. If you plan to ‘launch’ something at the show, tell them in advance and if possible get some product to them before the show.


Create some special sample packs for the people who really do or might make a difference to your business. Make them feel special and show them you appreciate their existing or potential business.


Capture valuable information from booth visitors


Trade shows can be a very valuable market research opportunity. These are not typical consumers and you can learn a lot from these people. If you are testing products or concepts figure out how to capture the information.


Determine how you will follow up


A bag full of business cards or many new connections on your smart phone are great, but only valuable if you can follow up with the best ones. You can develop a 1-5 rating system prior to the show. Best prospects or best opportunities are a 1 and then people you met who probably will not impact the business are a 5. After the show start with the 1’s. You can make a note right on their business card after you speak with them.


10 considerations for the return on your investment after the show


  1. Your rating on what you were able to accomplish with existing customers. This could be on that 1-10 scale or using sales you believe were generated or impacted from attending the trade show.
  2. Did you find new customers? Were you able to confirm any orders at the show? This does not happen as often in North America as it does in Europe.
  3. Did you visit 10-15 booths you identified prior to the show? Hopefully you were able to map them out and get a chance over the time of the show to visit them all and learn from them.
  4. Were you able to set up and complete five-10 meetings with people who were at the show? Often this face-to-face time can be more valuable than time standing at a booth.
  5. Have your employees who attended the show complete the same assessment as you do. This will make them really think about the show and it is also a chance to reinforce the importance of getting a return on the investment of having them attend the show.
  6. Do your employees seem more motivated after attending the show?
  7. What is the quality of the follow-up calls? Usually, we all leave these shows with a pocket full of business cards or a list of electronic notifications for follow up. The quality of these contacts and how they will impact your business might determine if it is worth attending again.
  8. Did you win any awards? If you were successful in these, how will you leverage the exposure and turn it into sales?
  9. Other intangibles that will impact your business are store visits, sampling ideas from the trade show or new packaging ideas. These are takeaways from the show but sometimes they can pay dividends in your business.
  10. Ideas for future trade shows? Sometimes you walk away from a show with a list that will really improve your trade show offering and experience. These are the good shows that motivate you to do more.



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Submitted by Peter Chapman on 31 May 2023