Fresh Food

COVID-19’s Latest Trade Show Victims: IDDBA and United Fresh

Live events cancelled; produce trade association moves to a virtual show
Photograph by WGB staff

On the heels of last week’s cancellation of the 2020 National Restaurant Association Show that was set to take place May 16-19 in Chicago, restrictions imposed by the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has put the kibosh on two more grocery industry trade shows.

Both the International Dairy Deli Bakery Association (IDDBA) and United Fresh Produce Association canceled their organizations’ largest annual gatherings that were set for June in Indianapolis and San Diego.

Rather than canceling its 2020 confab outright, United Fresh is reinventing its planned June 16-19 conference from an in-person event to a new, free virtual platform that executives from the Washington, D.C.-based trade group say will connect customers, suppliers and colleagues across the industry in a radically different way. 

For its part, IDDBA 2020, which had been scheduled for May 31-June 2 in Indianapolis, had no choice but to call off its food-focused, sample-heavy event as the host city was deemed a future hot spot for the coronavirus.

“With the global impacts and hardships our members, community and industry continue to face while carrying the daunting responsibility to keep food on our tables during these difficult times, we had to make the unavoidable decision to cancel,” said Michael Eardley, president and CEO of the Madison, Wis.-based IDDBA.

“We understand that our trade show is an important contributor to the growth of the industry and business, but in these unprecedented times our top priority is the health and safety of all attendees, exhibitors, staff, volunteers and industry partners. We have cultivated a strong and supportive community over the years, which is a key component in order to keep persevering and navigating through these upcoming months of uncertainty.”

All registration and exhibitor fees will be refunded or applied to IDDBA 2021, to be held June 6-8 in Houston. Registered attendees and exhibitors will be contacted via email with more details.

United Fresh Show Goes Virtual

Meanwhile, United Fresh 2020 Live will make its debut the week of June 15 and will feature live keynote presentations, roundtable discussion groups, networking interaction among different communities and a robust virtual expo floor in which exhibitors and attendees can share information, view videos and other content, chat live and make the same connections one would at an in-person event.  

During a live video conference with members of the trade press on March 31, United Fresh President and CEO Tom Stenzel spoke volumes when saying, “We’ve all learned something about connections” over the past few weeks. And though there is never a direct replacement for live, in-person events, Stenzel said the shared experience has helped “us also realize that we’re connecting today in new ways. We’re all online, with video streaming, face-to-face chats and group interactions that just a month ago” were foreign to many.

Once it became apparent that the prospects for their mid-June show were dim, Stenzel and his team, in tandem with its board of directors, pivoted quickly to explore a new format to meet the unprecedented challenge of a year without a show, which gave rapid rise to the creation of United Fresh Live.

United Fresh Live

Photograph courtesy of United Fresh

As an early adopter of transitioning to a virtual trade show in both the grocery and fresh produce arenas, United Fresh is diving in with a three-tiered virtual platform that Stenzel described as Part 1: exhibition, where it will feel like browsing the aisles of an on-location trade show; Part 2: meetings and educational sessions; and Part 3: education and engagement. “The third piece is creating those experiences online that we love in person,” including inviting United Fresh’s 25 produce managers online to engage in live dialogues and question and answers with attendees. “Creating a live experience and having the ability to reach a broader audience is a great opportunity," he said.

“Businesses across the supply chain are clamoring for information and connections,” said Michael Muzyk, president of Baldor Specialty Foods and United Fresh’s board chairman. “As we’ve learned to adopt online platforms to conduct our daily business, offering this free virtual event broadens our opportunity to deliver real value to thousands of industry members at a time when they need it most.”

Speaking to the long range viability of a virtual trade show, Muzyk believes the format “will become an industry standard moving forward. We are the first to do it,” he added.

Danny Dumas, SVP of North America sales, marketing and product management for Del Monte Fresh Produce, concurred. “We see a lot of value as far as international participation and people who can’t usually participate,” he said.

Dumas, who is also chairman-elect for United Fresh, said the association will begin closely work with exhibitors and sponsors “to build out our virtual platform that delivers live experiences, valuable content and new connections to industry members around the world. United Fresh Live is a testament to the quick-pivot thinking to ensure that our industry can continue to gather and thrive, even in these unprecedented times.”

Preliminary information and sneak peeks of the virtual event will debut at in the coming weeks. United Fresh also welcomes those seeking to stay informed to subscribe to the United Fresh Live website.


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