“It was the beginning of March when we started to realize how serious the situation around COVID-19 was and how it might impact our event,” says Mary Coppola with United Fresh. The organization had an in-person Board Meeting scheduled but changed it into a virtual meeting to not put its Board members at risk. “It was during that meeting when the Board members encouraged us to look into organizing a virtual trade show rather than no show at all.” They underlined the importance for the industry to get together in challenging times like these.
Free to all attendees
In just a matter of a few weeks, United Fresh talked with vendors and on March 31st, the organization announced United Fresh LIVE!, the world’s first virtual trade show for fresh produce. “We are so excited to get together as an industry and despite the event being virtual, know that new value and opportunities will develop throughout the week,” Coppola said. The event will take place from June 15 – 19 and to remove all barriers of access for the industry to participate, it is free to all attendees. Those that had already paid their registration fees were given the option of a refund or consider donating the fees to the United Fresh Start Foundation.
Registration fees donated
“We were overwhelmed by the positive responses from companies who had already paid for registration,” said Coppola. Within a very short amount of time, United Fresh created United Fresh Rapid Response Grants with the goal to infuse the fresh produce industry with 25 $1,000 grants to increase access to fresh fruits and vegetables for children and families in need. At the same time, the grants create opportunities for foodservice distributors who have lost a significant amount of their business.
Requests for booths up
On the exhibitor side, the organization sees an increased demand for booths in the past few weeks. “Exhibiting at an in-person trade show involves traveling expenses, hotel costs, etc. A virtual trade show makes a booth more accessible,” she commented. “The strategy of a virtual booth allows companies and business sectors to reconsider the benefits of access to attendees in a digital environment. The technology changes the approach and opportunities.” Each company will design their own booth. However, United Fresh developed a Marketing Guide and will host tutorials to support companies with designing their booths and creating content. The booths as well as the live sessions and all content provided during the week of June 15 will be available on demand until September 1.
Deliver value to companies that have invested
Organizing a virtual event has forced everyone involved to switch gears. “It’s a big undertaking, but it’s a labor of love that we share with the companies who are invested in the event,” Coppola shared. “We are excited to gather the industry and committed to making this event successful for everyone participating. Through networking, facilitated dialogues, education, and of course the expo, we know that we are replicating the value that fresh produce companies have grown to expect from United Fresh.”