Full Slate of Food Trade Shows in 2015

Many people dread shopping for a new car because of the oily salespeople they’ll encounter on the dealership lot. Food production professionals have similar qualms about industry trade shows.

Sooner or later the old flivver needs replacing, and the same is true of production equipment, and that’s when auto shows and trade shows are useful. When you’re in the market for something new, the show floor is a great place to see all the available options and begin the wheeling and dealing process. And there are less hospitable venues than food industry shows to conduct the negotiations. Consider, for example, the North American Manure Expo, just in time for the summer heat in Chambersburg, Pa.

Vendors like the chance to meet prospects and ring up a few sales, though it’s expensive to exhibit. Many would prefer a model more like the one used in Europe, where ongoing shows tend to be staged every two or three years. The European model probably inspired the U.S. operations chiefs of two German food equipment OEMs to become the movers and shakers behind Process Expo. Back in April 2010, the Food Processing Suppliers Association announced the expo would be staged every other year instead of annually. Business was still in a slump from the Great Recession of 2008 at the time, and FPSA’s then-chairman Scott Scriven frankly described the biennial approach as an effort to cut the cost of exhibiting.

NFPA’s model was Anuga FoodTec, a food & beverage processing showcase staged every three years in Cologne, Germany. Organizers of the German show expect to draw 43,000 visitors to the next fair, which takes place March 24-27 in 2015.That’s less than the 48,600 who crammed Chicago’s McCormick Place over four days in November for Pack Expo 2014, the biennial event staged by PMMI, the packaging machine OEM trade group. But PMMI doesn’t really have an off year: in odd-numbered years, it moves the show to Las Vegas.

The German and U.S. shows are becoming mirror images, except in terms of frequency. The most recent Chicago show filled 1.2 million sq. ft. of exhibit space. The upcoming Cologne fair will sprawl over almost 1.4 million sq. ft. It also will emphasize packaging equipment as well as processing machinery, just as the PMMI events have expanded space devoted to food processing machinery.

When exhibits are strewn across 32 acres, finding all the suppliers who have solutions that a show visitor is looking for requires extreme diligence or dumb luck. An interesting idea being piloted at the Anuga FoodTec show is a web portal to connect visitors with exhibitors offering “resource efficiency” solutions, as show organizers put it. It’s specific to systems and solutions to reduce the amount of energy, water and raw materials needed to produce finished goods. How well it works remains to be seen—it requires specific information from exhibitors if it is going to be helpful—but it’s a step up from a website listing of thousands of vendor names, arranged alphabetically.

Buying activity determines if a trade show is worth the time and money that visitors and suppliers invest to attend. In a sense, that buying is a barometer of an industry’s economic health. The economy was so healthy in 2000 that PMMI served notice to the equipment suppliers association that they would have to move elsewhere in 2002. Before the split could be consummated, the economy tanked, 9/11 happened and the demand for trade show space shriveled.

Industry segments go through their own boom-bust cycles, as the up-and-down performance of protein companies illustrates. The American Meat Institute’s annual show was running on fumes until it threw its lot in with U.S. Poultry & Egg Association’s Atlanta poultry show, another annual event that had seen better days. The “All Feather” association rebranded its event two years ago as the International Production & Processing Expo, which will be staged Jan. 27-29 in Atlanta. It earns its international chops with a growing contingent of Latin and South American attendees who may outnumber the Amish chicken farmers who always have been part of the Atlanta show.

Trade shows and business conferences generate an estimated $400 billion annually in economic activity, not including the industry buying and selling they have to generate to justify their existence. Shows and conferences are projected to grow another 33 percent over the next year, which suggests someone is optimistic about the future health of food production and other manufacturing industries.