KANSAS CITY, MO. - For the first time ever, the Newark, Del.-based Produce Marketing Association will hold its annual Fresh Summit convention virtually.
Slated for Oct. 13-15, the online version, while not ideal, will nonetheless provide new ways for industry members to showcase products, network and get educated on the latest trends, according to PMA officials.
Cathy Burns, PMA’s president and CEO said that based on the feedback the association received from its members, three themes emerged during the planning of the virtual event.
“Connections, content and community,” Burns said. “While it’s certainly different than connecting in person, we’re happy to share new ways we can connect.”
And in this pandemic year, Burns also emphasized that the 2020 show will spotlight the produce industry’s role in improving the lives of people in the U.S. and beyond.
“Fresh Summit is not only an opportunity to grow your business, it’s a chance to collectively shine a light on how our products grow a healthier world,” she said.
The industry has been coming together for Fresh Summit for more than 70 years, Burns said, and while it will be disappointing to not see each other in person this year, she said she’s inspired by the vision from PMA’s volunteers and team.
“We have all faced new and unpredictable challenges this year, but we have also seen a great surge of recognition of the absolute importance of our industry. Our products are key to a healthful life and to growing a healthier world. We look forward to the opportunities this year to amplify the message that fresh produce and floral is relevant and essential to new global audiences.”
New ways to connect
Giving suppliers and buyers multiple opportunities to connect is the heart of why people come to Fresh Summit, said Jamie Hillegas, PMA’s director of events.
Obviously, PMA and its members would rather hold their show in person. But there are silver linings to the 2020 cloud, Hillegas said.
“Buyers will be able to bring large teams of people because it’s virtual, which they wouldn’t be able to do if it was in person,” she said.
Everything in the virtual show is being built with a focus on connections, Hillegas added. The centerpiece is what she calls a “very smart but simple platform that’s easy to find and do things in.”
The platform is AI based, which means it will get “smarter” the more time attendees spend on it. On their screens, attendees will receive a steady stream of recommendations, tailored just for them, for products they should look at on the virtual show floor, educational sessions they should attend and for other content and experiences.
George Szczepanski, PMA’s director of membership, said that peer-to-peer learning also is essential to Fresh Summit, and despite being digital, this year’s show will be no different.
And Szczepanski agrees with Hillegas that PMA views its virtual version as an opportunity, not a liability.
“Being virtual is not a limitation if it builds our opportunities to do things we’ve never done before, something that’s not possible in a convention center. For instance, you can virtually walk the show floor without any interruptions.”
Another advantage of “breaking outside the four walls” of an in-person convention, Szczepanski added, is that attendees to Fresh Summit ’20 can start making connections before the show, and continue making them after the show is over. PMA is encouraging attendees to begin building their schedules on the platform a week before the show starts.
The “buyer preview” feature of this year’s show, Hillegas added, gives buyers the opportunity to “walk” the showfloor beforehand without feeling constant pressure to stop and interact, in the form of real-time messages popping up on their screen from would-be suppliers.
Exhibitors at certain levels also will have access to “speed meet-ups,” exclusive one-on-one five minute meetings with potential buyers.
An “unlimited audience”
This year’s co-chairs are Shawn Peery, vice president of produce and floral at Boise, Idaho-based Albertsons Companies, and Angela Fraser, director of trade affairs at the Irvine-based California Avocado Commission.
“Going virtual means we have an unlimited audience that we can connect with, market to and communicate with,” Peery said. “That means potential new partners in new parts of the world, but it also means we can reach out to people who don’t often get the opportunity to see this side of the work we do.”
Many of the Fresh Summit planning committee’s discussions focused on the three “C” themes elaborated by Burns, Peery said.
Content: Over the past several months, PMA has provided regular, weekly connections through its Virtual Town Halls, LinkedIn Live recordings, Podcast episodes, Interviews with Experts, consumer reports and more to provide up-to-the moment resources to help make the decisions to help the industry recognize and respond to changing conditions.
While the content is always an important part of the Fresh Summit schedule, this year, the insights from PMA, CGT, industry peers and experts will address critical and relevant topics to help the industry reflect back on the year and see where its headed in the coming months.
Community: “Every year, Fresh Summit has been the produce and floral industry’s family reunion,” Fraser said. “Though this year will be different, the Produce Marketing Association will serve as the leader in guiding and directing our industry through this ever-changing world.”
Some people can measure their careers in the number of Fresh Summits they’ve attended, he added. It’s a tradition that is core to the spirit of the industry.
“While it will be the first time in over 70 years that the industry will not meet in person, it will still be Fresh Summit. It will still be a time to learn, to connect and reconnect, and to celebrate.”
Connections: Most years, people would prepare for Fresh Summit by studying the Expo and Conference Hall map, and making a plan to cover as much ground as possible. This year, that may look a bit different, but guests’ goals are the same and the team has selected a virtual platform to prioritize connections.
Guests can expect a personalized experience, tailored to their individual goals. The platform will prioritize connections between buyers and sellers and feature a number of ways to engage with and discover the latest products, services and solutions.
For example, the presentation showcased ways for suppliers to connect by smart and simple “matching.” Using artificial intelligence, the platform will continuously provide recommendations of relevant people, products, services and content to engage with based on information provided at registration and how one explores the system. The experience will resemble a personalized shopping or entertaining platform like Amazon or Netflix.
The interactive platform will allow individuals to build their own schedule, setting aside time for content or meetings and will also allow for a variety of meeting types including one on one, small group, or large groups during General Sessions, mixers or receptions. The event will be global, with guests tuning in from all over the world, and providing a place for all guests to build the experience that will help them get the most out of their three days in October.
The platform is also built to streamline business processes for companies, with features like a robust lead tracking system that allows for company representatives to add notes and tags to contact lists in order to export for easy and immediate follow-up. PMA has also committed to providing detailed guiding resources to help buyers and suppliers gain the most value from the platform and the event.
“2020 has been a year like no other,” Burns said. “The pandemic has changed our world and wrapped up in these changes are incredible opportunities for the produce and floral communities to leverage the momentum as more consumers seek our products. While we have had our challenges, I am excited that this will be a Fresh Summit where we come together to connect, welcome new audiences, discover new partnerships and ideas, and celebrate our work to grow a healthier world.”
This story was featured in the September edition of Supermarket Perimeter. Click here to view the whole issue.