Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, food trade shows helped small and large businesses alike attract new buyers and customers. But when the pandemic struck, physical stores, in-person exhibitions and expos came to a halt. Fortunately, online technology and tools came to the rescue and e-commerce blossomed.
Like many global industries, the multi-trillion-dollar global food and beverage industry was severely disrupted by the pandemic. When stay-at-home orders were enforced, traffic to restaurants and cafes took a massive hit. The restaurant industry alone likely lost nearly $120 billion in sales during the first three months of the pandemic, according to the National Restaurant Association.
Additionally, the food and beverage industry relies heavily on just-in-time (JIT) logistics. This model is ideal when operations are normal and can even withstand a certain level of disorder within the supply chain. But, the level of global supply chain disruptions created by the pandemic were disastrous in many cases. All these factors led to closures or economic losses for thousands of restaurants, bars and even some grocery stores during the pandemic.
Fortunately, the fallout from the pandemic wasn’t all bad, and the industry quickly pivoted to digital technologies. At the height of the pandemic, a third of consumers ordered groceries online, 41 percent of whom were doing it for the first time, according to Coresight Research. The convenience of having groceries delivered to the front door is likely to remain a long-term habit for many consumers post-pandemic.
This trend wasn’t limited to just retail. According to management consultancy company McKinsey, more than three quarters of B2B decision makers say they now prefer digital self-serve and remote human engagement over face-to-face interactions. This doesn’t seem to be just a fad — 89 percent plan to continue making B2B purchases remotely for the medium term.
The main channel of many food and beverage producers for acquiring customers has been attending physical trade shows, events and exhibitions. Many businesses admit this approach can be hit or miss and comes with several disadvantages including cost to attend, potential language barriers, complicated logistics, a slew of competition and unqualified leads.
Since in-person exhibitions have been significantly affected by the pandemic, suppliers lost connections with their customers. When the pandemic hit, bringing with it global supply chain disruptions, declining physical traffic and lockdowns, suppliers decided to give online food trade shows a try. Worries over the spread of the Omicron variant also put a halt on in-person events. The Private Label Manufacturers Association (PLMA), for example, recently canceled its annual Private Label Trade Show and pivoted online.
Another recent example is from December 2021, when Chinese e-commerce marketplace Alibaba hosted an online trade show, Global Food and Beverage Selection. The online event featured 1,600 exhibitors from all over the world, saw more than 282,000 food and beverage products presented and resulted in orders being placed internationally.
While in-person trade shows may not be a thing of the past, many businesses are likely to continue hosting and attending online food trade shows for a multitude of reasons post-pandemic, and e-commerce will continue to be the driving force behind them.