The National Restaurant Association recently held its 100th annual conference in Chicago. It was soon followed in the same location by the annual United Fresh Convention and Expo. These are large shows featuring a wide range of products and services for the food industry across acres of exhibit halls. For the NRA show organizers said to plan on at least three days to adequately cover the show floor. And that’s not even counting the breakout sessions, demonstrations, side meetings and general networking that also goes along with large conferences!
In my 20+ year career running marketing at a number of food and technology companies I’ve seen just about every variety of show across many different industries. I have run some rather large customer conferences as well as participated in industry events all around the world as a sponsor, partner and exhibitor.
Certain things jump out about food industry events that make them unique and much different than anything you’ll find in the pure tech space.
Everyone loves to eat! And with food and drink samples everywhere, people stop and engage more than they do at tech shows. But I think there is also a sense that this industry runs on relationships as much as it does on innovation and economics. That doesn’t mean that some new gadget or gizmo won’t merit significant attention, but it does mean that the conversations taking place while waiting in line for a sampling of nachos & fresh guacamole can be just as valuable.
Tech shows are notoriously flashy and high-energy with an overlay of world-changing urgency baked into the keynotes and hot topics sessions. The exhibits play on your sense of fun and awe about where technology can take a business. Food shows, on the other hand, take a more human approach and play on your senses in a more literal way. Walk by a booth promoting new grills and you’ll hear the actual sizzle of steak. Glimpse a banner touting cheese and you’ll stumble across plates and plates of tasty samples. But perhaps most enticing of all are the long tables of desserts set strategically across from new flavors of gelato.
The tech industry here in Silicon Valley rides the whirlwind of global innovation and breakthroughs in everything from materials science to quantum physics to artificial intelligence. It is a heady space with eyes firmly on the future and enough financing to blast through the doubts of those who might mistrust a tech utopia.
The food industry plays to a different power – the power of food and the eternal human need for sustenance and conviviality. The power here comes from feeding the world in ways that are more healthy and cost-effective, and that line up with consumer preferences and trends. The future of food is more assured than the future of tech, but it is also fraught with questions about humanity and the world in which we live. If the latest quantum computer fails to live up to market hype the only ones out are the investors and employees. If a crop fails or a food safety issue fans out across a sector, the impact hits common values and rattles our trust in our sustainable food supply. People can also die.
At Procurant, we find ourselves in both camps. We are certainly using the latest technologies to solve many complex challenges across the perishable food supply chain. We can talk blockchain, scalable cloud and edge deployments, IoT and mobile apps far into the night. But we also know that ours is an industry based on trust and values and relationships, and we remain focused on the practical day-to-day needs of our customers.
So the next time you see Procurant – or any tech provider, really — at a food show, realize that we are all straddling two worlds, and the best among us will find ways to bring our innovation to your business needs, period. And if we do it right, we’ll enjoy some great meals with our friends along the way!