When it comes to appealing to the senses on the trade-show floor, exhibitors at the Produce Marketing Association’s (PMA) annual Fresh Summit International Convention & Exposition have some natural advantages.
“Food itself is emotional,” said Julie Lucido, CEO of Marketing Plus, a Fresno, Calif.–based company that represents clients who regularly exhibit at Fresh Summit, which this year is being held at the Anaheim Convention Center on Oct. 26–28. Food “is a part of the everyday human experience,” Lucido said, “and can be truly represented on the tradeshow floor in a variety of ways.”
Lucido urges her clients to make their actual products hands-on, so attendees can touch and smell them. She also proposes that they bring along chefs to prepare food right in the booth. Cooking creates evocative sounds and aromas, she said, and appeals to “the ultimate sense in our industry - taste.”
“Attention to product displays is key,” Lucido said, “whether we have a client who wants to show how their vegetable would look on a store shelf, or another client might want to tie their fruit back to the farm.” (Lucido has also pitched the use of real soil, but so far no clients have brought the farm so literally to the show floor.)
At Melissa’s World Variety Produce’s booth at PMA, the displays of fresh produce look almost exactly like they would in a grocery store, said Bill Schneider, director of marketing for the company, the largest distributor of specialty produce in the United States. That’s because Melissa’s works directly with manufacturers of retail displays and fixtures to furnish the booth, which as a result is outfitted with the same displays a shopper might find in a store.
Melissa’s installs two 20' by 40' booths at PMA, one stocked with produce so brilliantly colored and perfectly formed, “many attendees can’t believe it’s real,” Schneider said. (It’s closely inspected before and after shipping, he said, and regularly replenished.) The second booth houses a kitchen where four chefs who travel with Melissa’s cook samples for trade-show attendees. The company also hires local celebrity chefs when possible.
"We’ll make all kinds of menu items - stirfries, cookies, juices, soups,” Schneider said. “We cook with onions and garlic, which send out a nice aroma.” Melissa’s is well known among show attendees for having goodtasting samples, he said. “There’s usually a line.”
As for digital images, Schneider said that he has used plasma screens in the past. “But that didn't seem to excite people very much,” he said. Neither did two iPads, filled with photos and videos of company products. “Very few people stopped to look at them,” Schneider said. “Everyone seemed to be coming to talk.” Schneider said he’s not ruling out ever using digital images again, but he speculates that they can’t compete with the sight, smell, and taste of the real thing. “They are seeing it live,” he asks. “Why would they watch a video?”