IFT '09: In defence of trade shows

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As the dust settles on another IFT the absence of several big players has left some questioning the relevance of trade shows in the 21st Century.

The economic climate, the location of the show in Anaheim, California, and maybe even fears over swine ′flu, meant that the exhibitor list was notable almost more for the names that were absent, than for those who did attend.

2009 may have revealed the scale of the challenges facing trade shows. Trade shows must ensure they remain truly relevant and emphasise their strengths in this age of multi-media technology.

And this is why trade shows need to firmly mark their territory, when many suggest that everything is now achievable from the comfort of the corporate meeting room, with video conferencing, email, webinars, and Blackberrys (the non-edible kind) facilitating inter-continental communication.

IFT, like many other trade shows for other industries, is vital for the industry. Like market places in medieval times, trade shows bring people together, and they facilitate the exchange of ideas.

The value of face-to-face interaction is inestimable, as is an environment for transferring knowledge. The scientific symposia were top class, with international experts from a wide range of specialties presenting up-to-date information on everything from clinical trials to the safety of Chinese food exports.

But a walk of the show floor and a perusal of the show guide showed that the IFT ’09 revealed an absence of exhibiting companies like Danisco, Kraft Ingredients, Tate & Lyle, Ocean Spray, Lonza, CP Kelco, and FMC, to name but a few. Why? Is the economic crisis hitting these companies more than others that they need to cut spending on shows?

The success of these companies is unquestionable, and they will have thought long and hard about whether to exhibit in Anaheim. This year, they decided against it.

One suggestion is that they no longer feel that IFT delivers a return on investment. A representative of one of the companies listed above told me that his company thought that money could be spent more effectively elsewhere. (It should be noted that these companies were represented at the show. They may not have invested in the booth space, but they still sent people). So it’s not that there is no money or a dismissal of trade shows, just a keener eye on where and how that money is spent.

And this is where IFT and other trade shows need to justify the expenditure: There is the social networking, the access to leading-edge science, the chance to cast an eye over the food scientists of the future, and the need to create a sense of community for the next generation. Shows like IFT produce a concentration of talent, innovation, and community that is unachievable in the virtual world.

And for this reason, I applaud IFT and shows like it. They are central to a healthy and functioning industry.

The one question I have to ask of IFT is the sense in rotating the show from Chicago to New Orleans to Anaheim to Las Vegas. Statistics show that shows that stay in one place year-on-year fair better than those that rotate. And talk to anyone on the show floor and they tell you that Chicago is the​ place to be and that the notable absentees will be back for Chicago next year.

I’m not saying that only the Chicago show is relevant, just that some venues are not as appealing as others. Next year the show returns to its natural home in the Windy City. We’ll be there. Will you?

We would be very interested to hear your thoughts on IFT 2009 and trade shows in general, whether you attended or not. If you would like to comment, please email stephen.daniells’at’ decisionnews.com.

Stephen Daniells is the science editor for FoodNavigator and NutraIngredients. He has a PhD in chemistry from Queen’s University, Belfast, and has worked in research in The Netherlands and France. He was attending his third IFT.

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Reader comments:

Dear Dr. Daniells,

Thank you very much for this very enlightening editorial. I attended the IFT in Anaheim, and did notice that the “crowd” was thinner as usual, both on the floor and in the aisles. I noticed also that IFT is more and more becoming some sort of money machine, which is probably not the best way to attract future participants in this otherwise superb annual meeting.

I remember the time when the fees were reasonable, included the book of abstracts, and speakers were sending their presentation to whoever asked them. Now, we have to pay for everything. If the program was not as rich as it is, it would not be a problem, but it is almost impossible for an individual to attend all the sessions he would like to. I think that it would be fair to let for instance at least the participants have free online access to the ppt presentations after the show.

I realize that the IFT annual meeting is a huge organization, which requires a lot of time, energy and money, and I have no problem paying a fee to attend. But once this decision is made, I believe that “an all you can eat” formula would be a good way to promote the exchange that makes the uniqueness of the IFT community and the success of its annual meeting.

This may seem minor, but I believe that the success of this unique meeting is primarily the reflection of the strength of the IFT community, and of its ability to promote exchange between its members. Taking a monetary toll on these exchanges might not be the best way to achieve this very desirable goal.

Jean-Paul VignalConsultantArgyle, Texas

I also attended IFT in Anaheim and have attended many times over the last 30 years. Attendance was definitely down as you would expect in a tough economy, which we have seen before.

I don't agree that IFT should be in Chicago every year as part of the experience in attending IFT is seeing different cities in addition to going to the show. Their scientific agenda this year was the finest I have seen in all the years I have been attending and perhaps a shift in focus to the value of that versus the "Show Floor" needs to be acknowledged.

I also attend other association shows and find that IFT provides a unique experience compared to other industry shows, so we need to find a way for it to continue to succeed.

Earl C ChristiansenManager of Technical ServicesUpstate Niagara Cooperative Inc

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