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For United Fresh, day five wasn’t day done

By
Craig Levitt

United Fresh Live! week may have come to a close, but the event is by no means over.

“There is so much more that continues to live on the platform, and we encourage exhibitors and attendees to continue to take advantage of it this summer,” said Mary Coppola, vice president of marketing and communications for United Fresh Produce Association, on the final day of the virtual event.

All of the company booths as well as the educational sessions remain on the platform and are available until Sept. 1, essentially becoming an online directory, one which exhibitors have the ability to update regularly.

According to United Fresh, more than 12,000 registered for the virtual convention, averaging about 6,000 per day with a peak of about 7,500. The event was essentially a labor of love for United Fresh.

The decision to go virtual was made in March during the early days of the COVID-19 outbreak. Not too much later United Fresh decided the event would be free of charge.  

“We took down all of our paywalls for all of the research we have on our website,” said Coppola. “Essentially, whatever was pay-to-play became free as an industry resource, because we didn’t know if anybody would be able to afford anything. Quite frankly, that was a deciding factor when went to build the United Fresh Live! platform. We then made the announcement that we just couldn’t charge this industry to participate from an attendee perspective because we don’t know who is going to be able to afford to participate and it only behooved us to ensure that everybody has access to the same information in order to be successful as an industry going forward.”

The decision to make United Fresh Live! a free event meant the association was giving up $1 million in revenue — not an insignificant amount. Now that the “live” part of the event has come to a close, Michael Muzyk, chairman of the United Fresh board of directors, is reaching out to the industry.

“We’re asking you today to make a contribution to help cover the cost of bringing you this experience,” he said. “No matter how large or small, you’ll be making a powerful investment in our continued advocacy before government, food safety and regulatory support, training and education for our community, and increasing children’s access to fresh fruits and vegetables.”

A deeper dive into the data of United Fresh Live! showed that the event was able to reach a whole new generation of fresh produce professionals by transitioning to a virtual event that otherwise would not have had the opportunity to travel and attend an in person event.

“About half of the attendees that registered had never engaged with a United Fresh event,” said Coppola. “So not only are they young professionals, but these are also folks from each company that were able to call in from the warehouses, or on the road, and those are the folks that any trade association isn’t always able to address, because of the nature of their job. It was so exciting to see some of those folks pop up in receptions and coffee talk conversations that were pertinent to their roles within a company.”  

The virtual nature of the show also allowed retailers to find added value, as more than just vice presidents of produce were able to attend. Coppola said not only did produce professionals attend United Fresh Live!, so too did commodity buyers and commodity exerts as well as CPG buyers — exposing them to potential cross promotional opportunities for produce throughout the store.

“Generally, you will get two to three attendees per company on the show floor,” said Coppola. “Last year we had a Publix team and there were three of them. This year there were more than 20 engaging on the platform. Once you were able to realize how many retailers were there and participating in the full spectrum of what the platform had to offer, it really was eye-opening to acknowledge that they are so interested in what we have to offer. It generally is a time constraint that prevents them from participating, this eliminated that.

“We were pleasantly surprised by who showed up,” continued Coppola. “ I’ll use Walmart as an example, Rich Gonzalez is one of our board members and he was able to encourage the Walmart produce community — globally — to participate. I was pleasantly surprised to engage with the Walmart Mexico team on a number of sessions and conversations.”

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December 2, 2020

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