CHICAGO -- The trade show amalgamation scheduled to take place here in May 2004 is showing promise of revitalizing interest in the Food Marketing Institute's annual FMI Show.
Early booth sales are up at two of the new auxiliary shows, and association leaders told SN they believe attendance also should be up this year as FMI joins forces for the first time with the United Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Association and the Organic Trade Association. In addition, FMI will continue to co-locate with the National Association of the Specialty Food Trade's Fancy Food Show and the U.S. Export Showcase. FMI's annual Pharmacy Conference also will be co-located at the 2004 event.
Some association executives estimated that total attendance could be up by nearly 50% this year over last year's FMI attendance, but Brian Tully, senior vice president, convention services, FMI, said he didn't want to make any forecasts. "We've learned that making predictions with all the things that are going on in the world can be a very tricky business," he said. However, he noted that several FMI board members indicated earlier this year they anticipated bringing more people in 2004.
"If we can give our members more reasons to send more people, we are accomplishing goal No. 1 in our minds," Tully said.
For the smaller conferences that will be attaching themselves to the FMI Show in McCormick Place, the planned co-location -- announced around the time of the 2003 FMI Show -- has meant a strong increase in interest from exhibitors.
"Last year, we had the equivalent of 265 [10-by-10-foot] booths," said Dave Gagnon, director of operations, Organic Trade Association, Greenfield, Mass. "This year, we'll have at least 100 more than that. We've seen a dramatic increase."
He said 345 booths have already been reserved, and "sales are still going strong."
Gagnon said he expects attendance to be "quite a lot" more than the 2,000 who attended the 2003 OTA show, called All Things Organic.
"Our show is growing pretty fast, and I think we outgrew our space in Austin, Texas," he told SN. "As our exhibitors and our attendance started to increase, we realized the demand was enough that we could move to a bigger city."
Although the move to Chicago will make the show slightly more costly to produce, Gagnon said the increases in attendance and booth sales should make up for that. All Things Organic also is raising its attendance fees slightly.
Tom Stenzel, president, UFFVA, said his conference also was seeing a strong increase in demand for booth space, and is expecting an increase in attendance as well.
"Our show is already about two-and-a-half times the size it was last year, so a lot more of our members are taking space in the trade show," he told SN. "They see it as a win-win, being together with the retail supermarket industry." He expects up to 300 exhibitors occupying 185,000 square feet.
The Produce Expo and Conference generally attracts about 5,000 attendees, but Stenzel said he expects that to grow this year. He projected that attendance for all three shows would total 30,000, which would represent a significant increase over FMI's estimate of 22,000 attendees at its 2003 show. That figure was off by about 20% from 2001 levels, which were down about 15% from the preceding year.
Stenzel said the produce industry was eager to gain more exposure to top supermarket executives.
"There's been very little produce on display at the FMI Show during the past few years, so to go from zero to 60 miles per hour in one year is great," he said.
Attendees who purchase a badge for the Fancy Food Show, All Things Organic, the Produce Expo or the traditional FMI Show will be able to walk the show floor of any of the other shows during the entire three-day event, May 2 to 4.
The associations are still in finalizing details about how the educational sessions will be coordinated, but officials were in discussions to have each show stage its own education program for attendees who purchase tickets to that show. In addition, attendees to other shows would be able to purchase tickets to individual sessions.
Plans call for All Things Organic to be located in Hall C, one floor below the Produce Expo and Fancy Food Show in the North Hall. Signs are planned to direct attendees to escalators leading down to All Things Organic from the other shows.
Tully said that although FMI has seen a few exhibitors cancel their space at FMI to take space at the Produce Expo, he said the losses "have been within the acceptable limits, in my opinion."
"We think that with the outcome we're expecting and hoping for, that we'll be much more satisfied in the long run," he said.