In-person trade shows are back … sort of. While industry events are once again beginning to be held in person, they’re not yet quite what they used to be. Here are some of the changes our team has seen as they head back out into the world of face-to-face food and ag trade shows as well as what expert experience creators are noticing.

Attendance quantity down, quality up.

From COVID restrictions to labor shortages, deciding to fly anywhere these days seems like a personal challenge to one’s own sanity. So it should come as no surprise that overall attendance is down across the board, especially at those shows with traditionally high international representation.

However, as Mindy Feih of Skyline Exhibits notes, the opportunity for quality traffic and leads actually seems stronger. “As was the case post-9/11 and post-2008 recession, companies are more carefully evaluating the cost/risk to send their employees and opting to only send key decision makers.”

More purpose. Less wandering.

Today’s trade show attendees are showing up with more purpose, knowing exactly where they want to go and who they want to see. There are far fewer people walking the events to see what catches their eye and who they can bump into and more pre-scheduled meetings and destination booths.

C.O.nxt Account Supervisor Matt Olson recently attended NCBA (National Cattlemen’s Beef Association) in Houston and found that the reduced general foot traffic actually made it easier to have more in-depth interactions.

NCBA Tradeshow

President & CEO, Marcy Tessmann, interviewing with Farm Progress

“You might think less traffic would make for fewer opportunities to make connections, but the reduced hustle and bustle actually allowed more time for deeper conversations with the people and prospects I did run across.”

A new look to in-booth refreshments.

Outright banning the distribution of food and drinks in event booths isn’t a realistic proposition, especially in the food service industry. But today they’re a little less common and look a bit different.

“Food shows are a bit more restricted on what they can provide in-booth,” says Feih. “It varies from show to show, but we’re seeing a lot more snacks in baggies and sealed refreshments.”

On the other side of that coin, many booth happy hours seem to be livelier than ever as attendees celebrate coming together in a non-Zoom setting for the first time in a long time.

Tougher to get a table.

Looking to wine and dine a promising prospect or simply blow off a little post-show steam? You better make those reservations early. Even with reduced attendance numbers, local restaurants, Uber/Lyft services and other entertainment options are harder to get—most likely due to labor shortages, reduced capacity limits and other lingering COVID implications.

C.O.nxt Account Director, Laura Moser advises after her experience at the International Production & Processing Expo (IPPE), “If you’re going to a larger event, be sure to book your reservations as far ahead as you can, weeks even if you have a specific spot in mind.”

IPPE Trade Show

ARM & HAMMER’s booth at IPPE

In a lot of ways, business as usual.

For all the things that are different about the new look of trade shows, there appears to be an equal amount that reminds us of the old days. The booth experiences themselves, for example, haven’t changed a whole lot.

“Trade show design objectives are mostly back to normal,” reports Feih. “In a few cases we have added plexiglass shields on reception tables and built hand sanitizer into the booth design. But overall, we’re not being asked by most of our clients to incorporate any additional safety measures into our designs.”

Feih adds that the way people interact at shows feels like a return to normalcy, even as the CDC still recommends social distancing, masking up and continued caution.

“Many believed social distancing on the floor was going to be the new norm, but this has proven to not be the case. People are shaking hands, hugging and conducting conversations in pre-pandemic fashion.” Things are moving so quickly on the status of appropriate health and safety protocols and we anticipate later spring and into summer events we’ll be entering a new era, whatever that may be.

C.O.nxt Insight

Our team of subject matter experts focuses on food and agriculture—farm field to processing to entrée on a plate. We can help you build a new brand, protect an old one or target customers to foster sales. Let’s talk when the time is right to handle your next strategic marketing and communications challenge: Marcy Tessmann,