Produce trade shows: then, now and in the future Think about it; how is the trade show of today different than the trade show of 2000, or of 1990?

I would have to say they feel much the same.

California avocado bag? Check.

Lanyard and nametag? Check.

Today, as in years past, you walk into a large convention hall and you see aisle upon aisle, booth upon booth. It looks much the same as it always has.

Of course, there are chocolate-covered strawberries to be appropriated, spin the wheel games to be played,  slick four-color product sheets to be deposited in bags.

The trade show is still about face-to-face interaction. It is about relationships.

Yet if the trade show feels the same, the world around it is changing. Google gives the world 24/7 365 days a year answers. Networking occurs online at LinkedIn and in social media forums like The Packer Market.

There is a sense of change all around us in the produce industry, a sense the world is a different place in some just-out-of- grasp way.

One reader comment to a story that we put online this week about a Mexican company coming to PMA to expand its avocado exports brought that to mind. The reader had seen enough transformation in the avocado market, not withstanding growth in consumption:

"Enough already!!! As a California avocado grower I would like to thank the US government and Mexican imports for ruining the California Market. When I became a grower in 2003, the Super Bowl was a big promotion for us. Since 2007 our market hasn't been a viable market until April. We have about a four and a half moth window to sell our fruit and the majority of that window is inundated with imports. Mexico should be allowed in the US, but only as a supplemental product."

Another reader responded this way to that comment.

“You’re fighting a superior product with higher oil content and better flavor. Get competitive.”

If the nature of the avocado market has changed over time, the context of trade shows also has gradually shifted.

The basis for involvement in any trade show is the business value that it provides. As such, the increasing numbers of regional trade shows are competing with national trade shows like PMA and United in the quest for return on investment.

 New digital technology allows for construction of a virtual trade show – the term even has its own Wikipedia entry. Even for a massively attended event like the Fresh Summit, much planning for the PMA’s Fresh Summit can be done online.

The technology providing instant communications and high speed answers make it more problematic to wait and unveil new products at a trade show.

A recent story about the future of trade shows - “what tradeshows might look like in 2016” - said this about those who think the existing model will continue to function, with some modifications.

"This scenario looks much like the existing tradeshow model. No matter how spectacular the technology, it cannot replace powerful face-to-face meetings and large-scale, annual gatherings of like-minded individuals that have been the backbone of the tradeshow industry. In this scenario, change will happen gradually, and the fundamental metric is reaching attendance goals in the exhibition halls. The problem with this scenario is that being late to the future means losing muscle in reacting to competitors that are implementing change."

What will produce shows look like in 2016? There may be more Smartphone apps, more digital connections and potentially a tougher market to attract exhibitors and buyers.

We can only hope there will be avocado bags and chocolate-covered strawberries.