The consumer packaged goods (CPG) and retail industry as we know it is changing. We’re needing to turn to digital and virtual ways of doing business in order to minimize the spread of the COVID-19 virus and of those efforts, unfortunately, includes postponing or canceling trade events. Of the scheduled trade shows to take place this year, the most recent event to cancel is the Specialty Food Association (SFA) Summer Fancy Food Show, originally scheduled for June 28-30 in New York. 

With canceled trade events, travel restrictions, and so many employees working remotely, the CPG industry is being pushed into a digital transformation, which means many companies have shifted or are shifting to virtual events or digital content to support their business goals. And despite event cancellations, we’ve seen retailers continue their product discovery by turning to digital technologies during this difficult time. Below are some of the ways retail buyers in the CPG industry are able to continue discovering products and connecting with brands, virtually. 

Virtual face-to-face opportunities 

Retailers and brands can connect by leveraging technological conferencing for virtual face-to-face opportunities and meetings. Companies like ECRM are leveraging virtual technologies to host online events such as their Efficient Supplier Introductions (ESIs). These events are a category-specific, live virtual experience during which suppliers present their products directly to category buyers, very similar to in-person events–but all online. The process of getting products into retail stores and building these unmatched connections is an ongoing marathon and a huge part of what in-person events have to offer. But waiting for shelter-in-place orders to clear doesn’t mean you have to wait on your connections with retailers or suppliers. Virtual face-to-face opportunities can help provide that first introduction that you can build on moving forward.   

Online product sourcing campaigns 

Another way retailers, distributors, and trade organizations are managing ongoing product discovery in the face of trade show cancelations is through hosting online sourcing campaigns. There is a list of ongoing retailers and distributors including KeHE, Fresh Thyme, Thrive Market, Meijer, who are partnering with online platforms like RangeMe to host their product sourcing campaigns in place of in-person trade shows. That means retail buyers who would have been attending shows like the Summer Fancy Foods in New York, are leveraging the online product discovery platform to still view brands and products they would have seen at the show. During this time of absent trade shows, it’s critical for a brand to build a well-rounded trade show strategy with a solid digital sell sheet to increase its visibility with retailers and continue on the path of success. With a top-notch digital sell sheet, brands can submit directly to these special limited-time sourcing campaigns that retailers are hosting, and retail buyers can review all the information they would need to know in one convenient and streamlined place. 

Digital trade events

In addition to the different ways retailers and buyers are leveraging digital technologies to discover products, trade organizations are also hopping onto the bandwagon by hosting their events online to encourage continued product and trend discovery. Trade shows provide energy and buzz to product discovery and are the way industries learn about new trends and business strategies that can’t be replaced. But in times like this, companies of all shapes and sizes are learning the importance of having a digital plan and presence moving forward. Some trade show organizations are leading the way for virtual trade shows by virtually hosting their shows this year which will include exhibitors showcasing their products in live online booths that attendees can view and hosting virtual educational and keynote sessions. 

As we take a look at how the global pandemic has shifted the CPG and retail industry, we’re faced with the need to come up with new ways for how product discovery can continue amidst the unprecedented number of trade shows being canceled or postponed and travel restrictions. During this time, product discovery relies on technology and virtual opportunities, however, in the future, virtual events could usher in a new way of how companies host events.  

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