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Remembering dairy shows

Connie Tipton

Connie Tipton is president and CEO of the International Dairy Foods Association. She contributes this column exclusively for Cheese Market News®.

With another International Dairy Show coming up Sept. 15-18 at Chicago’s McCormick Place, it’s fun to reflect on the long history of dairy shows during my years working with the industry and to remember the value that these events offer for everyone in the industry. The opportunities for new ideas and break-through solutions are amazing when executives from related businesses come together to discuss, review and experience all sorts of innovations, products and services. To that point, I really can’t recall a single show when someone hasn’t shared an “aha” moment about something that could transform his or her business.

Just like everything else in our world, the dairy show has changed and evolved over the years. In the early 1980s, the industry’s supplier organization, then called Dairy and Food Industry Supplier Association, coordinated an enormous exhibit hall every other year, and the Milk Industry Foundation (MIF) and the International Ice Cream Association (IICA) brought the dairy processing industry together for a companion convention program.

To supplement these activities, suppliers hosted major events at museums and other venues all around downtown Chicago to entertain potential customers in style after the exhibit floor closed each day. I remember it being somewhat like attending a political convention or inaugural ball, with everyone comparing their invitations and flitting from one spectacular event to another. Each evening was filled with lots of partying and lots of fun! At that time, there were still many family businesses on both the processing and supplier sides of the industry, and those family ties contributed to the strong sense of camaraderie and loyalties that were prevalent in dairy’s many long-term relationships.

Unfortunately, the show wasn’t a good deal for dairy processors trying to fund and run a strong organization. Most of the money flowed to the supplier organization, and the milk and ice cream associations struggled to support a budget sufficient to represent the industry on numerous policy issues. The MIF and IICA executive committees went to work with association staff to try to negotiate a more balanced division of revenues that flowed from the show. Not surprisingly, the supplier organization wanted to keep all the money, so the MIF and IICA decided to launch their own trade show in even years while the supplier-sponsored show ran in odd years.

The first dairy processing show premiered in October 1988 in Orlando, Florida; it had a small start in a Marriott Hotel ballroom, but the attendance of Dan Marino, quarterback of the Miami Dolphins football team, along with a few other team stand-outs, certainly made it memorable. Two years later we were at the Anaheim, California, Convention Center with former President Ronald Reagan addressing our group and a big party taking over Universal Studios. We even had a few brave dairy company attendees donning Star Trek costumes and creating their own Star Trek episode on the actual set. I won’t name names, but I do remember a few of the dairy Star Trek crew!

In 1992 and 1994 we were in New Orleans and Minneapolis, respectively. In the Big Easy we created our own Mardi Gras party in multiple hotel ballrooms; in Minneapolis we filled the entire convention center with exhibits, including the meeting rooms, plus had great sessions and parties.

These years of dairy shows were all marked by growth and expansion, and the revenues that came from the events helped to build a strong processing association. The show’s success probably was part of what attracted the National Cheese Institute to join with milk and ice cream to form the International Dairy Foods Association in 1990. These are just some of the remarkable synergies that have helped our industry grow stronger over time.

Success with the early dairy shows also set us up to expand the scope of the show to include other organizations, such as the American Meat Institute, the American Frozen Food Institute, the National Food Processors Association and others. These partnerships helped to launch the Worldwide Food Expo that lasted more than a decade as an every-other-year show in Chicago’s McCormick Place.

This year, the International Dairy Show is returning to Chicago with our co-location partners, Process Expo and InterBev, to bring the best of processing and packaging to dairy food and beverage professionals. We’re proud to continue the tradition of moving dairy forward and bringing industry suppliers, processors and manufacturers together so they can find profitable business solutions, discover new technologies and see the innovations that are abundant in our industry today. To borrow a phrase from Star Trek’s Mr. Spock, let’s hope these dairy shows continue to “live long and prosper.” See you in Chicago!

CMN

The views expressed by CMN’s guest columnists are their own opinions and do not necessarily reflect those of Cheese Market News®.

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