Virtual trade shows provide opportunity to connect, spotlight innovations in packaging

By Alyssa Mitchell

Graphic courtesy of Harpak-ULMA
NO SHOW, NO PROBLEM — When CheeseExpo 2020 was postponed due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Harpak-ULMA decided to hold its own virtual trade show to showcase its latest equipment and services. The company says it received positive feedback and plans to hold additional virtual events in the future.

MADISON, Wis. — With large conferences, trade shows and meetings on hold due to the COVID-19 global pandemic, cheese processing and packaging companies are getting creative by offering customers access to “virtual trade shows” in order to view their latest products and services.

While in-person trade shows and events are ideal ways to meet and interact with customers, there are benefits to their virtual counterparts. For one thing, in-person shows limit how many customers one can interface with in a given day, while with virtual events there is no limit to how many potential interactions one might follow up on.

In addition, by offering an exclusive virtual event to showcase one company’s products, companies have the opportunity to capture customers’ attention rather than competing with the hundreds of other booths present at traditional trade shows.

“We typically participate in 6-7 trade shows per year. These in-person shows are an ideal opportunity to display our equipment, show new technology and demonstrate the latest innovations in packaging and automation,” says Mary Ahlfeld, marketing director, Harpak-ULMA Packaging LLC, the North American arm of ULMA Packaging.

Ahlfeld says the disruption caused by the absence of these shows in 2020 is significant because all of those opportunities are lost.

“Live shows play a large role in our sales and marketing efforts; we generate a lot of new business,” she adds.

However, as this “new normal” in 2020 began to take hold, Ahlfeld says Harpak-ULMA quickly adapted to the practice of communicating via video-conferencing.

“With the majority of our employees working from home, we, like many others, have established some effective tools of communication within our teams, such as Zoom, Teams, GoToMeeting, etc.,” she says.

As spring approached, the company was prepared for the large biannual CheeseExpo slated to be held in April in Milwaukee. Unfortunately, organizers announced that due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the show would be postponed until 2021.

Ahlfeld notes that since the company’s plans for the show already were in place, including the designation of specific machines to spotlight, as well as the designated personnel, the company decided to hold a virtual event April 30 to showcase its products.

“When (CheeseExpo) was canceled, we said, ‘Let’s do one anyway!’ and the idea was launched,” she says.

“We developed a plan with a timeline and assembled our team to brainstorm. We identified six important food production and packaging challenges to address: safety, labor, sanitation, sustainability, space and uptime,” Ahlfeld says.

“These are concepts we work with day in and day out,” adds Heidi Harlfinger, owner and vice president of marketing, Harpak-ULMA. “We had many new products to share and felt it important to invite industry professionals to an event that could be an innovation disruptor to their current operations. Once we decided to proceed, content came easily and quickly as we were excited to share our experience with other industry professionals.”

Harpak-ULMA chose a few specific machines to highlight, such as its G. Mondini Trave Tray Sealer and the Mondini Platformer, which fabricates trays in-line. The company offered a presentation featuring two flow wrapping machines and also spotlighted its thermoforming packaging offerings, Ahlfeld says.

“We showcased the features and benefits of our automation solutions for product handling, row distribution and automation, cartoning, case packing and final placement on a pallet,” she says, adding that the company also featured its package design and prototyping services as well as its smart-connected packaging solutions.

Interpack 2020, an international packaging fair for various industries including food and beverage held in
Düsseldorf, Germany, also was canceled this year and rescheduled for 2021. However, a few exhibitors took the opportunity to showcase their products and services online to continue to make connections ahead of next year’s event.

Syntegon Technology, formerly Bosch Packaging Technology, was one company that decided to spotlight its products in a virtual event following Interpack’s cancellation.

The company in May debuted its combination bagging and case packing system for milk powder applications with new sustainable features during a virtual event.

The combination system yields a number of new sustainability benefits, the company says. The SVE 3220 Doy Zip vertical form, fill and seal machine can now use recyclable plastic and paper mono-materials. As a first, the Elematic 2001 WAH case packer can use corrugated blanks made from grass fiber.

“We pay close attention to sustainability and pursue a ‘circular economy’ approach that is mirrored in the machines we showed at our virtual show,” says Pierre Hamelink, director of global business, market and sustainability strategy for food (vertical), Syntegon Technology, Weert, Netherlands. “Syntegon Technology strives to provide intelligent packaging solutions throughout the entire machine cycle.”

In response to the postponement of Interpack 2020, Dorner, a provider of precision and sanitary conveyance solutions, also designed a virtual online booth last month to showcase the products it was planning to display at the show.

“Our 2020 Interpack booth was set to demonstrate how our products and solutions work together. Using a combination of conveyors and chutes, we would demonstrate a full run of a flexible package product line,” Dorner says on its virtual booth page at

The page, which remains available, includes a link to the company trade show video, where visitors can see a demonstration of its offerings. The company also included a link for interested customers to reach out and connect with a company representative.

Mettler-Toledo — whose products and services include metal detection, X-ray and checkweigher solutions, as well as packaging fill control and quality inspection — also put together a virtual trade show earlier this month in lieu of the Interpack show.

“Coronavirus may have delayed Interpack until next year; however, we felt that it was vital to still showcase our latest product inspection technology innovations to help food and pharmaceutical manufacturers meet the increased demand for safe, high-quality products,” says Paul Lerigo, marketing manager-Product Inspection Division, Mettler-Toledo.

Attendees were able to log on for free and learn about industry trends, best practices and chat with experts about how they can improve their manufacturing processes and meet consumer and regulatory demands.
Mettler-Toledo’s online auditorium featured a wide range of educational live and on-demand presentations on topics including food and pharmaceutical safety, industry 4.0 and advanced data management.

For Harpak-ULMA’s virtual event, Ahlfeld says the company reached out to customers in a number of ways to generate excitement.

“We published print ads in trade publications and digital ads with links to our event registration page,” she says. “We sent email invitations to our customers and prospects, and our sales team sent email invitations out as well. We posted the event on social media as well as website banners.”

She notes feedback from the virtual event was very positive.

“We were told that the information provided was very thorough and informative,” Ahlfeld says.

Harlfinger adds that attendees sent thank-you emails stating they appreciated the company’s efforts and that they looked forward to future events.

“Many of them also noted that though the actual show was canceled that they gained insight into opportunities they may not have previously considered,” she says. “Some of our newer team members were encouraged to attend, and they shared that they learned a great deal about cheese automation and packaging technologies.”

In the midst of future uncertainty over the fate of trade shows this year and possibly into 2021, Harpak-ULMA says it learned a lot from its first virtual event and plans to hold additional events in the future and expand the attendee experience.

“We are seeing new platforms for virtual events and continue to explore potential ways to create new, interesting events that will interest and attract our customers,” Harlfinger says. “We will continue to develop plans to create unique, interactive experiences that may include influential speakers, virtual reality, trainings and more. We are confident that with digital means of communication and presentation that we will be able to continue to educate, demonstrate and convey valuable solutions to the industry.”


CMN article search

© 2024 Cheese Market News • Quarne Publishing, LLC • Legal InformationOnline Privacy PolicyTerms and Conditions
Cheese Market News • Business/Advertising Office: P.O. Box 628254 • Middleton, WI 53562 • 608/831-6002
Cheese Market News • Editorial Office: 5315 Wall Street, Suite 100 • Madison, WI 53718 • 608/288-9090