Prepared Foods’ prime readership is folks at food and nutritional companies involved in new product development efforts. As such, this column’s topic falls outside their “need to know” information, enabling them to better perform their jobs. While not a technical subject, I’ll categorize the information under “scientific curiosity.” It concerns another industry beyond food manufacturing and magazines; it’s about expositions.

Many are well aware that expos are businesses that must be profitable to survive, but others never ponder booth sizes, numbers or attendance figures. This data is dissected by event stakeholders, similar to football fans mulling over team statistics and management decisions. Event stakeholders may be competitors, partners, customers or all three at once--to those putting on the show. For one, expos are indicators of an industry’s direction and health.

2009 was a bad year for shows. Reduced exhibitor marketing budgets and tight travel budgets for attendees left many expos with an “airy” feel, as poorly trafficked aisles were widened to allow fewer booths to cover larger areas. Not all have suffered.

Food Ingredients Europe, co-located with Natural Ingredients (FiE & Ni), held November 2009, in Frankfurt, had a surprising 20,978 visitors, or an 18% increase in attendance since last held two years ago. Show organizers point out that 2009 figures are audited by ABC, an independent third party. This rare tactic may become the norm for future expos, much as magazine readership figures are now audited. What does the strong showing mean for the mainstream ingredient community? Perhaps it reflects the energy in a demographic area located near many developing nations (over 100 countries were represented); hopefully, it indicates better times ahead for the ingredient business segment.

Conventions have their own personalities. As a member of IFT for 34 years, I see its expo struggling with its greatest strength and biggest challenge, an academic foundation. Like many industry R&D types, I joined as a student and feel it’s the heart of the food science community. The convention offers unparalleled opportunities to network with past professors and classmates. Then, there is Natural Products Expo West. Its roots were often described as the “Birkenstock (shoe) crowd,” but it has become a showcase for ideation. It, too, had a good year.

As expo “Monday quarterbacks” analyze the year’s performances, we rush into 2010. May a better year be had by all! pf