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Fruit Attraction: How are Dutch and Belgian exhibitors preparing themselves?

One trade show after another has been cancelled or postponed. This is due to the coronavirus pandemic. Fruit Attraction will, however, go ahead. It's to be held from 20 to 22 October in Madrid, Spain. Fruit Attraction's Director, Raúl Calleja, shared four reasons why this year's fair is continuing on his LinkedIn account. AGF asked various Dutch and Belgian companies if they're prepared to participate in the trade show. And if so, how do they see that happening?

The Belgische Fruitveiling wants nothing more than for the exhibition to take place. They'd love to reestablish physical contact with their clients. But, they still have some unanswered questions. "A few weeks ago, we weren't allowed to leave the country. It was still uncertain if we could travel to other countries. What are the movement possibilities in the destination country?" asks Marc Evrard.

"How many people are allowed in a specific area? There is still a lot of uncertainty. Neither the Spanish government nor trade show organizers have answers for us. As a company, you must indicate your participation in the fair before 6 July. But is it prudent to invest a lot of money in something that's still so uncertain?"

A 1.5m distance wasn't yet held at the previous edition, as is evident between Ann Beringhs, Filip Lowette, Marc Evrard, and Betty Slingers.

"We're certainly the requesting party when it comes to new opportunities and meetings. There are things you don't catch on webinars or video calls. Fruit Attraction is a crucial European exhibition. It is perfect for planning during the calendar season. Suppose we're optimistic, and the show continues," says Marc.

"We still have to see if people from outside Europe can travel yet. If no-one from Asia or South America can or wants to attend, the fair is of less value to some businesses. And then we're not even talking about the large European retailers. Some were already absent in Berlin."

"If we consider the current situation, it isn't the obvious thing to make a fixed commitment now already. The situation is better in Europe. Outside Europe, it is, however, still very volatile. We're very interested and are hoping for the best. But, there's still a lot to be done," concludes Marc.

The Jan Oskam trading company is based in the Netherlands. It was one of the first participants of the Dutch pavilion at Fruit Attraction in Madrid. The fruit exporter hopes to be an exhibitor this year again. "We'll have to wait and see what the fair's going to look like exactly. It will mainly cater to targeted visitors. Perhaps we'll somewhat limit occupancy," says Kees Oskam. He thinks the exhibition will forge ahead. "Everyone will be careful. But it remains the primary sector. It will remain intact and in motion."

Clearly, a pre-Coronavirus photo: last year, Kees Oskam still shook the Spanish agricultural minister's hand at the trade show.

Fruit Market International (FMI) is also a Dutch company. They're still considering their participation. "We expect the fair to continue as usual. There will just be a more distance between people," says Marlies Bouman. "The question remains - how many and what kinds of visitors will attend? There's a big chance that there will be few overseas exhibitors. That will negatively affect European visitors."

Rene, Henk and Peter Bouman of FMI.

Special Fruit, too, is assuming the trade show will continue. But that all depends on the Spanish government's decision. "Guaranteeing the exhibitors, organizers, and visitors' health will be the main objective. If the exhibition goes ahead, we'll have a stand. We need to show solidarity here too. We must keep making an impact at fairs even after the corona crisis is over. Events are being digitally innovative by organizing webinars. That fills some of the needs we're seeking. But, physical networking remains essential," says Koen Maes of this Belgian company.

Special Fruit's Tom Maes, Lieve Michielsen, Margot Pertijs, Sarah Hellemans, and Maria Jose Guevara.

"Health and safety will be foremost. This is for our coworkers as well as visitors. We'll take the necessary preventative measures to guarantee this. We assume the show organizers will do everything possible to achieve this too. We do expect less occupancy and fewer visitors. But the fruit and vegetable sector's a people business. The people behind the goods and services make it real."

"It's vital to see and talk to everyone regularly. Technology and digitization replace some of this, but not all. The uncertainty around the coronavirus is, unfortunately, a reality. That changes your planning entirely. Especially if there were to be a second wave. But we'll do everything we can to receive our clients and growers, safely, in the well-known Special Fruit manner," concludes Koen.

Mulder Onions registered for the trade show on 2 March already. However, last week, the Dutch importer/exporter canceled this. "Mulder Onions prioritizes its employees' health. We know from experience that visitors to this fair come from across the world. Many from Central and South America, where the coronavirus is currently very prevalent," explains René Segers.

"Added to that is that Spain, along with Italy, has the highest number of coronavirus cases and victims in Europe. We, therefore, don't think the exhibition will continue. It's not possible to keep 1.5m apart at a trade show. We think visitors will use their common sense and skip this year's fair." 

Jordi Calatayud and René Vanwersch at Fruit Attraction last year.

The Belgian VLAM thinks the show will go on, assuming there's no second contamination wave. "There will be fewer companies present with stands. It'll also be less nice and busy. We think the organizers will, however, have to implement strict guidelines. These include the compulsory use of mouth masks, clear circulation plans in the halls, and disinfection stations," says a VLAM spokesperson.

"Will catering be possible? That will also affect the exhibitors' stands. These will have to be made corona-proof. We also think visitors and businesses from outside Europe will be more reluctant to attend. We do hope there will be European visitors. We've been informed that the fair organizers are preparing to accommodate fewer visitors. That will be done via virtual tours and live connect."

VLAM's Thais Mees and Katrien De Nul at Fruit Attraction 2019.

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