Coronavirus halts seafood industry trade show

Some concerned companies were already backing out of Seafood Expo North America

Seafood Expo North America, which attracts a large continent in the Alaska seafood industry, and annually generated millions of dollars in sales, has been postponed due to the spread of the coronavirus.

The announcement on Tuesday, March 3, didn’t send shock waves through the industry though, as some of the usual participants were backing off out of concerns that the Boston show, scheduled for March 15-17, could become another petri dish for spreading the virus. The event, now in its 40th year, attracts thousands of buyers and sellers there to meet, greet and shake hands on complete sales of seafood.

“A significant amount of sales are completed at the Boston seafood show, but what we were hearing was that companies were backing out,” said Jeremy Woodrow, executive director of the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute. “Major retailers and buyers were not showing up. Sales were going to be down regardless.”

From ASMI’s standpoint, Diversified made the right decision to postpone the show, he said.

The overall impact of cancellation of the Boston show is an unknown, but a valid question to ask, Woodrow said.

“It will just require more work for sales teams to set up individual calls, but it will have less impact than it would have had 20 to 30 years ago; technology helps in situations like this,” he said.

Diversified did confirm that for now their Seafood Expo Global Show in Brussels, Belgium, set for April 21-23, is still scheduled as planned. Last year the Alaska seafood industry did a little over $1 billion in sales at Brussels, including sales on the floor and estimates of sales that would follow up from conversations and deals made there, Woodrow said.

“That was the first time we ever broke $1 billion,” he said.

ASMI’s pavilion at the Boston show hosts a number of seafood companies, including some from Seattle, that are engaged in the Alaska seafood industry. ASMI also has a booth at the Brussels show, where individual Alaska seafood companies all have their own booths.

A notice released by Diversified, an international communications firm with U.S. headquarters in Portland ME, said the company is “committed to finding a solution to deliver an event in North America this year to ensure business continuity to the seafood industry.

“Details on when and where will be communicated directly with our customers in the next month,” the note said. “Depending on date and location availability, the event might look slightly different for 2020, but will continue to provide the opportunities to connect suppliers and buyers in the industry.”

As for Brussels, the note said, “we are monitoring the situation closely in Brussels and are dedicated to providing a valuable and safe global business platform to the industry.”

In California meanwhile, the New Hope Network announced on Monday, March 2, cancellation of its annual Natural Products Expo West in Anaheim. The show was to run from March 3-7, but New Hope Network, with headquarters in Boulder, Colorado, said they were hoping to set a new date for the event by mid-April.

The event website posted a note saying that New Hope Network had made a hard decision to postpone 2020 Natural Products Expo West due to the COVID-19 situation and that “many in the natural and organic products community seem to be breathing a sigh of relief today.”

The Orange County Register quoted one trade show participant, Jimmy Telles of Los Angeles-based Dragon Herbs, as saying that his company had planned to send 50 employees to the expo, but decided not to because of coronavirus concerns.

The show attracts 86,000 people from 132 countries, with many exhibitors selling food products.

“There is food everywhere just waiting to be sneezed on … it’s a disaster waiting to happen,” Telles told the Register.

Industry insiders in Alaska meanwhile said there is a great deal of discussion under way about what precautions the processing sector should take during the harvest season to avoid the spread of coronavirus in processing facilities, and the bunkhouses and mess hall areas where large numbers of workers are fed. There is a great deal of concern for the safety of their employees, but at least they have the luxury of another 60 days to figure it out, said an official with one processing firm.