Sept. 11 slowed but didn't stop food industry professionals from participating in October's biennial event

Despite some soft periods, attendance at the 2001 World Wide Food Expo was sufficiently robust to make the show a success for most exhibitors.
Every trade show and convention in the wake of the Sept. 11 attacks on New York and the Pentagon experienced attendance woes, and the World Wide Food Expo (WWFE) was no exception. The official count of 24,000 registered attendees was off 20 percent from the show's 1999 edition, and in all likelihood the number of no-shows further eroded traffic counts.

Fear of flying and a deepening slump in the American economy took a toll on turnstile clicks. Nonetheless, the show must go on, and exhibitors gave the Expo reviews ranging from lukewarm to glowing. "What we heard and saw," summarized Charles Bray, president of event cosponsor International Association of Food Equipment Suppliers, "was that the show was a success despite recent events."

About 1,100 exhibitors were on hand, segregated into WWFE's Food and Dairy Hall and Meat and Poultry Hall. Exhibitors put a positive spin on showfloor traffic that ebbed and flowed throughout the three-day event.

The events of Sept. 11 "kept away the tire kickers," suggested Dan Grasser, a sales representative with packaging equipment manufacturer E-Pak Machinery Inc. of LaPorte, Ind. "People are coming to us with serious projects," making the show productive, he added.

Even more upbeat was Ralph Lopez, national sales manager with Aquionics Inc., a Cincinnati area manufacturer of ultraviolet purification equipment. Lopez termed the show "spectacular," thanks in part to industry interest in UV. "I could have gone home yesterday (the show's first day) and been satisfied," he said.

If topical technology was the best draw, then equipment suppliers for case-ready meat programs were assured of big crowds at their booths. Retailers sold 1.2 billion packages of case-ready products in 2000, doubling item movement in three years, according to the American Meat Institute, another WWFE cosponsor. "Industry experts see the potential to sell 9 million packages," AMI reports. While the benefits of case-ready for retailers are obvious, it also presents an opportunity for processors to evolve from commodity to value-added selling.

WWFE's third sponsor was the International Dairy Foods Association, and the conference portion of the show was skewed toward the interests of that constituency. Best practices in dairy dominated the conference schedule, complemented by numerous sessions on intervention strategies for meat and poultry, new technology and market trends.

Listeria monocytegenes contamination has been responsible for four recalls involving 97 million pounds of ready-to-eat meats since 1999, food scientist Peter Muriana of Oklahoma State University pointed out in a session devoted to meat safety interventions. Listeria has been found lurking in more than a third of the drains in RTE meat plants, and Muriana and fellow panelists discussed some of the multiple interventions being applied to reduce the likelihood of contamination.

In a wide-ranging test of inoculated meats in vacuum packaging, Muriana and other scientists found a water immersion system developed by Unitherm Food Systems Inc. was an effective post-pasteurization step. Those findings were accepted by federal inspectors who exempted similarly treated meats from a recall involving one processor's products, according to Unitherm president David Howard.

Dairy's HACCP Pilot

HACCP could replace the Pasteurized Milk Ordinance at some point, so the National Conference of Interstate Milk Shippers is expanding a HACCP pilot program for dairies to learn how to implement HACCP in a U.S. fluid plant. Kristin Phillips, quality assurance manager at Lakeland (Fla.) Dairy, was one of the first six dairies to implement HACCP. "If we had known what (the audit) was going to be like, we never would have done it," Phillips confided. Nonetheless, the exercise has increased the training and confidence levels of line workers and should enable the plant to "hit the ground running" if it is someday required to meet the paperwork and science-based procedural requirements of HACCP.

The expo's sponsors provided a summary of Forces 2001, an industry trends report that they hope to update in two years at the next WWFE.The study predicts that on-line purchasing of ingredients and supplies by food companies will increase from about 3 percent currently to 14 to 16 percent by 2004, and on-line sales of finished products will soar to 10 percent from negligible levels. Other findings: labor cost increases will be modest, energy pricing is uncertain, and ingredient costs are likely to increase sharply.