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Luisa Cheshire

BY LUISA CHESHIRE

Monday 22nd February 2021, 22:43 Hong Kong

Virtual marketing takes centre stage

California Prune Board marketing teams find new ways to promote product as pandemic thwarts trade show travel

Virtual marketing takes centre stage

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With international travel likely to be off the agenda for some time, the California Prune Board’s global marketing teams have been finding new ways to showcase the benefits of its versatile produce to the trade.

While this week’s industry-leading Gulfood event is taking place ‘in-person’ - with strict health and safety measures in place - the vast majority of exhibitions over the last 12 months were postponed or moved online as the food and beverage sector adapted to local lockdowns and travel restrictions. As it stands, many of this year’s industry events will also be held virtually or have been pushed back to the autumn or beyond.

Given they are located across three continents, Esther Ritson-Elliott, director of international marketing and communications for the California Prune Board (CPB), has always coordinated her teams remotely. Arranging virtual attendance at exhibitions however is a first.

“Over the last 12 months we have pivoted our approach and how we network with the trade,” says Ritson-Elliott. “Previously we would have attended events like the INC Congress and Food Matters Live in person, arranging face-to-face meetings with food industry professionals and showcasing the versatility of our premium prunes with chef demonstrations and sampling. Now we are tapping into the use of virtual exhibition stands to highlight the merits of California Prunes.”

As Ritson-Elliott and her team have been unable to travel to Dubai for this week’s event, the Board is using locally based representatives on the dedicated CPB stand, which is situated in the American pavilion in the Dubai World Trade Centre. Organisers have strict health and safety protocols in place, and the Board has adapted to fit the necessary measures by using video as a way to demonstrate the industry’s heritage and methods, as well as the nutritional benefits and versatility of California Prunes.

In contrast, the CPB’s participation in the International Nut & Dried Fruit Council (INC) conference last November was completely virtual, as more than 500 guests from around the world met online for the first time in the event’s history. In lieu of being there ‘in person’, the Board hosted a virtual 3D exhibition area, in which visitors could browse and connect online with CPB representatives and shared a California Prune grower and handler round table discussion via an online meeting platform.  Reaction from attendees was positive, with the Board’s roundtable a notable highlight. 

More recently the California Prune Board held a virtual trade and media seminar for over 60 participants from across China and Hong Kong. Following the postponement of a planned grower visit to China last year, it was an opportunity for the Board to build and develop relationships with buyers by highlighting the California Prune industry and the benefits of prunes for Chinese consumers.

Looking ahead to 2021, Ritson-Elliott believes that some of the adaptations the industry has made to their marketing strategies will remain, thanks to the success of video conferencing, home working and virtual networking.

She says: “I think it will take a year or so before ‘in-person’ trade shows return to the same scale they were pre-pandemic, and we are expecting to use virtual platforms into 2022. Even then there are certainly elements that will become the norm, with many companies globally acknowledging the business and personal benefits of allowing employees the flexibility of working from home and the virtual meeting culture remaining as a way to reduce time spent travelling.”

Ritson-Elliott adds: “Though the pandemic has presented challenges in terms of how we market and promote California Prunes, we have worked extremely hard with the International teams to overcome them and have seen exports increase. We’re looking forward to finding even more creative ways to showcase California Prunes at future events.”

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