Life handed out lemons in 2020, but the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services is turning it into virtual lemonade.
VDACS has created an online trade show to help food and beverage makers connect with customers as the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic unsettles food systems. Consumers are eating at home and spending more on groceries than ever before. But while grocery sales have risen, traditional methods for grocers and food and beverage suppliers to connect are on hold.
The Virginia’s Finest Specialty Food and Beverage Virtual Trade Show Series on Oct. 29 and Nov. 5 intends to promote Virginia products and advance economic development in a year soured by limits on in-person gatherings. Over the years, farmers market managers, food brokers and distributors have come to rely on the well-attended Virginia Food and Beverage Expo. The annual event showcases Virginia products like baked goods, beverages, breads, cheeses, chocolates, condiments, meats, peanuts, pasta, sauces, seafood, snacks, soups, Virginia wines and craft beverages and more.
The virtual trade show is a COVID-safe way to offer food industry representatives exposure to Virginia products that are packaged and labeled for retail markets. Each virtual session is a live, online moderated tasting.
During each session, a group of five exhibitors will guide buyers through a tasting of up to three pre-shipped products, describing what makes their food or drinks unique. Buyers will gain an insider’s perspective as exhibitors invite them into their kitchens and onto their farms—a benefit of the virtual platform. Q&A sessions will follow the tastings.
Rose Jeter, marketing director for Homestead Creamery in Franklin County, will participate in the event as a buyer for the creamery’s farm market. Tastings are split into four categories: baked goods; snacks, candies, confections and nuts; non-alcoholic beverages; and condiments, dressings, seasonings, salsas, pickles and relishes.
“It’s a one-stop shop for Virginia’s Finest products, and a chance to talk to growers and producers directly,” Jeter said of the event. “You get to know people in specialty-food sectors you might not meet otherwise. Virginia’s Finest really has become a family, and VDACS’ support is wonderful.”
The Virginia’s Finest program has been promoting local foods for more than 30 years—long before local food became as popular as it is today, said Tony Banks, a Virginia Farm Bureau Federation commodity marketing specialist.
“Local food is not only important for consumers and producers, but its economic impact cannot be overlooked.”
While the annual in-person expo spotlights the best in locally produced foods, Banks said, “this year’s virtual edition is somewhat fitting given farmers’ and retailers’ big shift to provide consumers online food-shopping convenience in response to COVID-19 restrictions.”
For more event information visit 2020vaexpo.com.