by Roger Gilbert, Publisher, Milling and Grain

We have all settled into lockdown (at least those of us unable to return to normal work patterns and are restricted to our homes). However, we have had to put in extra effort to keep the 'wheels' of our business turning while working from remote locations.

As a result we have turned to digital solutions wherever possible to replace visits, meeting and attending expos to the supply and commissioning of equipment and plant: such as the new 300-tonne-per-day flour mill that Alapala has commissioned in Somaliland remotely during the lockdown and in the month when it held its May 18th, 2020 anniversary of independence!

There are plenty of examples throughout the food production chain where industry has gone to exceptional links to ensure foodstuffs reach supermarket shelves and, ultimately, onto the food tables of nations.

We have also become acutely aware that returning to 'normal' might not be possible and that we should take this opportunity to alter our work and consuming practices to provide more fulfilling and productive lifestyles while at the same time protecting our planet.

Expos vs digital experiences

Two diverse but major companies in our industry – Bühler and Alltech - offered digital solutions in the past month. The former to replace not being able to attend Interpack 2020 in Germany and the later to host its planned The One event in Lexington, USA.

Bühler held Bühler Virtual World 2020, which drew in 10,000-plus attendees and created over 500 one-to-one meetings over its three-day offering in May, while Alltech registered over 20,000 visitors for its three-day Virtual Experience event.

Both digital events were held in mid-May with many of their presentations they offered now available on demand. Our congratulations go to both for their quick responses to a changing landscape under pandemic conditions and the way they put the interests of their digital visitors at the forefront of their offerings.

At the heart of the Bühler Virtual World 2020 event was its virtual Interpack booth which helped to set the scene for its overall programme which had a cocoa, snack food and meat-alternative focus, supported by bakery production, through processes ranging from storage and processing to many more. The event also included a heavy focus on pulses and their nutritional value.

Meanwhile, the Alltech One Virtual Experience was firmly focused on livestock production with keynotes on a range of topics from space travel to air quality, the future of science in food farming and an insight into changing consumer behaviour to the confidence in an uncertain global market. All delivered by renowned specialists in their respective fields and well worth the time to watch.

Bühler's Virtual World 2020 and Alltech's One Virtual Experience 2020 have laid the groundwork for others to follow. It's not going to be a future of 'We'll just produce a webinar for our potential customers' approach, thinking people will have time on their hands. These types of events have to compete with traditional expos and conferences that will certainly be fighting back to retain their positions in delivering independent and physical platforms which they will modified to accounts for social distancing and other acceptable COVID-19 practices.

It will be most interesting over the next 18 months to see how this digital approach by companies plays out in the real world of exhibitions, conferences and events that have stood the test of time and provided such good value for money.

Will we be returning to 'normality' as we knew it, or will we be developing new business practices that don't require as much personal relationship building yet provide the confidence, efficiency and personal safety we need while delivering greater value for money?

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