With a Theme of “At the Center of it All,” The NAFEM Show is Coming Back Strong in 2023

In the weeks leading up to The NAFEM Show 2021 in Orlando, Florida, Executive Vice President Deirdre Flynn fielded questions about whether the show could really go on at that point during the pandemic. She figured that with the right safety protocols in place and plenty of available hand sanitizer, the event would be taking place as planned from Aug. 26-28.

Then the Delta variant emerged, forcing NAFEM to move in a different direction. All of the money and effort that went into planning the biannual industry event was jeopardized almost overnight. “Everything changed on the Friday afternoon three weeks before,” Flynn says. “We talked with leadership over the weekend, called an emergency board meeting on Monday morning and canceled the show on Tuesday.”

Over the next two months NAFEM and its members would work to rewind all of the hard work that went into the event planning process and also refund all registration and exhibitor fees. “2021 was a ‘learning year’ for us. We learned how to move a show (it was originally supposed to be in New Orleans in February 2021) and then we learned how to cancel and refund a show,” Flynn recalls. “We were able to close everything up by the middle of October.”

Now, Flynn says NAFEM is “absolutely thrilled” to be holding an in-person show for the first time since 2019 on February 1-3, 2023 in Orlando. “The buzz in the industry is that people are excited,” she notes. “They’re excited to be back together in-person.” Reflecting on the four-year gap between the group’s last show and its upcoming event, Flynn says the global pandemic brought the industry together in new ways as organizations worked collectively, helped their customers keep their doors open and adjust to the societal shifts that were taking place.

“I think you’re going to see a lot of new products and product innovation that came about as a result of that,” says Flynn, who expects attendance in Orlando to be in line with 2019, when NAFEM had its best-attended show ever. “Our numbers are looking very good and all tracking to what they were at The NAFEM Show in 2019.”

Letting them “Kick the Tires”
With foodservice dealers as its primary attendee group, The NAFEM Show draws in operators, equipment and supplies distributors, kitchen and management design consultants, service technicians and repair companies, and industry accreditation agencies. Flynn says the event’s main focus is always on the exhibit booths and exhibiting companies. This year’s show theme says it best: “At the Center of it All.”

“We chose this theme because The NAFEM Show is where everyone can come see everything that they possibly can in one place,” Flynn says. The show also will feature an “@CenterStage” education arena that features three sessions per day on key topics impacting the industry. The sessions include both panel discussions on specific topics, an “anchor desk” that’s set up like a mini news studio, and Ted Talk-like presentations from industry experts.

“In the past we’ve offered education centered sessions on the show floor in a designated area or in meeting rooms within the convention center, but our goal with this new setup is to keep visitors on the show floor,” Flynn explains. “That way, they can engage with the exhibitors, kick the tires on the equipment, talk to the people who are developing that equipment and see for themselves what it can do for their customers.”

The session topics – which were still in the planning stages when we spoke with Flynn – will include top industry trends, supply chain and the latest and greatest happenings within segments such as K-12 schools, colleges and universities, corrections, corporate dining, and healthcare food service. “Industry leaders will talk about how their segments have shifted, what they’re looking for and what’s happening in their markets,” Flynn says, “plus how what they’re seeing on the exhibition floor applies to what they’re using and needing in their day-to-day operations.”

Flynn expects the specific topics to be finalized closer to the show to ensure that they are indeed relevant, timely and useful for attendees. “We want topics that are top of mind and fresh, versus building education six-to-eight months out,” Flynn says. “We like to keep it more current.” 

Live Networking Opportunities
Knowing that industry networking is one of the biggest reasons people attend industry trade shows, NAFEM is bringing back its major networking events for its upcoming show. It all starts with a kick-off party on Tuesday night (Jan. 31) from 6-8 p.m. at the Hilton Orlando. The casual event gives everyone a chance to get together before the show starts and things get busy, Flynn notes.

The group is also hosting a second large networking event at its NAFEM Party, which takes place Feb. 2. Attendees can purchase tickets that either include a themed dinner and concert with country music superstar Brad Paisley or a ticket just for the concert. “We’re thrilled to be able to bring back these gatherings,” Flynn says. “The concert typically draws around 2,200 people and the kickoff party attracts about 1,000 attendees.”

Minding the Details
As the only industry trade show 100 percent dedicated to foodservice equipment and supplies, The NAFEM Show has something for everyone. While there, attendees can interact with manufacturers of commercial foodservice equipment and supplies in person, take advantage of education opportunities and make connections both on the exhibition floor and at numerous special networking events. Whether they’re looking for cutting-edge advancements or tried-and-true machinery that can enhance their operations, attendees can get up-close-and-personal with the equipment and supplies that they need right on the exhibition floor.

Past attendees and exhibitors at The NAFEM Show will notice that the event’s day pattern has changed. Where the show usually took place Thursday to Saturday, it’s now slated for Wednesday to Friday. The shift was made to accommodate exhibitors – all of whom are NAFEM members – and attendees who “give up a lot of their weekends in this industry,” Flynn says. The new day pattern also caters to younger generations of company owners who may have obligations that require their attention on the weekends.

Also at the event, NAFEM will hand out its Doctorate of Foodservice (DFS) Award to allied hospitality association leaders in recognition of their contributions to the industry. Dave Stafford, Jr., FEDA’s board chairman, will receive a DFS honor at a special invite-only industry reception populated by about 35 of his peers from organizations like Foodservice Consultants Society International, the Commercial Food Equipment Service Association and the Manufacturers’ Agents Association for the Foodservice Industry. Flynn says DFS recipients who received awards in 2021, but who didn’t have a “live” event to attend, will also be invited to the reception.

Available a couple of weeks before the show’s start date, N+, The NAFEM Show mobile app, will help attendees plan out their daily schedules and view educational sessions on-demand. Live through the end of October 2024, the app also gives exhibitors a place to upload information about their products and services. “It’s a great reference source that will continue to be updated once the show is over,” Flynn says.

NAFEM doesn’t plan to livestream any of the show’s educational sessions, but the group will be filming those sessions and posting them in the app. That way attendees don’t have to worry about taking notes while at the show and can easily go back and re-watch the sessions if so desired.

Dealer Attendance Numbers are Strong
The exhibitor floor at The NAFEM Show 2023 continues to fill up as more companies finalize plans to set up shop, show off their wares and talk to industry decision-makers at the three-day event. Situated on more than 300,000 square feet of exhibitor space, the show attracts more than 515 exhibiting companies and about 22,000 attendees from 50 states and 80 countries. 

“We’re thrilled that the dealer attendance is strong right now and we anticipate even higher numbers over the next couple of weeks,” says Flynn, who sees the opportunity for attendees and exhibitors to interact face-to-face with decision-makers as a key feature of the exhibition. “I think we’re all kind of ‘Zoom-weary’ at this point and ready to get back together in person. I was just at another industry event and people there were pretty happy to be back to having live conversations, sharing a meal and talking to one another in person.”

Despite the setbacks that NAFEM’s membership and the foodservice industry as a whole endured during the global pandemic, Flynn believes one thing is certain: the sector has proven itself to be incredibly resilient.

“Our industry is incredibly flexible in terms of everything that’s taken place and the many challenges that it’s had to work through,” she says. Now, as it continues to deal with inflationary pressures, a persistent labor shortage, supply chain disruptions and other roadblocks, the foodservice industry needs events like The NAFEM Show 2023 to gather, network, learn, share best practices and showcase new products and services. 

“We see The NAFEM Show as a great way to kick off 2023, knowing that we’re coming through all of this and that the ship is steadying,” Flynn says. “It’s about getting the whole industry together as we continue to grow, evolve and prove that we’re innovative, creative and able to deliver the best ‘food away from home experience’ that we possibly can.”   

FEDA Young Industry Leaders Social Event During the NAFEM Show

The NAFEM Show is a time for the entire foodservice equipment and supplies industry to not only find out about the latest innovations but reconnect with colleagues and friends. This is especially important for young people early in their careers who are still forming those first professional relationships. FEDA will help facilitate that early career networking with a Young Industry Leaders social event that will take place the week of The NAFEM Show.

The special two-hour event is aimed at young professionals aged 21-46 from dealer and manufacturer companies. It will take place from 5 to 7 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 2 at The Hampton Social, 9101 International Dr., Orlando. The restaurant is only a 7-minute walk or a short ride from the Orange County Convention Center, making it an easy spot to stop by and meet up with peers before heading out to The NAFEM Party later in the evening. Attendees will enjoy light bites and drinks as they talk with fellow young industry leaders.

Those interested in attending should contact Erin Bedell, director of meetings, at [email protected].