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Insider Events - The Canadian Produce Marketing Association (CPMA) Annual Convention and Tradeshow -Virtual Edition

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By: Elodie Lortal, CMP, DES | Nov 16, 2021

The Canadian Produce Marketing Association (CPMA) Annual Convention and Tradeshow -Virtual Edition

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CPMA Fresh Week
Date: April 12-16, 2021
City, Country: Virtual Event
Virtual Venue: Swapcard for the platform and TKNL for the audio-visual and production

Nicole Jeffrey headshot colour

Organizing Team:

  • Nicole Jeffrey, CMP – Manager, Events at the Canadian Produce Marketing Association
  • Sue Lewis - VP of Market Development at the Canadian Produce Marketing Association
  • CPMA staff (sales, marketing, registration, education teams)
  • Volunteer Industry Organizing Committee

Number of Attendees: 2,826 attendees from which 1014 were international attendees and 1812 Canadian attendees 

Target Audience: All major stakeholders and decision makers in the produce supply chain, with many representing the retail, wholesale, and foodservice sectors

Main Objective: To provide an opportunity for industry to enhance existing relationships and to develop new business opportunities in Canada, and provide educational offerings.

Changes to the event:
Trying to reproduce the goals/aims of our in-person event in a virtual environment was entirely new. We had to redesign the entire event structure from start to finish taking into account the attendees’ different time zones, how much time our attendees want to spend online and what their expectations were for an online event. The idea was how to make a very hands-on industry work in a virtual environment.  We looked at new ways of doing things to make sure we could engage the audience, expanded the number of education sessions that we offered and added an additional day to the program but restructured for less programming each day to combat “zoom fatigue”.

Capture- Product Search

One of the biggest challenges was to find the right platform and event design to deliver a virtual tradeshow in a way that was useful for the exhibitors and attendees. Most virtual platforms are geared towards education, and not designed to produce a tradeshow which is a much more hands on experience. Especially in the produce industry, where being able to see, smell, and taste fresh fruits and vegetables is key. In order to meet that challenge, rather than try to replicate all elements of the physical tradeshow online, we chose to focus on the core goal of including the things the most important to exhibitors to transfer them in the virtual format. Some of the key elements were the ability to set up meetings and talk both by text and face to face on video calls, to have a robust product showcase and customizable booths, and have attendees be able to find new exhibitors & companies easily. We worked hard to make it easy for exhibitors and attendees to find who and what they were looking for, by using a lot of search tags, categories, as well as taking advantage of the system’s AI powered matchmaking capabilities based on interests.

Biggest Success:
We achieved the goals we had set out. It was the first major virtual event we had produced and we were able to deliver a great experience for the attendees, exhibitors, and sponsors, while doing things in an environment entirely new to us, and with a wholly redesigned event. Our event had high production values on design, graphics, and AV with TKNL being an amazing partner that helped us figure out the virtual world and ensured things went seamlessly. We capitalized on the parts of the virtual format that benefited us. For example, we expanded the number of education sessions, and were able to get higher profile speakers and CEOs, because we could pre-record some of the content so schedules were less of an issue and no one needed to travel.

The Future of Foodservice shot

New and Innovative Planning 
With a redesigned event and switching to virtual, it’s hard to think of something we did that wasn’t new or innovative this year! One thing we really wanted to focus on was personal connection. The industry is close knit, which translates into the in person experience, so we wanted to replicate that casual feeling online. In order to achieve our goal, we put various strategies in place:

  • We filmed short video clips, played prior to the introduction of keynote sessions, called “hallway conversations” where we dropped in on an industry member as if we were running into them in the hallway before a session to chat about the upcoming program. 
  • For the opening video to the convention we recorded short clips of 5-6 members across Canada of what they were doing 2 minutes before logging into the event (throwing a blazer over their pyjamas, sleeping, trying to get their camera to work) as a humorous way to create some coast to coast connection.
  • Social events are usually a big part of our convention. Recognizing the challenge of virtual engagement, and that at the end of a day there’s a variety of ways that people want to connect (if at all) we decided to do a mix of three types of social events:
    • the first one was traditional networking event using Social Hour where people could choose to jump from table to table and have video conversations and play word games,
    • the second one was a ‘Choose your own adventure’ style, where all participants started off in the same mixology session, and then for the second half of the evening, had the option to join a poker game, a trivia contest, or an escape room,
    • the last night we did a Karaoke sing along event via zoom being led by CHOIR! CHOIR! CHOIR!

The learning curve, both on the production side, around learning all the technical components and needs that are required for virtual events, and on the design side to redesign the entire event to meet the goals that work well in a virtual environment.

One big change to how we approached the event, was rather than selling exhibit space as a standalone element, with a separate prospectus for sponsors, we ended up combining the two prospectuses into one to make sure the exhibitors/sponsors got the ROI they were looking for. The sponsorship, included exhibit space and other visibility benefits (such as social media posts, rotating platform ads, sponsor videos)

We wanted to make sure that exhibitors and attendees had a great experience so we provided detailed guides for them with platform screenshots to answer the most frequently asked questions (As an attendee how to I go to the event? How do I set up my booth? How do I interact? How do I find what I am looking for? How do I get ROI?) We had to explain a large amount of information in a streamlined and easy to understand way so everyone would feel comfortable attending the event.

Last words 
I’m proud of the event we put on, and the hard work of the team in putting it together. We did something that was entirely new for everybody, and exceeded the high expectations that we placed on the event. Working from home and trying to communicate the same way as if you were in the office is a challenge but we tackled it. We were thrilled to have a great virtual event that went well and kept the industry connected during the pandemic, but we are looking forward to getting back to in person events in 2022.

Elodie LortalArticle compiled by Elodie LORTAL, CMP, DES | LinkedIn, at National Arts Centre | Centre national des Arts: My Company | LinkedIn

Article edited by Cynthia Beaudin, Canada Foundation for Innovation



EL Headshot
Elodie Lortal, CMP, DES
Catering Coordinator at National Arts Centre

📢 I am a bilingual meetings and events coordinator who helps clients and organizations to plan their events in one of our five unique meeting spaces. The National Arts Centre is an ideal Ottawa venue for virtual, hybrid, or in-person events.


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