With coffee and some criticism – the SCA Expo goes forth

The Specialty Coffee Association (SCA) held its 2021 Expo 30 September – 1 October in New Orleans, but not without controversy or perhaps criticism is a more apropos word. With pandemic restrictions still in place, which prevented many international exhibitors and attendees from participating, and with the Expo beginning one month after Hurricane Ida decimated much of Louisiana, many wondered why the SCA was going ahead with its annual trade show (that had been postponed from April).

Whether vaccinated or not, those who wished to attend the show had to provide proof of a negative Covid test no more than 72 hours prior to badge pick up. But it is not that easy to get a rapid Covid test in New Orleans and it can be costly (one exhibitor said he paid USD $140 for his because he came straight from Pack Expo in Las Vegas). For this reason, some exhibitors and visitors declined to attend the Expo. As it turns out, the Ernest N. Morial Convention Center was offering onsite Covid testing, (albeit limited hours) for $20. Unfortunately, this information was not posted on the Expo website until the show had already started.

Although it was a much scaled-down version of a typical SCA Expo in terms of the number of exhibitors, attendees, events and activities, the atmosphere and overall sentiment was positive as everyone was happy to be there — excited to be back at a ‘face-to-face’ coffee event again. The Expo still featured the Roaster Village, multiple coffee cupping sessions, the IWCA annual breakfast, the Best New Product and Coffee Design Awards, and, of course, a variety of education sessions and workshops.

Many exhibitors were content with the Expo and the visitor turnout. “I had very low expectations, so I’m actually pleased with the number of visitors over the past couple of days,” shared one executive (whose company always has a substantially sized booth at the annual Expo) on the second day of the show.

“We’re having a very good show, likely because the ‘bigger guys’ didn’t come so we’ve been getting a lot of visitors at our booth,” said one exhibitor excitedly, adding that it seemed that those visitors who did attend were “here to conduct business.”

Most of the exhibitors understood the difficult position the SCA was in. One long-time exhibitor noted that once he learned that 50% of all attendee revenue generated by the SCA at the Expo was being donated to Louisiana coffee businesses and workers, “that was enough for us to come rather than pull out. We want to support the local coffee community.”

While empathetic, many exhibitors expressed frustration or dismay that the SCA did not actively convey their appreciation for those companies that honoured their commitment to exhibit (reportedly, nearly 100 exhibitors pulled out of the show about two and three weeks before the start date). “This is not a typical show with hundreds of booths so there is no reason why SCA executives cannot visit each exhibitor’s booth and thank them for their support and for not pulling out,” said one long-time exhibitor. Many exhibitors also felt that unless they were a roaster or a barista, their voices and opinions are not being heard by the SCA.

With all foodservice and hospitality establishments impacted by Covid-19 and then local businesses further affected by Hurricane Ida, New Orleans was eager for the revenue a convention such as the SCA Expo usually brings. New Orleans is a great city for conferences, conventions and trade shows, and in non-Covid years, and when not ravaged by a hurricane, the city joyously rolls out the proverbial red carpet for ‘conventioneers.’ So, it was a tough situation all around — for the SCA, for exhibitors, for attendees, and for the Big Easy. Hopefully, the SCA will give New Orleans another chance to host the Specialty Coffee Expo in the near future (we seem to go to Boston often enough, why not NOLA, which is much more of a coffee city than Boston).

The SCA, however, is supporting New Orleans now. It has donated $205,000 to two organizations – Go Fund Bean and the Louisiana Hospitality Foundation (LHF) – which support Louisiana coffee businesses and hourly coffee workers impacted by Hurricane Ida. This figure represents 50% of all attendee revenue generated by the SCA at the Expo.

The 2022 SCA Expo takes place in Boston, Massachusetts, 7-10 April.

Vanessa L Facenda, editor, Tea & Coffee Trade Journal
Keep in touch via email: [email protected]
Twitter: @TCTradeJournal or LinkedIn: Tea & Coffee Trade Journal.

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