It’s only been about two weeks since the NCA State of the Industry event in Florida, but the world feels like a completely different place.
Many had a sense that something was coming as we networked among the palm trees and ocean views — but there was still just enough uncertainty that it was easy to imagine it may not be that bad.
The hosts on stage were all careful to elbow bump as they greeted each other. But other than that and some side conversations, for the first couple days it was hard to even remember that coronavirus existed.
In fact, people were still getting offended if I declined to shake their hands.
“If I get it, I get it!” more than a few people told me.
I didn’t want to get it.
The event went on as planned, with lots of talk about the National Confectioners Association’s latest research, “Sweets Insights: State of Treating 2020.” It turns out candy has a large role to play in emotional well being.
“[Candy] is the category that’s top of mind for emotional well-being, and emotional health has actually outpaced physical health when it comes to wellness,” Laurie Demeritt, CEO, the Hartman Group told the audience. “[The confectionery] industry has really taken more advantage of it than any other industry.”
But between speakers there were lots of murmurs about what events might be canceled. Would the Western Candy Conference still happen? What about PMCA? Should we bother to book our flight tickets to Germany for interpack? They can’t cancel interpack? Right? There’s no way, right?
Then on Tuesday, we got word that the confectionery industry was indeed going to take a hit. Expo West was postponed indefinitely. People next to me audibly gasped when they saw the news. And we’ve since learned that it is outright canceled.
Of course, in the last two weeks, we also learned that indeed, Western Candy Conference, PMCA and interpack would not go on as planned. While Western Candy Conference was canceled outright, PMCA is working to offer the event in a digital format, and interpack has been rescheduled for Feb. 25- March 3, 2021.
Beyond conferences, pretty much all travel has been halted. So many confectionery industry professionals spend their lives on the road — and now they are home, with no flights in the immediate future, doing their part to “flatten the curve.”
The stock market also has fallen off a cliff, with Monday, March 16 proving to be its worst day since 1987.
And this week, President Donald Trump told the country that he doesn’t expect us to get past all of this until July or August.
July? Or August? We’re going to be enduring this until late summer? How can that be?
It’s hard not to think that this will have a long-term impact on how everyone does business. Will it even be possible to just “go back to normal” once this all passes? Or will there be permanent changes?
Will people travel less as they realize that they didn’t need to fly into every meeting? Will they cut back on the number of conferences they attend each year?
Or, will it have the opposite impact? Will all this time at home just reinforce how important all those in-person meetings were? How much business was getting done on the show floor?
As I’m writing this, the NCA’s Sweets and Snacks Expo, slated for May 18-21, is still a go, but organizers have said it will greatly depend on how the State of Illinois and the City of Chicago proceed.
As the pinnacle confectionery event in North America, what happens with the Sweets and Snacks Expo will no doubt serve as a signal of how the candy industry will recover from all this.
Is it possible that the two major NCA events will bookend this crisis? With the State of the Industry right at the beginning, and the Sweets and Snacks Expo right at the end?
If, somehow, we are all there at the Expo, walking the show floor in May, talking about how crazy everything was during the coronavirus, then there’s a good chance we may indeed “go back to normal.”
But if it gets canceled, or attendance is down dramatically, it will be hard not to see it as a flash point. As a clear sign of the hit we’ve taken as a society, and an industry, as a result of the coronavirus.
Regardless of what’s coming next, I have a lot of faith in the confectionery industry. It has endured so much already and no doubt will get through this. And it's already helping the world cope, providing a little peace with each square of chocolate or sugary candy people eat while social distancing.
It turns out, all of the NCA’s talk during the State of the Industry about how candy helps with emotional well-being was auspicious. And indeed, candy is already doing its little part to keep the world sane during these insane times.