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photos: Avocados From Mexico; shutterstock.com
Fast Food
To promote avocados and strengthen its position as an industry innovator, Avocados From Mexico creates an in-booth avocado vending machine that captivates attendees for an average of almost five minutes and draws 40 percent more booth traffic than the previous year. By Linda Armstrong
Traffic Builder
Exhibitor: Avocados From Mexico
Creative/Production: IMW Agency, Costa Mesa, CA, 714-557-7100, www.imwagency.com
Show: Produce Marketing Association's Fresh Summit Convention and Expo, 2016
Promotional Budget: $100,000   $199,000
 ➤ Draw 20 percent more attendees to the booth compared to the previous year's Fresh Summit Convention and Expo.
 ➤ Entice 750 attendees to order a customized avocado creation from the automated "Avo-Matic" food-service station.
 ➤ Introduce attendees to innovative avocado uses and recipes, particularly in the form of handheld meals.
 ➤ Lured 40 percent more attendees (14,000 total) to the booth.
 ➤ Prompted 858 visitors to customize an avocado-centric meal.
 ➤ Educated attendees about avocado-centric recipes and innovations for an average of 4.5 minutes.

Produce might be the sex kitten of the supermarket, but on the trade show floor, it's about as alluring as a dude sporting a romper. That's not to say that fruits and veggies are inherently lacking; rather, the way in which most exhibitors market them is typically just plain sad. More often than not, produce exhibitors turn to staid sampling to generate awareness and drive traffic. Or, if their pockets are deep enough, they incorporate an in-booth kitchen with a chef to whip up dishes featuring the focus product. What's more, a sampling-based show floor is often the equivalent of a dine-and-dash paradise where attendees rarely savor what is being offered.

At the 2016 Produce Marketing Association's Fresh Summit Convention and Expo in Orlando, FL, Avocados From Mexico (AFM) set out to change all of that. AFM is the marketing arm of the Mexican Hass Avocados Importers Association and The Association of Growers and Packers of Avocados From Mexico. As such, AFM is tasked with growing avocado sales and generating awareness and preference for the brand. But from an exhibit-marketing perspective, its objectives are a bit more specific.

"While the AFM brand is the largest producer of avocados in the world and the top supplier to the U.S. market – making up about 85 percent of the U.S. avocado market – AFM is always on a mission to strengthen its position as an industry leader," says Irene Cabañas, director of experiential marketing with IMW Agency, the Costa Mesa, CA, integrated-marketing firm that crafts AFM's trade show experiences. "To establish this leadership role, then, we highlight innovations not only in terms of AFM's initiatives, such as its shopper programs and food-service advances, but also with regard to the produce itself. That is, we emphasize innovative avocado uses, recipes, and more."

Ultimately, of course, the goal is to drive sales and generate consumer interest and awareness. But to that end, AFM's trade show endeavors seek to emphasize innovation via one-of-a-kind sampling experiences. And in 2016, a vital endeavor was to tout ways in which avocados could be used in handheld (i.e., takeaway-style) meals. So going into Fresh Summit 2016, both AFM and IMW were on the lookout for a fresh sampling experience, one that would act as a main traffic-building activity to capture consumer, retailer, and media attention – and, in effect, turn an unpretentious fruit into a sexy siren.

Fleshing Out the Idea
Straight out of the gate, marketing team members knew they wanted to devise a one-off kitchen experience to meet their goals. "We hoped to focus on how the brand embraces innovation and new technologies, specifically with regard to personalization," says Stephanie Bazan, market development director at AFM. "We wanted an experience that screamed innovation and forward thinking, so it couldn't be a typical sampling or in-booth kitchen event." Plus, it had to meet AFM's goal: drawing 20 percent more traffic to the booth than the previous year's Fresh Summit.

As the marketing team started brainstorming for a cutting-edge yet show-appropriate sampling event, they stuck a fork into current food-customization trends in search of answers, and over the course of a couple of weeks, they kept their eyes peeled for a suitable – and "booth-able" – experience.

The team struck gold during a business trip in northern California, when IMW employees shared a meal at an Eatsa restaurant. Specializing in customized quinoa bowls, a typical Eatsa establishment is void of cashiers and service personnel, and diners simply swipe their credit cards and place their customized orders via a wall of iPads. Within minutes, their bowls and drinks are delivered through a wall-based cubby system for dine-in or take-out meals.

"It was a Jetson-esque dining experience that seemed like a great fit for our needs," Cabañas says. "We figured if we could somehow translate the concept to the trade show floor, it would allow us to highlight avocados via unique meal offerings yet let attendees customize the experience to suit their tastes." Based on this fateful dining experience, the "Avo-Matic" – an automated, avocado-centric dining experience – was born.

Jetson-esque Eatery
Roughly two weeks prior to the show, AFM sent an eblast to attendees inviting them to visit the booth and experience the restaurant of the future. "However, the missive didn't include photos or even a detailed description of our Avo-Matic experience," Cabañas says. "We wanted attendees to be surprised and to lure them in with the curiosity factor alone. So while our social-media director put out posts and tweets during the show, we didn't give away what was happening in the exhibit so they could experience it themselves."

As attendees approached AFM's 40-by-50-foot booth, their attention was no doubt drawn to the 8-by-20-foot shipping container positioned on the front right corner of the space. Towering 9.5 feet tall, the standard shipping container from International Port Management Enterprise (IPME) was painted a soft-white hue and adorned with a geometric, avocado-green graphic. Atop the curious container, an avocado-shaped sign featured the AFM logo and a likeness of the good-fat fruit, along with the image of a purple banner featuring the word "Avo-Matic." The front of the container, which faced the aisle, offered four evenly spaced graphics meant to represent avocados. A built-in touchscreen and a pass-through cubby were positioned in the center of each one.

Unbeknownst to attendees, the container's interior housed a team of three meal-preparation professionals, always at the ready throughout the two-day show. While each meal was customized with proteins, toppings, and sauces according to attendee preferences, three different meal bases were offered across three different times. During the breakfast period between 10 a.m. and 12 p.m. the base was a breakfast taco. For lunch, which was available between 12:30 and 3 p.m., attendees customized their own salad or rice bowl, and a torta served as the base for the afternoon snack from 3:30 to 5 p.m. Both the taco and torta meals were presented in round plastic containers featuring green bases and clear tops, which offered a scaled-down version of the same logo and Avo-Matic artwork found on the sign above the shipping container. The salad/rice-bowl option, however, was presented via a plastic, screw-lid mason jar with a branded sticker.

The "Avo-Matic" food-service station was a well-choreographed exercise in innovation.

Attendees placed their orders at one of four touchscreens embedded in the front of the shipping container.

Inside the container, three culinary professionals prepared and packaged each unique creation.

The foundation of each meal varied by time of day and included a breakfast taco, a salad or rice bowl, and a torta.

Attendees customized their meals by selecting their preferred bread types, proteins, toppings, and sauces. Once they hit "Confirm," the recipe was transferred to a tablet inside the container.

While their dishes were being prepared, the attendees' touchscreens ran a video extolling the benefits of avocados and avocado-infused recipes.

When the meal was ready, the touchscreens flashed a personalized message. Attendees then simply opened the cubby door and retrieved their culinary creations.
When visitors neared the AFM space, staffers sprang into action, inviting them to step up to the Avo-Matic and formulate a customized meal of their choice. Once attendees approached the touchscreens, each featured a welcome message, the Avo-Matic logo, and information about which meal option was currently being served. For example, after 3 p.m., the screen read, "Now serving an afternoon snack! Order now." After attendees input their names and email addresses on the next screen, they could title their creations, concocting everything from basic descriptions like the "Tasty Torta" to bold tags such as the "Tonylicious" and the "Bombdotcom."

Next, each attendee journeyed through four more screens to customize his or her meal. For example, for the torta offering, the attendee first customized the base, choosing between a bread roll with jalapeno avocado mash and a roll with avocado slices. On the next screen, protein choices included guajillo- and citrus-marinated beef barbacoa, orange-braised pork, and veggie chorizo. Then diners selected up to five toppings, such as roasted chipotle sweet potatoes, shredded cabbage, and diced tomatoes. Finally, visitors picked a condiment to top it all off, choosing between avocado lime aioli, avocado salsa verde, and avocado habanero relish. Once attendees hit "Confirm," the custom recipe was transferred to a corresponding tablet inside the container. Then the magic – and the marketing – began in earnest.

Order Up!
Inside the shipping container, a chef sprang into action to complete each order. Meanwhile, a sort of sous chef helped expedite the order, and a third person ensured it was properly sealed and placed in the right cubby hole. "Given the fact that the Avo-Matic had an ever-present wait line that snaked down the entire length of the booth," Cabañas says, "simply keeping up with the onslaught was no easy feat for the people working inside."

Since AFM had to buy time for the chefs to complete the orders, the corresponding screen outside the container ran a video extolling the benefits of avocados and avocado-infused recipes. At the end of the short video featuring an animated robot emcee, a Q&A session quizzed each participant about his or her avocado knowledge.

Next, an on-screen push to social media appeared, whereby the visitor was asked to post a photo of the experience to Instagram or tweet a pic using the hashtag #Avomatic. Those that did so were entered into a daily $500 gift-card giveaway. While all of this was going on, a software system paired each attendee's email address with the unique recipe he or she had created. During the show, AFM emailed a thank-you note to each participant along with his or her recipe creation. All told, the ordering experience took roughly 4.5 minutes, every second of which was spent soaking up AFM branding, learning about avocados, and experiencing the brand's innovations.

When the meal was ready, the exterior screen flashed a customized message, "[NAME], your order is ready!" Then, the attendee simply opened the cubby door, which glowed a soothing green hue courtesy of an enclosed LED, and retrieved his or her creation.

After grabbing napkins and utensils, some attendees wandered off to eat their avocados elsewhere, but many progressed further into the booth to learn even more. Here they discovered various displays dedicated to everything from a retail-store area with a mini produce section to a health and wellness area that provided info on AFM's dietician-based initiatives.

Holy Guacamole
While AFM aspired to outpace booth traffic by 20 percent compared to the previous year, the stand actually drew 14,000 attendees, an uptick of 40 percent. In addition, AFM hoped to serve 750 avocado dishes over the course of the two-day show. But chefs doled out 858 meals, exceeding the goal by 14 percent.

On top of the nearly five minutes of valuable time spent with each of those 858 diners, AFM also scored important insight into their preferences. "We learned that people like to stick to the basics for breakfast, and for the salad, folks prefer mostly veggies and minimal protein," Cabañas says. "But in the afternoon, people really got creative with their tortas. This type of data can now be assimilated into our recipes for ongoing marketing."

In fact, the Avo-Matic proved so successful that AFM trotted it out as a stand-alone experience at South by Southwest (SXSW), a conference and festival celebrating the convergence of the interactive, film, and music industries, where the tasty traffic builder achieved similarly positive results. Not surprisingly, the Avo-Matic also spoke to Sizzle Awards judges. "The strategy was super simple but also incredibly engaging," one judge said. "It was instantly buzz worthy and got people talking to other attendees about the experience, which then generated brand loyalty and affinity across the board." So hats off to AFM. Using a clever one-off activity, it turned a simple fruit into a sexy siren – smashing all of its goals in the process. E

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