PACK EXPO International 2012 (McCormick Place, Chicago; Oct. 28–31) recorded more than 1.12 million net square feet of exhibit space and 1,965 exhibiting companies. Registration points towards a 3% increase in attendance over 2010. By all measures, the numbers added up to PACK EXPO’s strongest Chicago event since 2006, according to show owner and producer PMMI.

“All of our measurements increased as compared to 2010,” says Jim Pittas, vice president, Trade Shows, PMMI. “Pre-show registration was up nearly 10 percent, and we sold out of booth space back in July.”

Pittas adds that attendance patterns held consistent with years past, despite travel difficulties resulting from Hurricane Sandy. “Like most trade shows, 60–70% of our attendance is regional. Fewer than 5% of pre-registrations were from areas hit hardest by the storm.”

The numbers only tell part of the story, however. The activity in the exposition hall made the show a qualitative, as well as a quantitative, success.

Exploring Markets & Finding Solutions

Attendees had more chances than ever to delve deep into their specific industries as PACK EXPO expanded its customer-centric approach. The show featured five pavilions for exhibitors serving specific markets: The Processing Zone, The Pharmaceutical Pavilion, The Reusable Packaging Pavilion, The Confectionery Pavilion and The Brand Zone.

 “The pavilion structure works in concert with My PACK EXPO, the PACK EXPO app, keyword searches on and the Pre-Selects printed guides to exhibitors in various categories, to make navigating PACK EXPO easier and more efficient,” says Pittas. “It’s all in support of our primary goal: to serve our customers - the attendees.”

The “vertical lounges” added a new dimension to the effort in Chicago. These networking-oriented show floor lounges expanded from their 2012 debut in Las Vegas -PACK EXPO introduced The Beverage Cooler lounge and reprise The Candy Bar lounge, The Rx Lounge and The Baking-Snack Break lounge. A visit to a vertical lounge meant connecting with attendees and exhibitors in the same market and access to an “Ask the Expert” feature staffed by leaders from partner trade associations. Receptions held at the close of Day Two (Oct. 29) amplified the networking opportunities even further.

Pittas adds, “Their success was a direct result of our partnerships with leading trade associations and exhibiting companies. By working with our partners, we were able to directly address their members’ and customers’ needs.”

Deepening Understanding

The importance of education in any format cannot be underestimated, and PACK EXPO International was packed with plenty of opportunities to learn. In the most traditional sense, that started with The Conference at PACK EXPO, sponsored by DuPont.

As they were for the customer-centric features on the show floor, partnerships were key to the success of the Conference, which featured sessions from the Alliance for Innovation and Operational Excellence (AIOE); Association for Automatic Identification and Mobility (AIM); the Institute of Packaging Professionals (IoPP); the Great Lakes and Midwest chapters of the International Society for Pharmaceutical Engineering (ISPE); the International Society of Beverage Technologists (ISBT); PMMI U; Reusable Packaging Association (RPA) and The Packaging Association - PAC.

 “We turned to leading trade associations to create programming of value to their members,” says Maria Ferrante, vice president, education & workforce development, PMMI. “It’s a very effective model that helps us meet the attendees’ needs.”

The educational opportunities spilled out onto the show floor, too, where PACK EXPO attendees enjoyed the opportunity to ask questions and learn about new products in PACK EXPO’s Innovation Stage theatre. Innovation Stage hosted 30-minute presentations from 17 exhibitors over the course of the four days.

 “The Innovation Stage presentations gave attendees the chance to get an in-depth explanation of new technologies. Judging by the number of people I saw there regularly, I’d say the attendees found these free educational sessions to be of value,” Pittas says.

“The Brand Zone brings together new ideas, materials and containers to shape winning brands, and having Mintel and Material ConneXion there was key to achieving that goal. With data and new ideas, both groups sparked insights attendees will use to develop new products and packaging, fuel innovation and establish stronger bonds with consumers,” Pittas says.

Material ConneXion set up shop within PACK EXPO’s annual display of award-winning packages from around the world, The Showcase of Packaging Innovations™, sponsored by the Dow Chemical Company. The group, which offers its members access to a 6,500-item library, brought a sampling of the materials in its library - many of which are not commonly used in packaging - for hands-on assessments by visitors with the goal of cross pollination of ideas.

Teach Our Students Well

PMMI has an unflagging commitment to education and workforce development, and with the help of the PMMI Education and Training Foundation provided travel scholarships to 170 students and instructors coming out to PACK EXPO. But that’s not all. PACK EXPO exhibitors and PMMI volunteers and staff saw to it that the students were engaged, too. Tours of the show, led by PMMI past chairmen, gave students the benefit of the industry veterans’ first-hand knowledge.

Next Year: Las Vegas

Exhibitor booths were busy throughout the show, as exhibitors and clients or potential clients discussed real projects  and exhibitors went back to the office with solid leads.

 “PACK EXPO International 2012 was definitely a success,” says Yuska. “Traffic was strong, despite the storm, and the exhibitors I spoke with were very pleased with the number and quality of leads they received.”

The momentum continues. Exhibitors are already planning their presence at PACK EXPO Las Vegas 2013 (Las Vegas Convention Center, Sept. 23-25). Approximately 47,000 square feet of booth space was sold during the show in Chicago, pushing current PACK EXPO Las Vegas space sales to over 560,000 net square feet, more than 20% ahead of pace from 2011.

Yuska adds, “I think it’s significant that so many exhibitors have already begun planning and reserving booth space for PACK EXPO Las Vegas 2013. Any company that commits to exhibit has to believe they’ll receive a solid return on their investment of time and resources. So the exhibit sales to date speak volumes about the quality of business that was accomplished in Chicago. They’re an excellent indicator for success at PACK EXPO Las Vegas 2013 and that business remains on the upswing.”