ORLANDO, FLA. — The return of Global Pet Expo in-person in 2022 follows two years of uncertainty caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. This pet industry trade show, organized by the American Pet Products Association (APPA) and Pet Industry Distributors Association (PIDA), will be held March 23 to 25 at the Orange County Convention Center in Orlando.

As the industry gears up for Global Pet Expo, Pet Food Processing spoke with Andy Darmohraj, executive vice president and chief operating officer of APPA, about what to expect at this year’s show.

According to Darmohraj, the biggest change to this year’s show will be a move from the west concourse of the Orange County Convention Center, where it has been held in years past, to the south concourse, a newer section of the venue.

“It gives us an opportunity to basically control the entire space, and it also gave us an opportunity to rebrand the show in a lot of ways,” he explained.

This location change results in a more square-shaped show floor, as opposed to the long, narrow format of the west concourse. It allowed show organizers to rebrand the New Product Showcase, add extra lounges on the floor, expand the natural product section by about 30% to 40% compared to 2020, and make it easier for buyers and attendees to navigate the show floor.

In 2021, Global Pet Expo went virtual due to COVID-19 repercussions and travel restrictions. Global Pet Expo Digital Access offered an online trade show experience to exhibitors and buyers, equipped with virtual booths, opportunities for meetings and networking, and recorded educational content. While this platform allowed the industry to gather, in a sense, digitally, show organizers are excited to bring back the in-person experience this year.

“We have more than 700 exhibiting companies who are signed up for the show. We have buyers from more than 63 countries all registered to attend the show. So, it's going to look very similar to how the show looked pre-COVID,” said Andy Darmohraj, executive vice president and chief operating officer of APPA.

“First and foremost, we're pleased to be back together in person,” he said. “Our goal since March of 2021 was to make sure that we would be able to meet in person safely, so we have spent a lot of time over the last year figuring out how we would be able to do that. We have more than 700 exhibiting companies who are signed up for the show. We have buyers from more than 63 countries all registered to attend the show. So, it's going to look very similar to how the show looked pre-COVID. That said, we did really have to take COVID-19 into consideration.”

APPA and PIDA partnered with Epistemix, a software company specializing in the simulation of disease spread, to determine the COVID-19 risk for Global Pet Expo 2022. According to the data, that risk was projected at a rate of less than 0.1% for all attendees. Show organizers have also worked closely with local and state officials, as well as the Orange County Convention Center, to build a health and safety plan for this year’s show.

Based on declining COVID-19 cases seen in Orange County and the rest of the United States, APPA and PIDA announced in early March there would be no mask requirement at the show and proof of vaccination would not be required for attendees.

“With that information and the modeling that we got from Epistemix, we realized that we could do a show safely, without a mask requirement,” Darmohraj said. “You can wear a mask if you feel comfortable, or if you feel that there is a need for you personally, but there wasn't a need for us to have a requirement for everyone coming into the show.”

Although this year’s event will be held face-to-face in Orlando, the virtual platform created in 2021 will not be abandoned. Instead, APPA and PIDA will allow exhibitors and buyers to access Global Pet Expo Digital Access in April to follow up with exhibitors and browse featured products after the in-person show.

This expansion of live offerings into the digital space reflects one of Global Pet Expo’s key priorities: matchmaking between buyers and brands. Those who registered for the show will have access to Global Pet Expo Digital Access during a three-day follow-up event, which will also include additional exhibitor information and educational content. Darmohraj noted show organizers have recognized this as a powerful tool to connect the industry and plan to utilize both in-person and digital formats in the future.

“It’s a continuation of the live event in a different space,” Darmohraj said. “Digital access in 2021 was very successful. We had a lot of our usual exhibitors participating, and we had a great buyer participation from around the world.

“We feel that this is the right opportunity for 2022 – giving attendees an extra couple of days after the fact to be able to connect,” he added. “But we are also looking at year-round opportunities, whether that's a year-round event or doing specialized events throughout the year. We did realize in 2021 that there was a benefit to our membership of continuing that online opportunity for the pet industry.”

Darmohraj shared attendance at Global Pet Expo 2022 may be affected by continued COVID-19 concerns, but the data is showing higher attendance rate compared other trade shows in the United States so far this year.

“The first month of 2022 has been about a 60% to 70% reduction in terms of exhibitors and buyers, and that's across the tradeshow industry,” he said. “We're actually doing much better than that. We think that’s a sign that the pet industry is ready to get back in person.”

The trade show is expecting more than 700 exhibiting companies, which translates to over 2,750 booths or roughly 275,000 square feet of exhibition space. Registered buyers represent 63 countries around the world and, although this is promising, COVID-19 is expected to impact buyer attendance for this year’s show.

“We don't think we'll be at 2020 numbers for buyer audience, and that's because it's still difficult for international people to travel into the US, and almost a third of our buyers come from outside the US,” Darmohraj added. “So, while we do have buyers registered from 63 countries, the volume that we normally have just won't be there.”

However, he noted, over the last few weeks show organizers have seen buyer registration going up as the show dates approach. According to Darmohraj, this indicates strong interest among the buying community, and the buyers in attendance are likely going to be the most serious about meeting with brands, seeing the new products and adding new lines to their stores.

In 2020, Global Pet Expo was attended by more than 6,000 buyers and more than 1,000 exhibitors spanning 3,541 booths.

Darmohraj has been with APPA since 1997, with 2022 marking his 25th year in the pet products industry. When asked about the biggest difference between his first official Global Pet Expo in 2005 and the upcoming event, he cited the rapid premiumization and humanization of the market.

“It's how people treat their pets,” Darmohraj said. “Twenty or so years ago, Paris Hilton and her little dog and her pocketbook really started the trend of clothing and jewelry and that kind of humanization. What that evolved into is really the premium food and treats – a lot of those didn't exist 25 years ago. People are getting home delivery of pet food now, or being very aware of the ingredients in what they're feeding their pets. That's really been, I think, the biggest evolution in a very positive way. People want to make sure that their pets are healthy.”

The New Product Showcase section at Global Pet Expo 2022 will reflect these trends in the new food and treat products highlighted by exhibitors. This year, the New Product Showcase will feature new products launched within the last two years, expanding on the usual one-year rule to give exhibitors an extra opportunity to share new products that couldn’t be seen in-person in 2021.

“One of the things that Global Pet Expo has always been known for is that it's the place for all the manufacturers to introduce their new products. We have a very large new product showcase,” Darmohraj said. “It's a really good opportunity for buyers to identify trends too, because you get to see all the new products in one place. A lot of times, it's pretty clear the direction that the industry is going in.”

Like in years past, buyers and show attendees will be able to vote for the best new products in several categories, including dog, cat and natural. Show organizers have updated this process for 2022 by featuring items in the New Product Showcase on the Global Pet Expo mobile app. This way, buyers and attendees can see the new products from anywhere on the show floor (or back in their hotel room), favorite products in the app, and then vote for winners in each category.

Voting for the New Product Showcase Awards will end at 2:30 p.m. on Thursday, March 24. The winners will be announced at 5 p.m. that day in a ceremony held in the New Product Showcase section of the show floor.

“We're estimating about 700 entries in the new product showcase this year, and that matches the number of exhibitors that we're going to have,” Darmohraj shared.

The event’s educational programming, rebranded as the Global Learning Series in 2021, offers several learning pathways for retailers and buyers, exhibitors and attendees on a wide variety of topics, including the latest market research from Packaged Facts, Euromonitor International, NielsenIQ and APPA. Other sessions will touch on retailer success, marketing, social media trends and practices, e-commerce tips, and 15-minute “Paws2Learn” mini-sessions in the New Product Showcase area, which Darmohraj described as like “little TED Talks.”

“What makes Global Pet Expo different than a lot of industry shows is that the 40 sessions that we make available to buyers and exhibitors are all free of charge,” Darmohraj said. “Anyone can attend any session without a ticket, and without having to pay a fee to participate.”

Find more details about the educational content at Global Pet Expo 2022.

Follow our coverage of Global Pet Expo to keep up with new product announcements, trends and industry developments.