Affiliated Foods Inc. of Amarillo, Texas, recently held its first virtual event, “Together as 1,” from Aug. 24-28.
Officials said the 3D experience, which took the place of AFI’s usual fall show, drew participants representing more than 300 membership store locations. Organizers and users were both pleased with what they described as a “great experience.”
Making it all the more remarkable was the fact that those involved in bringing the virtual event together had just two months to do so. Melanie Clement, Affiliated’s director of engineering, traced the origins of the event back to June.
“Due to COVID-19 pandemic, we were not able to have a physical show this past spring and some of our products suffered in sales because people need to see displays and mods before they buy,” she said. “We were challenged by our CEO, Randy Arceneaux, to virtualize the fall food show experience and give our membership a way to visually see the shipper pallets, mods and displays.”
Kevin Fortenberry, Affiliated’s director of IT operations, said Clement found an application from Buzz 3D that gave “a true 3D experience in a grocery environment.”
A 3D virtual store solutions provider, Buzz 3D is focused on the retail industry, particularly 3D shopping and store simulation. Based in the United Kingdom but operating worldwide, the firm’s collaborative approach creates custom solutions to address the emerging needs of retailers in the pandemic virtual space.
“Buzz 3D had worked with some major marketing companies to help promote products using a 3D experience but had not created an environment such as a food show for a wholesale grocer,” Fortenberry explained.
“The existing 3D application needed to be modified from an in-store grocery experience to a wholesale food show shopping experience.”
Marc Foreman, co-CEO and technical director of Buzz 3D, recalled the initial contact with Affiliated on June 11.
“AFI approached Buzz 3D with a challenge to achieve the impossible – a complete virtual trade show online, customized to suit its way of working, and all within just a few weeks,” he said. “The task was enormous, but thanks to the flexibility of both great teams, and the strong relationship of mutual trust that was established at the outset, the task was completed.”
The teams began construction on June 18 and the virtual event went live Aug. 24. The foreground mimicked the Amarillo Civic Center, with a 3D show floor and objects created from actual products and pictures.
Once that was completed, Clement added, the engineering department built the show environment.
“The application was the first of its kind in a wholesale environment, offering a visual environmental tour complete with product selection, multiple shipping dates, quantities, show price, allowances and unit price, compiling to a grand total on the final screen generating order transactions,” she said.
According to Josh Silvia, the network and PC manager in Affiliated’s IT department, Buzz was “up for the challenge.”
“We created a great partnership developing the environment to virtualize our fall food show,” he said. “Our vendor community supplied pictures, which were modified to generate a 3D view of the products. Affiliated’s marketing department supplied the layout and décor.
“The IT department partnered with Nutanix to build the frame to support the application using the Affiliated website. Our membership supported the application, with participants experiencing the 3D environment, representing more than 300 membership store locations.”
Clement said the fall virtual event likely will serve as the foundation for future shows.
“The complete shopping experience – from the visual selection while walking a convention center to the act of generating the purchases – is the point of differentiation from other applications. It was a great experience,” she said.
“AFI’s team were a complete joy to work with,” he said. “And it’s thanks to the fact that they are as agile as ourselves in adapting to and overcoming new problems that we were able to reach the finish line on this project together. I’d work with them again in a heartbeat.”
And who knows, they just may get to. As Clement noted, “Plans have already started for our next virtual experience for our membership later this year.”