Petfood Forum 2018, being held April 23–25 in Kansas City, Missouri, USA, will boast more than 3,000 attendees from 38 countries. Attendees will have plenty of opportunities to network, conduct business and learn from globally recognized industry experts throughout the three-day event. If this is your first time attending, it may be overwhelming trying to decide what to take advantage of. But it doesn’t have to be!

Overcoming first-time-attendee jitters

“First-time attendees are invariably overwhelmed and can feel like they walked into some kind of secret club meeting because everyone seems to know one another,” says Marcy Colescott, chief operating officer (COO) of Ameri-Pac Inc. and a long-time attendee of Forum. “You just have to put yourself out there, because overall this is a very friendly industry. Plus, wear good shoes … you are going to stand and walk a lot, so leave the pointy toes and high heels at home (I learned that the hard way)!”

Networking is, by far, the number one thing repeat attendees of Petfood Forum mention when asked how to make the most of the event. With several networking opportunities available each day, it’s easy to meet with both established and potential customers or contacts.

“The best advice I can provide a first-time attendee would be to network,” says Gail Kuhlman, manager of product conformance, research and development at Mars Petcare. “Take advantage of all the opportunities to connect with others across the industry, whether by walking the show floor, sitting with ‘new’ faces during lunch, or connecting with others during the opening and closing sessions. It’s an excellent way to deepen your learnings and build partnerships that can last a lifetime.”

The social aspect is a well-known key to enjoying Petfood Forum.

“Attend all the social gatherings,” says Bob Connolly, vice president of sales and marketing for The Peterson Company. “Go to the receptions, go to lunch, go to breakfast. It’s really a great time to meet people. Everybody’s pretty well at ease. Resist the urge to go back to your room and work or order room service. Don’t miss out on those opportunities.”

Other opportunities for first-time attendees

Beyond networking, there are plenty of other show elements primed to ensure attendees get the most out of their experience at Petfood Forum. The event’s educational tracks are one such opportunity.

“I’d recommend attending as many speaker sessions as possible,” says Kuhlman. “Every year, I leave with a better understanding of real-time market trends and current events. Not only do I gain clarity via the speaker sessions, but also when seeing what new raw materials, products and processes are out there; what suppliers are moving into the pet food arena; and what new packaging trends exist. These learnings spark new ideas and new approaches to existing challenges.”

There’s also the overall feeling of remaining on top of industry trends and staying up-to-date on the pet food market.

“[Petfood Forum gives you the opportunity to] keep your finger on the pulse of new products, new technologies based on what your competition is doing and new trends in the marketplace,” says Connolly, “so really [it allows you] to keep your fingers on the pulse of the industry and not only what your customers are doing, but what your competitors are doing, as well.”

Final advice

Petfood Forum 2018 is a multifaceted event with a sold-out trade show floor, a rich educational schedule and myriad social opportunities. If you only have one day, can you see and do everything that makes Petfood Forum worthwhile?

“If you’re going to go to Petfood Forum, one day probably doesn’t do it justice,” says Connolly. “Go to the whole thing, from start to finish. Get your money’s worth out of it. You can meet new people, make new contacts and build new relationships. Go to the education sessions; you can learn a lot. To do it justice, go to the whole thing. Don’t give it half your effort. Attend as much of the show as you can.”

As long-time attendees can attest, it will be worth it.

“Personally, I don’t have a chance to get out of the office and meet our customers very often, so it’s good to see old friends and meet new people,” says Colescott. “The atmosphere at Petfood Forum is fairly relaxed, so whether someone is your customer or your competitor, the spirit of everyone meeting on common ground makes Forum unique. I’m not saying there isn’t any intrigue, but the environment is such that you can shake hands with just about anyone for those three days and walk away feeling connected with the industry.”