It’s not often that an 87 year old ‘Grande dame’ learns a new dance, but this year sees our favourite ‘dame’ learning some new digital moves as the National Fruit Show steps online and into its first ever pair of digital shoes.

Enough of the analogies; suffice it to say the National Fruit Show’s 87th anniversary year will look and feel quite different in its new ‘live’ format. For 2020 it’s now a one day virtual show while remaining a meeting place ‘for growers, by growers’. Its show features remain the same, including the impressive fruit competitions, exhibitor stands, prizegiving and industry networking, but 2020 has given the show the opportunity to reinvent itself and embrace the new reality with open arms.

2020 is only the third time that the fruit show has not been held face to face; during the Second World war one show was cancelled following bombing in Marden and another was unable to proceed because of catastrophic frost damage in all major growing areas.

So, what’s new at the National Fruit Show live?

The first, now former, Chairman of the British Food Standards Agency, Lord Krebs, will deliver the opening address of the show and will be joined by a cross-industry and parliamentary panel of speakers including NFU Vice-President Tom Bradshaw and Teresa Wickham, the newly appointed President of the Marden Fruit Show Society (MFSS), to debate the future of British food and farming.

The show will be hosted in partnership with the Fresh Produce Journal and The Worshipful Company of Fruiterers. As well as being a thriving trade show, the event will include a series of debates and presentations from policy makers, industry representatives, Nuffield Scholars and leading researchers in top and soft fruit plus viticulture.

The FPJ LIVE and NFS forum on 6 October will feature Anthony Youseffian from Bardsley X, Steve Maxwell from WFL, Matt Hancock of Norton Folgate and The Pink Lady marketing team, followed by a panel discussion. The panel will be chaired by MFSS chair Sarah Calcutt and will include Ali Capper, who is chair of the NFU Horticulture and Potatoes Board, executive chair of British Apples and Pears and a retail buyer, plus Michael Barker of the FPJ. They are expected to discuss communications strategies and how to persuade consumers to buy British produce.

The Fruit Show Live morning session, sponsored by MHA MacIntyre Hudson and the Rural Policy Group, will start at 10am on 22 October and will feature Lord Krebs, Teresa Wickham and Tom Bradshaw (NFU Deputy President). It will again be chaired by Sarah Calcutt.

Technical forum presentations from agronomy firms and crop research programmes will run from 11.30am, while at 2pm, the FPJ LIVE session will feature Richard Harrison (Nuffield), Peter Thompson (SMA winner), John Giles (Promar – international markets) and one of the Worshipful company of Fruiterers’ Livery-supported PhD students. It will be chaired by Past Master Laurence Olins.

Delivered by global event company CVent, the 2020 National Fruit show will encompass the latest virtual event software, enabling a fully interactive exhibition hall with virtual stands for all attendees. This service includes live meeting rooms, links to websites, company literature downloads and calendar appointment services housed in a company branded micro site.

The show’s famous fruit competition, arguably the reason it has thrived for the past 86 years and the highly visible link back to the first shows in Marden in the 1930s, will remain a highly important element of the day. Judged just a few days ahead of the show in, importantly, a new venue in Marden, Kent, winners will be invited to join the prize giving event online during the day.

Britain’s tastiest apple and other popular judging categories will not be forgotten and the competitive classes for walnuts and cobnuts will also be included.

The National Fruit Show’s cider competition will also return in 2020. Again judged in advance, the winners will be announced live. The cider competition is hosted by the show’s social media channel and ciders are nominated by the apple-loving public. The winning ciders will also feature in a celebratory drinks post-show reception, hosted by bon viveur Nigel Barden, who will also be judging the cider competition.

The decision to take the show online was made after extensive consultation with sponsors, stakeholders and growers. Thanks to advances in virtual event technology it will be possible to deliver the depth of technical knowledge needed to enable the show to be registered for essential NRoSO and BASIS points, another reason why, despite the change in format, the show retains its ‘must do’ credentials for so many young up and coming recruits.

Visitors and exhibitors should book as they have in the past, by visiting and talking to the team. Show Secretary Catherine Joules will be offering technical support for all company profiles and creating personalised business areas.