Having spent the past three days walking the show floor at the International Poultry Expo in Atlanta (my tenth time attending this event), a number of interesting ideas and innovative technologies caught my attention. If there is a common theme among exhibitors touting products and services, it seems to be that processors are asking for solutions for the long term, and suppliers are gearing new innovations to address this demand. It was only four or five years ago when exhibitors at many trade shows were focusing mostly on lowest-cost solutions and addressing the slumping economy by offering financing terms, maintenance and spare-parts programs to get the most hours of service from equipment and emphasizing bargain prices.

Today, with the economy still limping along, solutions exhibited at the expo reflect a more upbeat sentiment among the processors here, who apparently are demanding the best — not the cheapest- technologies and innovations. Evidence of this was clear to me after visits to several dozen booths. Technicians and marketers are touting features as they relate to cost of ownership and durability for the long haul, while focusing less on past year’s concerns honed more on immediate issues like return on investment and bottom-line pricing.

This year, many booths showcased equipment simulating entire, integrated processing lines, showing off how their technologies can be applied throughout the process of handling raw products, to one of many further-processing steps, to packaging. Processing automation and utilizing robotics in poultry processing is another evolving theme at the IPE. Exhibitors are also taking advantage of technology-based opportunities to educate, inform and even entertain potential customers. For example, several exhibitors have strategically placed quick-response (QR) codes directly on their stainless-steel equipment to encourage visitors to use their phones or pads to scan their way to online brochures and video demonstrations of machines. Others are streaming real-time video product demonstrations to the show during show hours and are hosting in-booth receptions at the end of the day featuring technology-based musical entertainment emanating from iPad “virtual” instruments.

But perhaps the most surreal sight on the exhibit hall floor occurred when I crossed paths with J. Patrick Boyle, president of the American Meat Institute. Obviously in attendance to commemorate the announced plan for AMI to co-locate its trade show with IPE and the American Feed Industry Association show in 2013, seeing Boyle at this event was cause for a double take. The partnership has made sense for many years and the associations’ ability to forge a long-term partnership typifies an IPE show that has evolved and improved each year.