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Case study: How the Specialty Food Association went virtual with Balluun

When Covid-19 forced the Specialty Food Association to cancel its Summer Fancy Food Show 2020 in New York, the trade body went virtual with Balluun’s platform and delivered 55 education sessions, 16,000 business connections, and 25,000 leads to exhibitors.


Association: Specialty Food Association

Membership: Approx. 4,000 businesses

Event (Digital): Specialty Food Live!

No. of exhibitors: 350

Leo Squatrito, SFA

Meet Leo Squatrito. He is Vice-President of Events and Member Development at the Specialty Food Association (SFA), a membership-based trade association that represents close to 4,000 specialty food businesses.

For a little background information, the SFA’s raison d’etre is to champion, nurture and connect members to deliver innovative products and expand the consumption of specialty foods. To achieve this, the US-based trade body is a source of industry information, educational events, and in-person and online networking opportunities.

The challenge

Last year, the SFA was faced with a major challenge. The Winter Fancy Food Show, took place in San Francisco in January, with a New York Summer edition planned for June at the Javits Center. However, by then, Covid-19 had hit and the convention center had become a temporary hospital for patients.

Squatrito remembers: “At the beginning of the year, we pulled off a very successful Winter Fancy Food Show and planning was underway for the next one in New York. When the pandemic hit, we realized we needed to create something for members to showcase their products to buyers in a digital way.”

The SFA had used an online product marketplace for several years, however, it now needed an enhanced digital solution that could deliver all the engagement, product and supplier discovery, lead generation, and educational content that attendees and exhibitors would normally find at the Fancy Food Shows. It also needed to build a digital community and find ways to drive new revenue streams.

The team began researching various software platforms and reviewed 12 in total before choosing Balluun.

The platform offered a highly configurable interface, comprehensive features, speed-to-market, and the ability to deliver against the association’s value proposition.

It also enabled the SFA to create a virtual event experience – Specialty Food Live! – an important part of their long-term goal to implement digital experiences that would drive future growth.

“Connecting our members with buyers in an easy and effective way is really important to the association, and one of the reasons why we chose Balluun,” says Squatrito. “The key strength was the ability to configure the discoverability element. We met with our buying community to find out what they wanted from a digital discovery platform and these insights were then integrated into the platform during the configuration process.

In just a few weeks, SFA staff were trained on Balluun’s content management system. Squatrito explains: “It was a learning curve for our technology staff and marketing folks, but once everyone got into the platform, they could see just how easy it was to change colors, add logos and configure the (curated) landing pages for both the buyers, sellers, and service providers.”


Within six weeks, food manufacturers and more than 10,000 products were uploaded to SFA Live 2020!. The site was open for access to attendees, exhibitors, and other registered participants during the scheduled period.

During the weeklong event, SFA Live 2020! delivered 55 live and recorded education sessions, 16,000 business connections, and 25,000 leads to exhibitors.

The event was so successful, that the SFA is now on to their third digital event, with plans to continue to build on the success, as well as to complement the physical show experience when it returns.

For more in-depth detail on this event, listen to Leo Squatrito discuss onboarding, monetization, metrics, and his outlook for the future of SFA’s events, here:

To find out more about Balluun, book a demo here.


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