Starting July 12, 2021, in response to South Korea’s daily COVID-19 infection tally spiking to over 1,000 over multiple days, social distancing measures in the greater Seoul area were raised to the strictest level under the country’s four-tier system.

The Challenge Under Level 4, all general events are prohibited with the exception of international conferences and academic events. Trade shows may remain open as long as a physical distance of one person per six square meters is maintained.

Coffee Expo Seoul, on the verge of celebrating its tenth anniversary after a one-year hiatus brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic, was the first Coex exhibition to take place under Level 4. The increase in the social distancing level came at a critical time for the organizers, taking place the weekend prior to the exhibition and causing a number of companies to exit the show at the last minute.

Premier Show, Premier Market Coffee Expo Seoul, co-organized by Coex and the Korea Coffee Association, is Korea's top coffee industry and equipment trade show. Welcoming industry professionals and coffee lovers alike, Coffee Expo Seoul showcases the latest coffee trends and provides a business platform for those interested in entering Korea's lucrative coffee market.

Korea's coffee industry has doubled over the past five years, seeing an explosion in both imports and consumption and catapulting Korea to its place as the eleventh-largest coffee market in the world. South Koreans are now among the top consumers of coffee globally, and the country is home over 12,300 coffee shops.

Despite a year hiatus, a postponement from its initial 2021 dates, and the additional challenges presented by the increased social distancing level, Coffee Expo Seoul pulled together new and exciting features.

Safety First As one of Coex's most prominent and well-loved shows, Coex enforced preventive measures unlike any other trade show in Korea, aiming to allow as many people to enjoy the show as was safely possible.

To ensure the safety of all participants, visitors, and staff, Coex turned Hall A into a temporary testing station where visitors could take COVID-19 tests using complimentary self-test kits before and after attending the trade show. Crucially, all exhibitors were required to take the test prior to the launch of the exhibition in order to participate and run their booths. Those who tested negative were handed yellow stickers to place onto their exhibitor badge.

In addition to the temporary testing zone, Coex implemented the following COVID-19 guidelines in accordance with the local government's social distancing rules:

- All participants completed and passed a COVID-19 self-assessment prior to participating in the exhibition.

- All visitors completed a QR code check-in and entered the hall through Coex's sterilization & disinfection gate.

- All participants practiced social distancing when queuing, visiting a booth, or sitting in the conference hall.

- All participants were required to wear masks and vinyl gloves at all times.

- Food tastings were only allowed in the Designated Eating Areas located in Hall B.

The Show Under the theme "Design the Taste," Coffee Expo Seoul returned for its tenth year from July 14 to 17, 2021, for both an in-person exhibition in Hall B and online.

Despite a year hiatus, a postponement from its initial 2021 dates, and the additional challenges presented by the increased social distancing level, Coffee Expo Seoul pulled together new and exciting features, including Kenya as the designated Guest Country; the Green ECO Solution Zone; Roasters Station; and Tomorrow's Café, a special pavilion demonstrating coffee automation.

100 companies participated in the offline event, offering high-quality, coffee-related products and services ranging from coffee beans and coffee-making equipment to pastries, ready-to-drink beverages, and eco-friendly coffee accessories. The digital show, for its part, allowed buyers and visitors to schedule B2B meetings and exhibitors through a business-matching system and to enjoy a livestream of the conference. Additionally, Coex collaborated with NAVER to implement Shopping Live, an online shopping platform, to further boost exhibitors' ROI and offer expanded B2B business opportunities.

One of the highlights of this year’s Coffee Expo Seoul was the Future Coffee Conference “OPEN NEXT” 2021, organized under the theme “Café, shaping the future of the food service industry.” The conference—covering future and global trends, insights into effective operations, and tips for increasing café and restaurant profit—consisted of 12 sessions led by industry professionals such as Bean Brothers, MI Coffee, LOUNGE’LAB, and Kenya’s Coffee Sub-Sector Implementation Committee.

In order to reach a wider audience and accommodate attendees who were unable to attend in person, the Future Coffee Conference was also streamed with simultaneous interpretations in English through the event’s digital event website.

Conclusion Despite the setbacks caused by the COVID-19 pandemic and shifting social-distancing rules, Coex created valuable business opportunities while implementing strict precautions that complied with regulations and ensured the safety of all participating individuals.

“As we celebrate our tenth anniversary, we are proud to have prepared a variety of programs and special exhibits to provide valuable information and opportunities for industry professionals, prospective entrepreneurs, and coffee lovers,” said a Coffee Expo Seoul representative. “Coffee Expo Seoul is the place to visit for anyone seeking the latest trends, wishing to start a café business, or identify new partners. We look forward to inviting everyone back for an even better exhibition next year.”

Find out more at the official event website.

Read about Korea's Social Distancing Level 4 here.