The Specialty Coffee Expo is set to take place beginning this Thursday, September 30th in New Orleans, Louisiana, running through Sunday, October 3rd. With the surge in pandemic cases in the state—and in the country at large—as well as the host city still dealing with the devastation of last month’s Hurricane Ida, many have called for the event to be postponed, sponsors have dropped out, and the entire slate of US Coffee Championships have been canceled.

As of press time the 2021 SCA Expo—North America’s premier coffee trade event that brings together over 10,000 coffee professionals for exhibitions, lectures, and educational events—is scheduled to go ahead as planned. In a statement announcing the plan to stay the course, SCA CEO Yannis Apostolopoulos cites the reliance of many coffee companies on the event as one reason for continuing ahead with Expo, so that the “industry can restart, so we can reconnect, and rebuild” and that the convening power of bringing global business from across the supply chain together under one roof has “enormous value and these companies need this.”

But the question remains: Who is going to be there this year? Sprudge has been tracking exhibitors over the past month, and in that time, over 200 exhibitors have been removed from the public directory, including some of the biggest names in the industry.

We began following the SCA’s Expo exhibitor map on September 7th, where there were a total of 402 individual companies listed (some with multiple booths). As of today, September 24th, that number has dropped to 188, less than half of the original number.

Notable departures based on the SCA’s public exhibitor map include AeroPress, Atlas Coffee Importers, Breville, BUNN, the Coffee Quality Institute, Espresso Supply, Fairtrade International, InterAmerican Coffee, La Marzocco, Loring, Mahlkönig USA, Mazzer, Mill City Roaster, Nuova Simonelli, Oatly, Olam Specialty Coffee, Rancilio, Technivorm Moccamaster, Torani, Acaia, Baratza, Cropster, FETCO, Hario, Mavam, Onyx Coffee Lab, Pacific Foods, PERC Coffee Roasters, Probat, Daterra Coffee, Eversys, Astoria/Wega, Califia Farms, Cimbali USA, Fellow, Miir, Slayer, Toddy, and Toper, and many more.

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This is a partial list, and coffee industry watchers may notice several companies still listed on the current SCA exhibitor map whose brands or high-ranking employees have made public statements announcing cancelation. Take, for example, Cafe Imports, who is still listed as an exhibitor as of press time despite issuing an announcement in late August. This discrepancy belies a difficult truth: with the SCA’s current cancellation policy, there is simply no way to accurately track who will be attending.

Per the Expo website—which Sprudge has confirmed with the SCA to be current as of press time—all exhibitor cancellations made after August 1st are 100% non-refundable; all attendee tickets are likewise final and non-transferable. Since that cutoff date, new COVID cases have grown significantly (though they have thankfully started to taper back down in Louisiana) and the second-most damaging hurricane in the state’s history made landfall. Booth fees are unable to roll over to 2022, as had been previously allowed by the SCA after the cancellation of the association’s 2020 event in Portland.

In short, while companies may still be deciding to not attend due to travel and shipping costs, they are not monetarily motivated to officially bow out.

When reached for comment on the cancellation policy, SCA Community Experience Officer Vicente Partida states:

We have definitely heard from many folks who were disappointed with our cancelation policy. And we wish we could have more options for people, but as with all businesses, there are many costs associated with running an event like Expo, including making sure we fulfill our financial obligations to the many local businesses who make the event possible. I recognize that we need to do a better job with communicating options to our exhibitors and visitors in the future, and I am committed to doing better by improving our customer service.

Regarding hesitancy due to the pandemic, Partida tells Sprudge:

We have also heard from many folks who are concerned about attending an event amid the coronavirus pandemic. As with all open businesses in New Orleans, we have strict COVID-19 entry requirements that include mask wearing and proof of negative PCR tests. COVID-19 isn’t going away anytime soon but we’re all trying to get back to business in the safest way possible. We respect those who have made the decision not to attend the event and we look forward to having them back at Expo in the future.

This much we know for sure: following months of endless discussion and speculation across the specialty coffee industry, the 2021 SCA Expo is happening. (A full slate of Expo programming, including lectures and educational events, is available via the official Expo website.) Doors at the New Orleans Convention Center will open the morning of Thursday, September 30th to all those choosing to make the journey. The list of attendees and exhibitors, though, is anybody’s guess.

This story is developing…

Zac Cadwalader is the managing editor at Sprudge Media Network and a staff writer based in Dallas. Read more Zac Cadwalader on Sprudge.

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