FINDING SUCCESS AT EXPO EAST, EXPO WEST, AND THE FANCY FOOD SHOW
The Specialty Foods Association hosts a brilliant, twice-a-year event called the Fancy Food Show. This food-industry trade show is exactly what you think it is–three stories of thousands booths manned by specialty food companies–the best in chocolates, sauces, noodles, alcohol, teas, coffees, and so on. For the summer show, this is done in the Jacob Javits Center in Manhattan. It’s just marvelous, and if you have never been to a show of this nature, you really need to change that. Everyone should find a way to attend a food show like this at least once in a lifetime.
At the Fancy Food Show, the vendors are there looking to meet the right distributors, industry writers, restaurants, coffee shops, grocery chains, and more. The vendors are behind the booths, promoting their projects, and on the floor are the owners and reps–the very people that the vendors want to meet. The vendors prepare or cook up a batch of their finest wares and share with the industry professionals walking past. Easy, right?
Attending the Fancy Food Show is also a study in desire. It seems that, for many vendors, they only want the big fish. This desire leaves them too concentrated on the few top companies at the show–Whole Foods, Amazon, Publix, KeHE, UNFI, and so on. When a vendor treats the big fish as saviors and everyone else as unimportant (which seemed to happen much too often), there’s a problem. That mentality of catering to only the superstar players will weigh down your business and keep you from any kind of growth. It’ll likely sink your chances of impressing the big fish, too.
How much does this happen at the Fancy Food Show? It happens so much that the “big fish” have fake badges and have to walk the floor in disguise, wearing vendor badges instead of their “Whole Foods” or “Amazon” identification. They are simply that coveted and hounded by the vendors.
Please don’t get me wrong–the right attention from Whole Foods can do wonders for a brand. It already has for many. I won’t take that away from this conversation. But the truth is that this same behavior is exactly what I used to see from bands in the music industry. Musicians would long to get the right attention from a label, manager, publicist, and so on and they would learn how other bands made it—if a “big fish” would enter the room, they would flock like the quarterback of the football team just walked in. In fact–if you really want to have fun, go to any show/club and tell them you’re a manager of some famous band (don’t worry, no one will really know as long as you pick a band that didn’t come from that town), or tell them that you work as a talent scout for a label. You will easily become the coolest person in the room in a matter of seconds. Free drinks. Private bathroom. Get to hang out with the band. It’s awesome.
THE PROBLEM WITH VENDORS AT FOOD INDUSTRY TRADE SHOWS
Here’s the problem: The Beatles played at the Indra Club in Germany before making it famous. They were the only band to “come out” of there and find fame. The bands that followed in their footsteps never found even somewhat equal success. Why? Because following someone else’s success story as if it is your own simply doesn’t work. Every band has a unique story about how they made it, just like every successful food company. No one copied someone else’s exact formula and succeeded in the same way. Yes, the end of many success stories has bands discovered by the same manager or label, just like many food companies became famous with the attention from Whole Foods, but the path to get to that point has years (trust me) of hard work prior to that that are unlike anyone else’s story . . . years of being undiscovered and unknown.
In the food industry, just like the music industry, I couldn’t help but notice how much everyone wants to be “discovered.” The funny thing is that, in both industries, these major players actually want to see you embracing everyone and they especially want to see everyone embracing you. It’s not something people like to hear, but when you treat everyone as if they are important and people fall in love with your brand because you have done so, only then will you get noticed by the big fish. The major players know to look for this, and they also how to avoid you until then. They want to see your success. They want to know you can “sell out a show” in your hometown and one six hours away. They want to see a lot of people talking about you online. They especially want to see you talking to everyone, and treating everyone with love. The moment you try to appeal to only them, you’ve already lost that special something they are looking for.
AT THE FANCY FOOD SHOW
What did I see during my three days at the show? The desire to be “discovered” by one of the major chains or distributors played heavily on the vendors. Those who didn’t talk with the major players were visibly upset. I know it cost a lot of money to enter the Fancy Food Show and get to NYC, but the problem was simply that vendors went with the idea that they would “get discovered” by Whole Foods and come home famous and rich. In getting more upset as the show goes on, they became exactly what Whole Foods doesn’t want on their shelves. Just like bands that work so hard to meet the right manager or label—they forget and neglect why they are there: the fans. And that’s sad, because it’s the fans that get you signed.
To the vendors I write about here and to other companies in other industries, you always have to find your own path. No two success stories are the same, and while it seems like an easy formula to try and recreate how someone else was discovered, it never works. Your audience is always your fans–big players in your industry will notice. In fact, what these big companies look for are companies who believe in themselves and have their own personality without the help of Whole Foods or KeHE. Believe in yourself and your company. Grow your fans and invite everyone to love your brand. No band, no business, no actor, no author, no painter, no athlete, nor anyone else has “made it” the same way someone else has. You can let the big fish know you exist, of course, but never take away attention from your customers to do so. When enough people love you, the big players will come to find you.
HOW TO GET DISCOVERED AT EXPO WEST, EXPO EAST, and the FANCY FOOD SHOW
If you want to be discovered at ExpoWest, ExpoEast, the Fancy Food Show, or any other trade show, be yourself and love being yourself. Don’t let someone else dictate your success. Just love the game and especially love your fans.