Ready To Exhibit at a Food Tradeshow – or Not ?

As sure as school’s out for summer it’s time for the Summer Fancy Food Show. This blog post is for you, the aspiring food entrepreneur planning to rove the floor seeking inspiration and ideas for your own presence at this show or other food trade shows.

If you’ve done a little digging, trade show booth costs may seem like a small investment with big impact. But don’t let the allure of mom seeing you’ve made it big drive your decision. Long-time specialty food consultant and business coach Deb Mazzaferro wrote the book on successful trade shows and offers some on-the-ground insight for for those wondering if they’re ready to take the plunge.

Tradeshows are not the right place to decide if an idea is good. There are much less expensive ways to validate a proof of concept.

At a recent show, Deb  saw exhibitors show off their goods before they were really ready. A number of newbie companies were still producing their food at home, without retail packaging, unclear how they would scale — and exhibiting right alongside the heavy hitters. You’ll be hard-pressed to get honest feedback in such a situation. “People are polite; they aren’t going to tell you your product isn’t good,” Deb says. You may think “everyone loves me!” then go into production….a recipe for turning money into air.

Do the Math

Effie's Homemade

Effie’s Homemade

According to Deb, to recoup a $10,000 show investment you have to make about $30,000 in sales (assuming your cost of goods was $15,000). To break this down, consider your airfare, hotel rooms, booth costs, samples, meals, marketing materials. It all adds up pretty quickly.

Newbies can potentially make an entry-level debut at the Fancy Food Show in the New Brands area, for around $1,500 (plus the aforementioned expenses). In that area, “buyers know that you’re a member candidate so they’re easier on you,” says Deb. “They’re looking for innovation and more gentle on you not knowing the ropes.” However you still need to be ready to supply enough product. “If you’re still testing the water on pack size or where you’re getting ingredients or if you can produce enough, you’re probably not ready.”

The bottomline: Know that you are ready to take advantage of all the leads you will be generating at the shows. Says Deb, “Unless you’ve been selling to retailers and distributors you won’t know. The cost to be at the show is a lot of money you could use for marketing in your local area.”

Checklist Before Taking the Trade Show Plunge

Obviously there are exceptions, but 80 percent of food entrepreneurs dreaming of their first trade show booth should first plan to achieve some less sexy things:

  • Introduce and sell your product locally to test acceptance.
  • Prove you’re desirable by having gotten repeat business.
  • Lock down your packaging.
  • Solidify your cost of goods, and have a 60 percent gross margin built in so you can work with distributors.
  • Number one: work from a business plan. Rather than spend $3,000 repeatedly testing the waters, do the research and approach your development and marketing strategically to ultimately spend less and make more.

Check out Deb’s trade show success book, and stay tuned for more ways to make a splash at the Fancy Food Show and other shows on this here blog.