Monday, January 14, 2008

Marketing Memo: Winter 2008 Fancy Food Show: Day Deux

The Scene: Inside and outside the San Diego convention center

Yesterday saw the San Diego Convention Center packed with food retailers, brokers, exhibitors, distributor representatives, and other two-legged species of folks involved directly or indirectly in the specialty and natural foods business.

Sunday's are always big retailer days at the Fancy Food Shows, especially for independent grocers and specialty foods' store retailers, who still tend to work six days a week in their stores. For these folks, Sunday's are often the only days they can get to the food show. Retail chain buyers who live within driving distance--or a short plane trip away--often visit the show on Sunday as well, so they can be back in their buying offices first thing Monday morning.

Monday's, by contrast are busy, but tend to be bit more mellow. Fewer retailers are generally at the show, although many of the big chain buyers do come on Monday as it's a great way to get out from behind the buying desk for awhile. And, of course, those from out of state or from out of the USA altogether, are in town anyway, specifically to spend two or three days at the show. A buyer really needs at least two full-days to see everything available on the huge show floor.

And of course, those show attendees coming from out of state--and especially those from overseas--should have at least half a day or more to enjoy San Diego: The beach, the downtown gaslight district, and at least one park, for starters. Golf isn't out of the question either. The temperatures in San Diego have been in the mid-to-high 70's for the last two days.
Getting out of the convention center hall in the afternoon for an hour or two--taking a short brisk walk, getting some sun (and Vitamin D) on the skin, lunch at one of the downtown gaslight district's cafes--is what some might call food show relief paradise; especially if you're coming from a place that's having snow and near-zero degree temperatures.

In fact, a clothing retailer near the Convention center reported an unusually high spike in sales of floral-print shirts, short pants, sunglasses and even sunscreen for this time of year in San Diego. We jest of course. But there have been a few reports of an unusually large number of very pale-skinned people seen running around the boardwalk and beach in the city yesterday and today.

On the show floor: lots of people and products
Of course, we digress: The real action yesterday, today and tomorrow, when the Winter 2008 show winds-up, is inside the exhibit hall--right?

No doubt about it, specialty, ethnic, natural and organic food and beverage products are in abundance in the convention center hall. Not to mention throngs of people.

Many of these products are new, being introduced for the first time at the show. Some are fairly new products, introduced some months ago, but getting their first widespread exposure at the fancy food show. And others are mainstay products of the exhibiting companies, which are always looking for more distribution, new regions in which to market their existing lines, and the ability to get more skus into stores that currently carry some but not all of their products.

A few new products of note spotted on the show floor
In the beverage category, a company called Bevology has come up with a simple twist on the vitamin water category. The company's Zenergize vitamin-infused drink tabs can be dropped in any brand of bottled water--or tap water for that matter--instantly creating a serving of vitamin-infused water. The tabs are portable--you can carry them around with you when out-and-about--in the office, the car, or at the gym for example--and just drop one in a bottle or a glass of water for a "zenergizing" vitamin drink, as the company likes to call it.

There are seven varieties of vitamin-infused tabs in the line: Immunity, Hydrate, Energy, Thrive, Burn, Empower and Chill.

The vitamin tabs are super-convenient, and cost is far-less than buying ready-to-drink vitamin-infused waters. Functional beverages are the hottest sector of the new age beverage category at present. Bevology's vitamin tabs puts a new twist on the sector, and for now they have very little if any competition.
The ready-to-drink tea category is one of the fastest-growing sectors in the overall beverage category. Berkeley, California-based Adagio Teas is introducing a line of all natural RTD teas that are made from tea leaves rather than concentrates.

There are five varieties in the tea-leaf-based line: Black, Green, Jasmine, White and Oolong tea. The teas contain no sugar or preservatives. They offer the taste of fresh-brewed leaf tea in a ready-to-drink offering.

The tea line should do well, especially with tea connoisseurs who generally avoid RTD teas because of the lack of quality taste.
Additionally, the all natural, preservative-free and sugar-free aspects of the tea line should appeal to the health conscious consumer. A premium tasting, all natural, healthy, ready-to-drink tea line hits three of the top consumer hot buttons for 2008. The tea drinks also come in 100% recyclable PET plastic bottles, adding a green element to the line's overall offering.
In the prepared foods category, importer Liberty Richter is introducing a line of frozen meal entrees and snacks from India. The prepared, frozen meals and snacks are called Kitchen's of India. Prepared ethnic foods are currently a hot and growing category. Further, there aren't many authentic, ready-to-heat Indian foods' lines on the market at present. If the entrees and desserts taste good and aren't overpriced, Liberty Richter could have a winner on their hands.

In the confection category, the world-famous Jelly Belly jelly bean candy company is introducing a dark chocolate-flavored jelly bean variety. The decadent jelly bean is made with real dark chocolate and cocoa powder.

Dark chocolate confections are the fastest growing sector in the category. Fueling this huge consumer growth is the combination of premium taste and the numerous scientific studies which show the positive health benefits of eating a moderate amount of dark chocolate. In creating the variety, Jelly Belly is combining the fun of jelly beans with the quality and healthy attributes of dark chocolate. Not a bad idea.

Another company, Shape Foods, is showing how the specialty or premium foods market and the natural and healthy foods markets are all converging. The company is introducing a line of premium, culinary-quality flax oils at the show.

The premium oils, made from flax seed which is full of health benefits, come in a pure flax oil variety and various blends: flax and sunflower oil, flax and olive oil, and flax, olive and sunflower oil triple blend. flax oil is high in omega-3 health benefits, and the combination of healthy goodness and premium quality in the cooking oil line is right on trend.

Ecofish, Inc., a specialty seafood company based in Dover, New Hampshire, is demonstrating the growing convergence between specialty and premium foods and natural, organic and sustainable ones. Ecofish is introducing multiple lines of sustainable seafood--canned, fresh, frozen and grab-n-go lines--at the Winter 2008 show.

Under their Henry's & Lisa's Natural Seafood brand, the company offers everything from salmon and mahi mahi, to scallops and natural shrimp--and so much more. They also offer a line of celebrity chef, value-added seafood entrees. Ecofish is combining quality seafood, premium taste and sustainability into a complete product and corporate package. There's nothing "fishy" at all about that.

At the show: Learning, networking and catching up
This year's fancy foods show in San Diego has an impressive lineup of educational seminars and sessions--ranging from marketing and finance, to meet-and-greets and classes with world-famous chefs.

Many manufacturers, retailers and others take advantage of at least some of these educational seminars and events. However, the real action at the fancy food shows is on the show floor, at the tables off to the side, and in the hotel bars and restaurants after hours.

On the show floor is where the networking happens--but only some of it. The shake of the hand begins the meet-and-great. Business cards get exchanged, commitments to follow-up with phone calls are made. Exhibitors pitch their lines to sometimes weary retail buyers, who've heard a similar pitch at each previous booth they visited.
Still, other exhibitors, especially representatives of the bigger and international companies, are more low-key. They know most buyers aren't likely to make a commitment on the show floor. And they're right--it is mostly about making an introduction and networking with retail buyers on the exhibit floor, which is as it should be.
Inside the show: On (and around) the exhibit floor
Much of the real networking--and potential deal making--happens on the perimeter of the show floor, at the various tables and benches that are usually scattered about there. This is where brokers take potential principles to discuss possibly taking on their lines.
It's also where company presidents take their marketing and sales people to discusss how the day is going so far. Further, it's where retail buyers often discuss an issue or two with key vendors--and even catch up with the competition. We like to view it as the food show version of the courtroom trial sidebar, where lawyers and the judge discuss matters outside the ears of the jury and courtroom spectators.

Outside the show: Where the smokers and cell-talkers go
Outside, in front of the convention center, is an interesting place as well. This is where the smokers go to have a cigarette or cigar. Where show attendees venture away from the exhibit hall to call their offices or customers on their cell phone. Cell phones don't often work inside the convention center. And even when they do, it can be difficult to have a good conversation amid the bustling noise on the show floor. It's also a likely place to meet someone you know--often a business associate, customer, or fellow food show traveler.

Outside the show: After hours
Not all the networking and deal-making is even done during show hours, on the exhibit floor, along its perimeter, or outside the hall in the smoking and cell phone zones however.

In fact, much of the quality networking and deal making is done after show hours. It's done over drinks in the various hotel bars. It's done over dinner--usually paid for by an exhibitor--at a three or even four star restaurant.
At times its even done at less classy places, like strip clubs (so we've heard) and out of the way watering holes, far away from the food show's main venues. in Just like the course of day-to-day business, where some of the best work gets done outside of the office, so it goes at the food shows.

Marketing and selling are relationship businesses in the main. And sometimes much of that relationship building--and thus marketing and selling--gets done outside of the 9 -to- 5 routine.
Working a food show is lots of work, especially as an exhibitor. One talks to so many people during the day it's hard to focus on any single person--even a key buyer. As such, it's often outside the food show--over drinks, at the dinner table, and at various other venues--where the real deals get done.

No comments: