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I just spent the past three days at a specialty foods trade show. My favorite exhibitors by far (even if I didn't love the product), were the ones who had stories to tell and engaged with the attendees. Here are some that I did love.
I chatted with the young couple with a baby who make Le Caramel products from a traditional French recipe in California. They were passionate about their sauces and candies and it showed in their conversation.
Sukhi's, a company that makes great Indian food, started out serving their dishes to Indian workers in Silicon Valley and in a booth at the Ferry Plaza farmers market in San Francisco. There were several family members working the booth, and everyone was excited to talk about the product.
Kari's Malva Pudding is a traditional cake-like dessert from South Africa with a picture of the owner's daughter on the package. Another passionate entrepreneur with a story to tell.
There was the "guy in overalls" sitting at the PawPaw Tom's booth, telling the story of how he promised his friend Tom on a 1992 camping trip that, if he ever started a food business, he would name it after him.
In addition, booths with samples allowed exhibitors to share ideas for preparing the products and pairing them with other foods, and to offer recipes and menu suggestions. I walked away with ideas for using sauces, cheeses and beverages that had never occurred to me. For example, the people at the Sence rose nectar booth were not only offering tastes of the drink, but were making cocktails out of it as well! (I believe we were drinking the By Any Other Name cocktail on this page.)
Of course, there were also guys in suits representing Jelly Belly and many large corporate entities where personal stories are hard to find. Those companies, however, are already established and don't have to do much to attract new customers.
The newbies to the industry, the companies who are still small and still trying to get a foothold in the world of specialty foods, can't play the same game as the big guys, who often approach attendees with a hard sell.
A note: At these trade shows, I attend as a representative of the company my husband works for and walk the floor like any other buyer, bringing back materials and suggestions to him about which booths he should visit. I've been attending this show for probably 13 years now, and I know the products and his store almost as well as he does. It's a fun hobby for me, and unpaid, but I work it like the rest of them!
I stopped at one booth, a favorite small chocolate brand but one not yet carried by his store, and all the woman wanted to do was scan my badge into the computer. I asked her what was new, and she pointed to the two products, but wasn't particularly interested in engaging.
I tasted the chocolates and they were good, but without any engagement from the vendor, I wasn't interested in asking any questions and I moved on. It's a long three days of standing on barely-cushioned hard concrete, shmoozing and (for the real buyers) negotiating. If someone doesn't want to give a buyer any time, there are hundreds more booths to visit.
To make a long story short (too late?):
1. Tell stories that engage your audience and make them want to stick around for more.
2. You, the speaker, are your brand, and you are a human being. Make a connection like a human being, not like a salesperson.
3. When you're trying to get people to notice you and hire you, you have to notice them. If you're too important or too busy, they will move on to someone who pays attention.
In addition to the products mentioned above that I enjoyed at the Fancy Food Show, here are a few more recommendations for you!
Conte's gluten-free pizzas and pastas
Smoked olive oil from The Smoked Olive
Green onion and sweet potato latkes from Linda's Gourmet Latkes
Delicious sauces from San Angel Mole
Barely Buzzed cheese from Beehive Cheese Co. (rubbed with espresso and lavender)
Pastures and Green Fields cheeses from Saxon Creamery
21st Amendment Brewery's Hell or High Watermelon Wheat Beer
Golden Star's elegant White Jasmine Sparkling Tea
popchips! especially the new cheddar flavor
DariFree non-dairy milk alternative
Mexican Chipotle vegetarian sausages from Field Roast Grain Meat Co.
Spicy Ketchup from Maya Kaimal (I especially like to support Maya because we were college classmates)
Rogue Ales' Chocolate Stout