Event catering trends

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It’s a dilemma facing organisers of many broad-based industry shows; whether to promote one great feast or a selection of complementary, specialised delicacies.William Reed Business Media works with the food and drink trade, and takes a particular view around the issue. Rather than promote one cover-all ‘event’ the company chooses to present eight very specific, individual shows. This is in line, the company argues, with how the food industry defines itself.The eight shows run side-by-side but are marketed almost entirely separately. Focused around the distinct UK market, the four-day run comprises Food & Drink Expo, Convenience Retailing Show, Foodex, Bakery Industry Exhibition, Food & Drink Logistics Show, Off Licence Show, Café+ and IFFE.Together the shows line-up more than 1,100 suppliers from every aspect of the sector, across three of The NEC’s halls. Nearly 40,000 visitors pass through the doors with some visiting all shows and some only one, while most take in three or four different options.While Food & Drink Expo appears to be the centrepiece, this is probably because it’s the place where the final product is showcased. Just as important to the process of feeding the nation are the sections on food production, logistics, packaging and retailing.So eight separate shows are created, each with different entrances, although once inside there are no walls in between. Although no physical barriers form between the shows there are very different and defined ‘feels’. Foodex, for example, has production lines in demonstration while Food & Drink Expo is the place for tasting products. A fully functioning plant bakery and the resulting smell of fresh bread clearly mark the baker’s zone.Director of exhibitions at William Reed, Neil Felton, explains the company’s thinking on promoting separate shows: “The key thing is to deliver a show which reflects the market it serves. To succeed it has to be a community-led show.“The umbrella approach doesn’t really work as it’s not as relevant to the audience, and it’s the audience that drives everything.“Convenience retailers, for example, associate with the Convenience Retailing Show but not necessarily with a generic one. It’s the same for the baker or food speciality retailer and so on. Rarely does a visitor say ‘I’m in the food industry’; they’ll be more specific.”The company has tried the umbrella approach before but is now firmly committed to specific, focused shows. A generic presentation under the ’Food and Drink World’ banner was felt too confusing for an audience looking for distinctive ‘silo’ shows and a clear understanding of how the industry operates.“This is not about ego,” Felton continues, “it’s about the business. We try to understand what the visitors call themselves and create a show around that concept.“ William Reed draws upon intelligence, including its food trade magazine publishing arm to develop content and audience targeting, but also places high emphasis on ‘embedding’ its staff within the sub-sectors they serve.“We need our sales and marketing teams to immerse in the market in which they work, so that our bakery show person, for example, becomes an expert face in that industry,” says Felton. “We believe that everyone has to understand what it’s like to work face-to-face in the industry. Our convenience retailing team, for instance, have worked in store for three days.”Felton stresses the key role of features around the floor, with a total of 27 areas, presenting demonstrations and seminars across each the halls. “Live events and features within the show are incredibly important,” he says, providing the show’s real ‘editorial’ content. The company ring-fences features spend as we know we need that content to drive visitors. A features manager works with the marketing team and individual shows to create that content.”The silo approach is one that Felton believes can be easily applied to other sectors. “To have the whole supply chain like this lends itself well. It’s much simpler to understand in this way.” Presenting each part of the food production and retail process separately mirrors the way the industry operates, he argues, and that each individual can identify with their role in the chain and select where they want to go. “Some come here for one show and that’s it. On average visitors crossover into three or four of the shows.” At the same time, the added reasons to visit also help. “If Food and Drink Logistics was staged stand-alone then not so many people would come.”The biggest challenge in staging the shows this way is around data. Understanding who is interested in which elements is a big and complex task. But the rewards in terms of enabling individually targeted marketing messages are huge.“Some come here for one show and that’s it. On average visitors crossover into three or four of the shows.”Operationally, the challenge seems to be one of managing different styles of shows alongside each other. The Foodex and Bakery shows with their emphasis on machinery have different build issues to the smaller shows, but Felton stresses the skills of the operations team and the thorough planning process in managing these.The company is actively looking for more additions to its menu. Through the past decade William Reed has acquired various component shows that previously co-located, bringing in Foodex and Bakery, plus launching new titles.Food and Drink Logistics was launched this year. Felton estimates that revenue has doubled through the past five years or so, with the team growing from eight to 26: “The future is to recognise more individual markets, looking for communities within the industry that are not being served.”That may prove tough in a sector that, Felton acknowledges, is very competitive. There are a number of shows that take the broader ‘umbrella’ view as industry-wide events, while a myriad of regional and speciality food fairs also compete for exhibitor and visitor attention.For now Felton is happy: “This is the smoothest show we’ve run and I’m pleased as punch. Everyone’s had the challenge of recession.The sector is certainly not recession-proof but people do still eat and need products; it’s just that habits change in what people are eating.”So, what’s your preference? One big feast or a smorgasbord of individual treats? Whichever you choose, the key may well be in how convincingly the message is served. For William Reed, it’s speciality that is satisfying the appetite.
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