The Power Of Two

The National Association for the Specialty Food Trade (NASFT), the sponsor of the Fancy Food Shows, and the Food Marketing Institute (FMI), the sponsor of the big supermarket trade show held in May of each year, have announced a plan to co-locate the Chicago Fancy Food Show and the FMI show commencing in 2002.

In theory, it’s a match made in heaven. FMI’s problem is that with the rapid consolidation of the supermarket industry, legitimate supermarket chain executives are growing scarce. FMI’s trade show is very successful and very profitable, and FMI figures it needs bodies walking the trade show to keep exhibitors happy. A combination with NASFT offers an opportunity to bring lots of bodies.

NASFT, on the other hand, has a different dilemma. With the Chicago event being the newest and smallest of the Fancy Food Shows, NASFT has a problem attracting high volume buyers to a third show. There are only a few of these people and they are more likely to go to the larger New York or San Francisco Fancy Food Shows. But the combination holds the promise of bringing big supermarket chain executives traipsing through the Chicago Fancy Food Show.

It sounds like a pretty neat package – FMI gets the volume of attendees it needs and NASFT gets the boost in the category of big buyers that it needs. But the execution will need some work and the concept itself is food for thought.

The execution is crucial because so far, at least, the two associations have not been willing to bite the bullet and do a true co-location in which registrants of either show can attend the other show at will. Instead, the plan is to keep separate shows and allow registrants at one to attend the other only on the show’s last day.

This can’t be justified in terms of helping either exhibitors or attendees. This odd arrangement is explained only by the business concerns of the two associations. The problem is that FMI and NASFT charge radically different prices for booths and have radically different charges for attendees.

If the two associations simply co-located their shows, NASFT would soon get all the business as its booths are less expensive and attendance is a fraction of the cost of attending FMI.

None the less, a better solution has to be found and it can be. FMI already has a separate show within a show in the form of the National Association of State Departments of Agriculture (NASDA). These booths are sold at a different price, and attendees at FMI have full access to the NASDA show.

Equally, NASFT could run a Fancy Food Show as a show within a show at FMI. Booths could be sold at NASFT rates, but the companies that qualify to exhibit would be specific so as to prevent FMI from losing booth revenue. In addition, a special attendee category could be set up for the typical NASFT attendee, and these folks could pay traditional NASFT rates to get into the show. FMI never had these people paying full freight anyway so it would lose little, if anything, by such an arrangement.

Then the shows could operate as a true co-located show, where all attendees have access to all booths, all the time.

This would prevent the waste of industry resources as companies don’t feel they must take two separate booths in the same city at the same time and would allow attendees to use their time most effectively when at the show.

This is so obviously beneficial that the only reason it isn’t happening is “inside baseball” regarding association revenue and management issues. But for every dollar a trade association receives in booth revenue or registration fees, industry businesses are spending many times that dollar to travel, display, entertain clients, etc.

Though association leadership deserves kudos for thinking outside the box to put this venture together, it is also incumbent upon our association leadership to not choke at carrying this innovative duo to a logical conclusion.

Of course the logic of this combination also raises questions beyond the logistics of trade shows and the intricacies of association budgeting. To put the obvious point on it, what exactly does it mean to be a specialty product if the product is going to be sold in every supermarket in every town in America?

Intelligent supermarket executives always have attended the Fancy Food Shows. They traditionally did so, however, not so much to stock the shelves but to gain insight into what is hot and happening with the certain knowledge that if you saw a thousand salsas at this year’s Fancy Food Show, next year’s FMI would feature lots of salsas brought down in price point and homogenized in flavor. In other words, the specialty food industry followed with products that, in both flavor and price point, were acceptable for a mass audience.

This has been changing for decades as supermarkets looked to capture the high-spending and high-profit-producing specialty food consumer by featuring more and more extensive selections of specialty food products.

In agreeing to co-locate, FMI and NASFT are trying to solve their own dilemmas but, implicitly, they are also pointing out that, for the industry as a whole, old walls have fallen and old distinctions now fail to make a difference.