Whenever a local industry trade show aligns with a KRS service offering or niche I look forward to an opportunity to get out and network with its exhibitors. I also find that the breakout education sessions are extremely relevant and offer insight to the business challenges faced by industry members. Recently I had the opportunity to attend the Specialty Food Associations’ Summer Fancy Food Show in New York City.
I was drawn to this particular show because we have many clients who are in the food and beverage industry. In addition, I am a “foodie” and was enticed by the thought of spending a day in New York City networking while sampling the latest in specialty foods and beverages.
The show lasted for four days and although I only attended the last day (usually the day with the most giveaways) I was able to get a flavor for many product and business trends. Here’s just a sampling of what I learned.
Hot product trends and business challenges
In light of the shift in consumer demand from processed foods to healthier options, I wasn’t surprised to see gluten-free, vegan, raw and “sugar conscious” products as the hot items on exhibit. Many of the dessert and snack items I sampled were marketed as gluten-free and many amount were also dairy-free and vegan.
As the gluten-free trend continues, manufacturers will face challenges in production when gluten-free and gluten products are manufactured in the same facility. The gluten-free trend will also continue to boost the need for gluten-free flour substitutes such as coconut, corn and rice flours, in addition to other ingredients needed to improve texture and consistency.
Shelf-life of gluten-free products can also be a business challenge. Many exhibitors stressed the shelf-life of their products since many of the ingredients in these gluten-free alternatives result in a shorter shelf-life compared to full gluten products.
Many of the beverage samples offered by exhibitors continued the “healthier” option theme and were low sugar alternatives to traditional sodas. Flavored waters and spritzers containing organic juices, apple cider vinegar or Acai berries were positioned as healthier alternatives to sugar-laden sodas.
I also saw many dairy-free and vegan products exhibited by small businesses and start-ups. Many of the small business exhibitors I spoke with are challenged with expanding their distribution beyond their local geographical region. Attending such premier show was an important way for these companies to get their products in front of the many distributors and buyers attending.
All the small businesses and start-ups I spoke to have e-commerce sites and will ship their products to consumers. We talked about how important e-commerce is to their growth and how it requires that they invest in technology. I also listened to panelist Monica Schechter, specialty and international food category manager at Jet.com and Walmart.com, who cited technology as a catalyst to finding new products and assisting with the discovery experience through online searching and shopping.
Turning a food idea into a successful business
My favorite experience at any trade show is talking to the exhibitors and learning the story behind their product or brand. Many are family businesses or friends who came up with an idea. They are passionate about their ingredients and the quality of the product they deliver to their consumers. As an accountant working with many start-ups and “well-seasoned” businesses, I find these stories are refreshing and often heart-warming. Common for start-ups, these stories usually include a business mistake or two they encountered along the way. After all, having a great idea is only the first step. A successful food manufacturer must build their brand, secure efficient manufacturing, seek distribution channels, set pricing, manage inventory, finance the business and market their product. The most successful businesses deliver their product more efficiently than their competitors.
My advice to small businesses and start-ups is to seek out help from professionals and mentors. I recently spoke to one food manufacturer who has grown a significant business and now offers advice to those entering the market. They are willing to share their challenges and how they overcame obstacles in growing their business.