This is the specialty food event of the season that everyone looks forward to. At the Jacob K. Javits Center in Manhattan from Sunday, June 26th to Tuesday, June 28th, almost 30,000 buyers, exhibitors, brokers, distributors, marketing and sales representatives and chefs from around the world will come together to taste and learn about the various gourmet food trends hitting the market in 2016 and 2017. Though the trade show is not open to the public, those that are lucky enough to attend get an eye-opening glimpse of some innovative and rather tasty new food products that are about to hit the shelves.
If you remember my article from last year, it highlights the trends and layout of the event, and gives you a peek in terms of what to expect. Below, I have my top five tips of how to make the most of your three-day specialty food frenzy, including how to navigate through the thousands of exhibitors while making some valuable connections (and new friends) along the way. In the above photo, you will see some products by specialty food brands I have already made connections with.
When You Arrive
There is complimentary transportation to and from Grand Central Station, Times Square, and a couple of other hotels. I would arrive to the lines by about 8:30-9 am. Otherwise, you may be on line for at least twenty to thirty minutes. Unless you have heavy bags and luggage, there is an MTA bus service that runs along the same route, ending at approximately 11th Avenue and 42nd Street. A brisk walk from Grand Central takes about twenty minutes and about fifteen minutes from Penn Station. Enter through any door in the front of the Center and head right downstairs to the check-in room. Only carry a guide/essential materials. You will be handed pamphlets and folders throughout the event. Wear comfortable clothes: breathable, lightweight pieces and sneakers are a must.
- At least 300-400 business cards
- 3-4 Dozen Media Kits/Folders
- A lightweight jacket
- Camera (or Smartphone)
- A large tote bag (plus one or two more reusable bags*).
*You may find plenty of reusable bags being handed out by larger exhibitors throughout the event.
Where to Start
Make a list of your top fifty exhibitors in advance, and organize their location by hall. Start at one hall that appeals the most to you. For example, I always start at the top floor and work my way down, then over to the North Hall. Visit your favorite booths first, take a twenty to thirty minute rest. Then spend at least an hour to two hours just browsing the first day and taking notes. You may find some new brands and products along the way. Don’t forget to make eye contact and say hello when you stop by each booth.
Be aware of where you keep your belongings. Have your cell phone and business cards within easy reach. Have 5-10 in your pocket to hand out right away. Since I am an Amex card holder, I visit the American Express lounge outside the exhibition hall every two to three hours for a break. There, I organize my samples, and reread some pamphlets and information that I have picked up. Check your largest bag, pack away your samples, and return inside with an empty reusable bag. Regarding samples, pick ones that you know you will enjoy/want to try within the next week. Otherwise, chances are, they may be tossed away. Consider donating your samples to food banks or to your local church.
Eating Your Way Through
There are tons and tons of opportunities to sample hundreds, if not thousands, of new food products. It is an edible extravaganza to say the least. Choose wisely. Any samples you can take home with you, do so in moderation. Consider asking for coupons instead to save some room in your bags. I will never forget last year, when I was lugging my close to thirty pound bag to the Hampton Jitney stop. I melted into my seat and didn’t move the entire ride home that evening. I was stuffed and exhausted.
Find Your Favorites
Once you have made connections, follow through with them. Take at least fifteen to twenty minutes to sit down with the founder of the company, exchange a few meaningful words, and leave a lasting impression. You should only network with brands and businesses you make an instant, strong connection with. And of course ones that you love tasting their product(s)! I love chocolate, spices, teas, cheeses, healthy snacks, and cooking oils, so those are the categories I will focus on. Last but not least, you must go the last day and stay to the very last hour! The exhibitors cannot take the products home with them and they wouldn’t even want to. You may want to bring an empty suitcase or two!
Don’t forget, social media is your best friend at the event! Do live tweets with #SFFS16 #FancyFoodShow throughout your day, show your followers which booth you are at, what you tasted so far, etc. Always ask before taking photos. 99% of the time, there is no issue with photography inside. Hashtag #EastEndTaste as well so we can connect, would love to meet some of my readers there!
Find some additional, helpful information at: https://www.specialtyfood.com/knowledge-center/resources/guides-directories/