Three Former FMI Partners to Remain in Chicago

The three trade shows that are not traveling with Food Marketing Institute when it begins taking its annual conference on the road next year are looking forward to a future together in Chicago. All Things Organic, the Fancy Food Show and the U.S. Food Export Showcase have agreed to exhibit together at McCormick Place next year as FMI travels to Las Vegas in 2008 and then to Dallas for an education

The three trade shows that are not traveling with Food Marketing Institute when it begins taking its annual conference on the road next year are looking forward to a future together in Chicago.

All Things Organic, the Fancy Food Show and the U.S. Food Export Showcase have agreed to exhibit together at McCormick Place next year as FMI travels to Las Vegas in 2008 and then to Dallas for an education forum in 2009.

The three trade associations that run the shows — the Organic Trade Association, the National Association for the Specialty Food Trade and the National Association of State Departments of Agriculture — have already begun marketing the event with the tag line, “Expect the Unexpected.”

“We're estimating a show that will be fairly large, probably 150,000 to 200,000 square feet,” said NASFT spokesman Ron Tanner, adding that he expects about 12,000 buyers for all three shows combined.

Unlike the other associations, which have just one major exhibit show each year, the NASFT has three shows annually — each in a different geographical region to attract the small businesses like bakeries, restaurants and delis that comprise much of the attendance. Tanner said about 75% to 80% of the attendees at the Fancy Food Show travel less than 300 miles.

“The reason we do three shows is that the specialty food industry is a lot of smaller businesses, and they don't have the tendency to travel as much,” he said.

Also, a lot more actual buying takes place at the Fancy Food Shows than at FMI, Tanner said.

The NASFT has been hosting the Spring Fancy Food Show in Chicago for the past nine years, the first five of which were separate from FMI. It stages a winter show in San Francisco and a summer show in New York. The last San Francisco show attracted about 16,000 buyers, Tanner said, while the New York show attracted about 23,000.

Next year, the three shows plan to remain together in McCormick Place South — the same hall where FMI is now located — but they plan to move the date ahead by a week, to April 27-29.

FMI had partnered with the smaller shows during the past few years in an effort to boost attendance, but decided last year that bigger changes were needed. The United Fresh Produce Association will continue to stage its show in tandem with FMI, and two of FMI's auxiliary shows — the FMI Pharmacy Conference and Marketechnics — will begin co-locating with the annual FMI Show this year.

The associations that will keep their shows in Chicago said they are confident they will still attract not only the core audience they have always sought to draw, but buyers from large chains that they had enjoyed from co-locating with FMI.

“We're going to be actively recruiting chain buyers,” Tanner said, noting that with specialty food and organic products being two of the fastest-growing areas of food retailing, they expect to continue to attract buyers from the large traditional chains. The Fancy Food Shows generally attract about 12% to 15% of their attendees from the supermarket sector.

Many of NASFT's 2,500 members are small producers who don't necessarily have the staff to call on the large chains themselves, Tanner said, and so they enjoy the exposure they get at the shows.

The partnership with FMI hasn't been as successful as NASFT had hoped, however, which Tanner attributed to the higher cost structure for attendees.

To remedy that, the shows remaining in Chicago are revamping their attendance fee program next year, Tanner said. The plan is to charge $35 in advance of the event and $60 at the door for admission to all three shows, rather than the $100 that buyers now pay to attend. The cheaper fee is more affordable to the small operators who are attracted to the specialty show, Tanner said.

In addition, this year's attendees can register for a complimentary admission to next year's event.

“The Fancy Food Show is largely driven by small delis, bakeries and restaurants, and some gift shops, and we think we'll be able to get some of those people back who have not been coming because of the price,” Tanner said. “We think it's a great chance to almost go back to where we started. We haven't had the boost in attendance that we thought we would get from being with FMI.”

Dave Gagnon, chief operating officer for the OTA, said he is “very optimistic” that the show will continue to attract buyers from large chains.

“As the industry was becoming more aware of organic products over the last few years, we've been able to be there in front of those conventional buyers, and that's been a real benefit,” he said. “The thing that makes us feel very comfortable is that we've been out in front of those buyers for a few years now, and it's been nice to make that connection. Now we can stand on our own, although we appreciate the partnership with the NASFT and the export showcase as well.”

Gagnon said pre-registration is up about 25% to 30% for this year's conference, compared with year-ago levels. All Things Organic said it will have 600 exhibitors at the event this year.

Although the Fancy Food Show typically attracts about 800 international buyers and ATO also attracts a lot of overseas interest, both shows also hope to leverage the international recruiting prowess of the U.S. Food Export Showcase, which actively recruits buyers from overseas through the Foreign Agricultural Service, a part of the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

DeWitt Ashby, director of trade shows for the NASDA, said the group chose to keep the U.S. Food Export Showcase in Chicago primarily because of the ease of direct-flight access from elsewhere in the country and overseas.

“We've had a lot of exhibitor support from our members on this, and we feel pretty strongly about it,” he said. “We had a strong relationship with FMI, and the co-location exceeded all our expectations, but we feel this is the right thing for us and our members.”

The U.S. Food Export Showcase had been FMI's longest-running partner, having co-located with the FMI Show since 1992.