I’ve been a trade show junkie for over 25 years now. Although I hate the travel, the excitement of arriving on the floor of the show at its opening still drives me. After all, where else can you see so many new brands and old friends at the same time? For 16 years now, I’ve traveled the beverage circuit. FMI, NACS. NBWA, Interbev, NACDS, IBWA, Fancy Foods, Expos East and West, and an array of others have filled my calendar. I spend my time critiquing the latest offerings from a taste, packaging and marketing perspective. I especially get a kick out of seeing old friends in new positions. (We have quite an incestuous industry: some have worked at 10 or more different companies over the years.)
The new launches were usually the province of the major food shows, and FMI and NACS were the gold standards. That is no longer the case. To anyone who attends the Expo East and especially Expo West, the beverage world has tipped towards these venues. I find it interesting that the newest and most innovative brands are being exhibited at these shows. While the Natural and Organic sector is only a smidgen in the total sales of the industry, almost all the attention has been devoted to it. Take a walk around the recent Expo West and look at our show coverage on BevNET and you’ll know what I mean. Just as important, as you cruise the aisles, you see the retailers of all the major grocery, c-store, mass, club and drug chains strongly represented. The distributors and beer wholesalers are equally in attendance . They know a good thing when they see it.
What do these shows offer that the traditional beverage shows seem to have lost? In a word, energy. They have captured the zeitgeist as the place to be heard, to meet the principals and exchange in real dialogue. They have captured the entrepreneurial spirit. While their specialty retailers and small chain formats don’t drive the product volumes of their larger brothers, they share that magical entrepreneurialism. With the “big guys” of the beverage industry buying up many of the successful brands from the last five or ten years, the next generation of products have started to emerge, and they’re emerging at what once had been the smaller shows. That those events have grown so much is evidence that they are the places to seek out something new.