I am writing this having spent my third Sunday on the spin at a trade show. It is that time of year, and any thoughts of getting away skiing seem to have been scuppered by the plethora of trade shows these days between Christmas and Easter. At this over-crowded time of year, I am puzzled by the decision to move the Harrogate Show (now renamed Fine Food North) also into this busy time of year. At its previous timing at the end of June, it sat at a time of year with little competition from other events, now it is adjacent to ISM, Spring Gift Fair, Biofach and Gulfood – all of which are also in February. However, mine is not to reason why!
Whilst you may think that most of these other shows are not that relevant for buyers for delicatessens and farm shops, they are relevant to buyers at the larger end of the speciality food retailer sector. And they are also relevant for many speciality food producers who are desperately trying to increase their small revenues by gaining some export business. This is, after all, what the government is encouraging them to do, isn’t it? There is a trend, though, that I think we need to be aware of within the sector. Small retailers are not going to trade shows as much as they used to. Many of our food shows have their first day on a Sunday (hence my activity for the past three weekends). Traditionally Sundays was the day when smaller retailers were closed, and they could all go out to a trade show. These shops are no longer closed on Sundays, which is now often one of their busiest days. And those retailers are not substituting Sundays for another day, they are simply not coming.
We have just finished 6 Launch Events all over the country for our 35 new brands for 2018. There is a noticeable difference in the type of attendees since we started these a few years ago. Generally, all the buyers from large and national retailers come and often bring their teams with them, but there has been a drop-off amongst the smaller customers coming to these events. Many of them genuinely want to come, but the nature of small businesses is that often events conspire against them, seemingly more than they used to prevent them coming. I am sure staff are not sick more often than they used to be, but maybe there is less flex in some of the speciality food retailer’s rotas due to longer opening hours? I don’t know, and it would be good to hear the thoughts of others.
One thing I do know is that retailers are doing more of their research on-line and maybe requesting samples to be sent out for them to taste. For some of them that is enough. Personally, I don’t think there is any substitute for meeting producers, who are passionate about their products and tasting the products whilst learning more about them. But maybe in these times where people’s time seems to be more and more squeezed, and with the hugely increasing number of trade shows, something must give.