Washington Fancy Food Show Garners More International Exhibitors, Fewer Attendees

By Walter Nicholls July 14, 2011, 11:15 AM EDT

Photo: Tony Brown/imijphoto.com for BizBash

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Yes, Washington, that was multiple Grammy winner Patti LaBelle hawking her Lady Marmalade barbecue sauce line in booth 4323B on Monday.

After 25 years in New York, the National Association for the Specialty Food Trade moved the 57th Summer Fancy Food Show to the Walter E. Washington Convention Center, running Sunday through Tuesday. The group made the city switch due to renovation work at New York’s Javits Convention Center. As in previous years, N.A.S.F.T. organizers attracted a sold-out stable of 2,400 exhibitors—manufacturers, importers, and distributors—who brought in 180,000 new and signature products, including confections, cheese, coffee, sauces, and spices. There was chocolate at every turn. More than 80 countries were represented.


N.A.S.F.T. found it harder to draw the usual number of attendees, who in the past have included food retailers, chefs, restaurateurs, and caterers. In 2010, 24,000 hit the aisles at the New York show. In Washington, that number dropped by 6,000 with the venue move absorbing blame. The association has held the Summer Show outside New York City only twice—in D.C. in 1992, and Philadelphia in 1996. (The 37th Winter Fancy Food Show is scheduled for January 15 to 17 at the Moscone Center in San Francisco.)

“Since 1996, we’ve established a base in the New York area, and because we’re in Washington, a lot of companies cut back on the number of people in their operation attending. They just sent the buyers,” said Ron Tanner, the association’s vice president of communications and education. More so than in past years, “there was more effort, on our part, to get people to come.”

With the show’s high number of international exhibitors, Tanner reached out to the city’s embassies and encouraged them to host receptions and dinners spotlighting their products. Chile, Austria, Korea, Germany, and Italy took the bite. Tapping into D.C.’s food establishment, Tanner worked with the Restaurant Association of Metropolitan Washington, Virginia Department of Agriculture, and National Grocers Association to encourage participation. Social media came into play with upcoming show highlights and live coverage on Facebook and Twitter. 

Not surprisingly, there was an increase in both exhibitors and attendees from the mid-Atlantic. The Virginia Pavilion saw an uptick in booths from 20, last year, to 35 companies. As many as 50 percent of this year’s attendees had not been to a Fancy Food Show before, up 20 percent from an average year.  Says Tanner: “New York is sort of off-putting to some people—say, from a small town in North Carolina. They are more comfortable coming to Washington. They can bring their families and see an opportunity to make it a vacation after the show.”

The association returns to Washington next year for the 2012 Summer Fancy Food Show.

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