Insider tips for getting better results from your Produce Expo investment
When we asked prominent PMA Foodservice Conference & Exposition buyer-attendees what they expect from Produce Expo exhibitors, we learned much more than anticipated. We have the following industry leaders to thank for sharing their first-hand perspectives: Marty Craner, owner and president of B&C Fresh Sales; Rich Dachman, vice president of produce at Sysco; Pat Hynes, senior director at Darden Restaurants; and Maurice Totty, former director of procurement at Foodbuy and current director of produce sales at FAC Food Logistics.
As you prepare your booth strategy, first consider this list summarizing their inside pointers.
Leverage this one-of-a-kind opportunity
Like no other stage or venue, the Produce Expo offers an intimate opportunity to interact with people from every type of company and service along the foodservice supply chain needed to conduct business. Buyers are prepared to make good use of each minute because there simply aren’t enough days in the year or dollars in the budget to visit this many growers, distributors and customers outside the exposition. You too should recognize the event’s significance by being prepared to communicate what you bring to the table to help foodservice operators meet their customers’ needs.
Put selling aside
Because the Produce Expo’s dedicated environment encourages real discussions and meaningful connections, buyers said it’s not a place to write orders. Instead, they look favorably on suppliers who approach these interactions as a way to better understand how to work together to increase consumption of fresh fruits and vegetables at foodservice.
Remember: it’s about them, not you
Marketing’s main canon absolutely applies to this exposition: Know and speak to your target audience’s needs, problems and concerns. The buyers we spoke with had this to say:
- Food safety is paramount – Be prepared to answer questions about your food safety program and be sure to have a real story to tell beyond “we do third-party audits.” Also, buyers are looking for food safety leadership as evidenced through involvement in trade associations that educate its members on current food safety issues and advancements.
- We’re hungry for innovation – Key to why buyers look to come together as a supply chain at the Produce Expo is to better understand how produce innovations can give the customers what they want, which is flavor. Fruits and vegetables afford a tremendous range of flavor capabilities, thereby offering significant opportunities for innovation. As a result, buyers look for suppliers that can help them please their guests with new products and creative, tasty ways to appeal to people’s senses and quest for flavor.
- Show us continuous improvement – Buyers want suppliers who bring capabilities beyond growing to the partnership and who can introduce ways to do business better and more efficiently. They want to see evidence of how suppliers are improving their company and bringing innovations to the market. They’re looking for industry involvement and anything that demonstrates the supplier works to stay current.
- Understand our target audience – People are increasingly health conscious and further encouraged by the MyPlate icon and message to make half the plate fruits and vegetables. This means they want fresh produce to move from the side of the plate to a central part of the dining experience. As a result, they demand fruits and vegetables are flavorful and prepared correctly.
- Learn about our preferences – Exhibitors should leverage the Produce Expo to gain a strong understanding of how buyers’ prefer to do business and to communicate strengths that differentiate your operation. Be ready to communicate things like how their account will be served, what volumes you can handle, if their main contact would be a decision maker, who’s in charge of food safety and if that person will be able to work with the buyer on a regular basis.
Ask questions and listen
Buyers view the Produce Expo not only as a networking event, but also as an informational exchange. This expo gives exhibitors the opportunity to engage with buyers at a level they may not be able to experience anywhere else. Be ready to ask questions about what you need to do to help foodservice operators sell more and get their customers eating more produce. Then, be quiet and listen.
Do your homework
When buyers look for new suppliers, they research to learn everything about them. Exhibitors should do the same with potential buyers. Review the attendee list to know who is coming to the show and who you would like to target. Then reach out to these people in advance to get on their radars. After you call or email ahead of time, make sure everyone working your booth knows who has been contacted and what their businesses are about.
A buyer’s expo schedule is packed from start to finish. Many buyer-attendees shared the experience of finally arriving at a company’s booth after a full day only to find everybody had already left. These buyers value every minute the show is open, so make sure you’re available for the duration. Also, be certain knowledgeable staff capable of handling any question works your booth. Buyers said they don’t have time to wait for the person who knows the answer to get back or finish the conversation they’re having with another attendee.
Don’t stop short
Every one of your staff in attendance has conversations with people all along the foodservice supply chain. Regroup with staff after the show to mine what they learned about customers, key demographics, trends, the market and other valuable details. There’s a wealth of intelligence that surfaces just waiting to be captured and put to use to advance your products and services, forge better marketing relationships with foodservice operators, and increase use of fruits and vegetables on menus.