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Weekly schedule, past shows

All We Can Eat
Posted at 03:00 PM ET, 07/05/2011

Why can’t you get into the Fancy Food show?

It doesn’t seem fair: Tens of thousands of crackers and juices and chocolates and mustards and pastas all in one place, and you, the consumer, can’t stab a single sample.

They’ll all be featured at the 57th summer Fancy Food Show, which runs Sunday through Tuesday at the Walter E. Washington Convention Center downtown. As mentioned in this week’s Food section story, the seasonal exhibit’s been temporarily located to Washington due to renovations at the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center in New York. It’ll be here next year as well.

Ron Tanner knows specialty food. (NASFT)
The National Association for the Specialty Food Trade puts on the show. According to Ron Tanner, its vice president for communications, education and government and industry relations, the semi-annual events create opportunities for publicity and promotion, but that’s not their main purpose.

Tanner has worked for the organization for 24 years, and, as you might imagine, has seen great changes in the exhibitor population: The first one had 40 vendors — 90 percent of which were from European countries. Today, it’s a 40-60 split, with the majority of products made in the United States. “Now there’s so much innovation coming from Americans,” he says.

The show’s 39th annual Sofi Awards will be presented on Monday, with lots of mid-Atlantic regional finalists in the running among the 33 categories and 2,326 entries. (Full disclosure: I was one of a team that handled the first round of judging at NASFT offices in New York in April. It’s brutal work: Hundreds of products each day, with less than a minute per item to evaluate it on a number of criteria.)

See the list of Silver Finalists here. Regional finalists include La Pasta, Inc . (marinara sauce); Todd’s Dirt Seasonings (Crabby Dirt); Bone Doctors’ BBQ of Charlottesville (Bone Doctors’ BBQ Gift Pack); Blue Bay Crab Co . of Melfa, Va. (Sandbaggers Sea Salt & Cracked Pepper Peanuts); and Route 11 Potato Chips of Mount Jackson, Va. (Dill Pickle Potato Chips).

Here are excerpts of my recent conversation with Tanner:

The big Q, of course, is why can’t the public attend?

The Fancy Food Show is a business trade show. It’s an opportunity for the 2,400 exhibitors to sample for retailers and restaurateurs. I know it’d be a wonderful thing for everybody to come in and walk around, but the tradespeople couldn’t do business. Eventually, John Q. Public will get to try [the products].

Who’s on the guest list?

Besides the media, we’re expecting 20,000 to 22,000 buyers. Two-thirds of them are buying for stores, and the rest are buying for food service companies, for catering businesses, hotels, supermarkets, delis and gift shops, to name a few.

Are orders being taken on the floor?

Yes. A lot of the companies and retailers are very small. Often they have no real sales force. They’ve just got one or two people on hand to make their contacts.

The show has a history of putting products on the map, so to speak. What are some examples?

Ben & Jerry’s Ice cream got its start there. So did Perrier, Dove Bar and Kashi.

It also highlights a lot of so-called “classic” products year after year. Why?

To recognize good work and consistently high quality.

Do you spot trends?

In a way. We ask a special group of attendees to become a trendspotting panel and identify the top five trends. We’ll issue a press release with the results.

By  |  03:00 PM ET, 07/05/2011

Categories:  Shopping | Tags:  Bonnie Benwick

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