24 ways to get the most out of food and drink trade shows

30 June 2024, 10:01 AM
  • Heading for a trade show this year? Our experts and insiders share their tips for making the most of the experience
24 ways to get the most out of food and drink trade shows

Trade shows are hard work – whether you’re a stand holder or a visitor – but they’re also an incredibly rewarding (and fun) way to do business. Networking, discovering new makers and products, and learning opportunities via seminars are just some of the reasons to put these events in your diary throughout the year.

Want to know how to make the most of your time there? We’ve gathered our own thoughts, and those from some of the UK’s biggest trade events, to give you a checklist.

The Speciality Food Magazine team

1. Prepare for every eventuality. You will be busy if you’re on a stand, and run off your feet. Do you have ample water, snacks, painkillers and plasters for those blisters? Come up with a ‘survival kit’ for your stand, and make sure you have a proper schedule to work from so everyone gets a break.

2. Arenas can be very hot and bright. You might want to pack your sunnies if you’re sensitive to light, and choose layered clothing you can easily adapt throughout the day. This is also not a time to wear those platforms or dress shoes that chafe your heels. Comfort is key, so go for trainers – you’ll find most other people are in smart-casual dress.

3. If you’re off-stand, plan your day. What do you want to get out of it? What do you want to achieve? It can be easy, especially surrounded by food and drink, to get distracted. So plot out who you want to see, seminars you want to hit, and products you might want to sample.

4. On-stand, ensure you have more scanners than you need to swipe the barcodes or QR codes of visitors to your business. Wifi signals can be shaky at these events, which draw huge crowds, so the more modern and reliable your devices, the better.

5. Promotional materials can be expensive to print. Consider creating a landing page especially for the show, which sums up your business, and encourage visitors to follow an on-stand QR code to access the information.

6. Follow your values. If you are a low waste business that prides itself on making a minimal impact on the environment, do you really want to be offering samples in plastic pots? There are lots of biodegradable and recyclable options.

7. The quietest times at shows tend to be around midday, and when a big announcement (awards, for example) are being made. The last hour (especially on the last day), is also a very good time to have a chat with stand holders. They might be a little ‘show fatigued’, but you’re more likely to be able to get a one-to-one.

8. For longer shows plan and book your evening meals in advance. Restaurants and pubs close to showgrounds and arenas will get booked up, and there’s nothing worse than being tired and slogging around trying to find a decent bite.

9. Make sure you’ve got plenty of business cards, and have a pot on-stand for others to leave theirs behind.

Annie Lindsell, event director, Natural & Organic Products Expo

10. Pre-register. Don’t forget to register for your free trade badge in advance of a show. Use social media to promote that you will be attending, so that your network can reach out to set up meetings.

11. Make sure you allow enough time for scheduled meetings as well as exploring the whole show. Don’t underestimate the serendipity moments to be had at live events.

12. Trade shows often feature educational seminars and workshops that can provide valuable knowledge and insights. Attend these sessions to learn about industry trends, best practices, and strategies to help grow your business.

13. Follow up with the contacts that you made on the day quickly after the show. Open the channels of communication with valuable connections that you have made!

Julie Adlington, exhibitions marketing director, Farm Shop & Deli Show

14. If there is an app for the show, download it. We encourage visitors to do so to explore live event timetables, exhibitor and product listings to create a personalised itinerary. This helps make the most of every minute, and ensures key sessions and exhibitors aren’t missed.

15. Take note of maps, via an app, or snapping on your phone, to help you easily navigate your way around a show, saving time and allowing you to focus on what’s important.

16. Networking is vital. Buyers should try to book appointments with exhibitors before a show begins.

Nicola Woods, event manager, Speciality & Fine Food Fair

17. Pay attention to the exhibitor list before attending. In addition to being able to filter by various product categories and business types, it will also often give you an insight into some of the specific sections of the show. For example, our exhibitor list for the Fair filters producers by product types, countries, categories like vegan, ambient and halal, and also by areas of the show such as the Start-Up Village. 

18. Most trade shows that you visit will have a wide range of feature areas, stages and experiences for you to enjoy, both on the show floor and often at partner venues. Make sure you check out show previews and event websites to ensure that you’re fully aware of everything happening at the event to make sure you’re not missing a golden opportunity for your business or brand. 

19. Do you have industry friends based at the other end of the country? Or perhaps someone you’ve connected with on LinkedIn or Instagram that you’d love to link up with in real life? Trade events are an unrivalled opportunity not only to meet entirely new people but also to meet up face-to-face with those friends and connections that you’d love to make more time for as part of a productive day out of the office. Make sure your connections know that you’re planning to come along and use the opportunity to build and maintain those relationships.

20. Trade shows are a fantastic way to help you find the things you’re looking for. But they’re also an amazing way to come across something you didn’t even know you needed! Head to the event with an open mind and leave some time in your schedule to have a wander and speak to some brands that you can’t see an immediate need for in your business. You never know what might start sparks flying or your thoughts racing on new ideas and directions for your business. 

21. Many trade shows offer special networking events, social drinks, or celebrations. These are perfect opportunities to make new contacts in a relaxed setting. Make sure you’re aware of any invites send out in the show’s marketing or mentioned on the event website. Participate actively in discussions and Q&A sessions during seminars. This can help you connect with like-minded professionals and experts and most sessions will leave some time at the end of audience questions. This is a great way to bring up issues specific to your business and speakers are generally happy to be approached once the session has ended to engage further with their audience. 

22. Write down key takeaways from seminars, interesting products, and conversations with exhibitors. This will help you recall important information after the event and ensure you know who to reach out to and connect with further following the event. Take pictures of stands, products, and business cards. Visual reminders can be very helpful when following up to remind you of the conversation and context. 

23. After the show, follow up with the contacts you made. Send a thank-you email, connect on LinkedIn, or arrange for a follow-up meeting. Prompt follow-ups help to solidify new relationships and potential business opportunities. If you’re interested to learn more about a product or service you discovered at the event but can’t remember the contact info for the exhibitor you met, trade show organisers are generally happy to facilitate an introduction, so don’t be shy about reaching out! Make sure exhibitors you want to connect with after the event scan your badge so they’ll have easy access to your contact information. 

24. Post highlights of your visit on social media platforms. Tag the event and exhibitors to increase visibility and engagement and let your network know that you attended.  If you’re attending on behalf of a company, prepare a summary report of your findings and insights to share with your team. This can help in making strategic decisions based on the new information gathered and can encourage your team members to accompany you to the show in future years. 

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