Top takeaways from the Bader Rutter food and beverage trade show trek The Bader Rutter food and beverage marketing team had more on our summer to-do lists than visiting the Dane County Farmers’ Market and Chicago Food Truck Fest. Our food and beverage trade show trek started in March and ended in July, with stops at industry events hosted by the National Restaurant Association, Institute of Food Technologists (IFT), Food Marketing Institute, United Fresh Produce Association and Global Cold Chain Alliance.
As a team, we discussed the big themes we saw and assessed the challenges and opportunities in the marketplace. Based on our observations as we walked thousands of steps at these trade shows, there are three key questions food and beverage B2B business leaders, marketers and communicators must answer to continue growing their business and differentiating their offering.
1. How is my company’s branding and positioning statement differentiated?
There has been an explosion of company positions and taglines that include clean-label claims. At IFT, we counted more than 70 mentions of “non-GMO” and 55 mentions of “natural” in big bold letters on IFT exhibitor booth signage. The recently signed federal GMO labeling law is the first of several rules passed or under consideration.
We applaud companies — ingredient makers and beyond — that are responding to the desires of consumers and customers. There is a danger, however, in putting trends and larger societal shifts in your brand tagline and positioning.
Historically, the more regulated and mainstream trends become, the harder it is to differentiate. This is especially true for late market entrants from food and beverage industry companies that are just now launching positioning such as “natural” claims.
Powerful brands are some of a B2B organization’s most dynamic assets. They address important audience needs, connect emotionally and leverage strengths for a competitive advantage. Bader Rutter’s Brand Asset Management team works with companies to design and activate corporate brands that set companies apart from the competition.
We find fewer and fewer instances for differentiation to be derived from product offerings and trends. It is more commonly derived from the culmination of the customer experience and the benefits the experience (and products) delivers.
To have a successful long-term brand strategy, companies need to be ready to communicate the impact they have on their customers’ businesses and the differentiation they provide — well beyond bolded buzzwords.
2. What can I do to gauge the bigger food and beverage supply chain picture?
At a time when every major food manufacturer and foodservice chain has made some sort of policy announcement covering food ingredients or sourcing policies, understanding the forces at work across the supply chain can assist in building a better business strategy.
Bader Rutter’s Influencer Center has developed a proprietary Food and Agriculture Influencer Database to track the voices of 1,500 key influencers and deliver big-picture insights, some of which are delivered via quarterly reports, in addition to focused analyses of topics and client-specific reports. We found there’s a clear correlation between trends at the five trade shows we went to and the most common topics discussed by influential voices in food and agriculture.
As we track influencer conversations on food and food policy, we measure the shift in subject matter toward more social and ideological positions about defining “good food” and correlation in related topics and frequently used descriptors. One example is organic and non-GMO product offerings. The Influence Center reports that influencer attention to organic food production practices have experienced a parallel rise to GMOs (and GMO labeling). At IFT, the team found roughly 15 percent fewer organic offering mentions on the trade show floor when compared with non-GMO mentions, reflecting influencer conversation of the topics.
Our team tracks influencers to draw insights that lead to better messages, product positioning and internal client decision-making. We will continue to make recommendations to our clients about how trends and hot topics fit into the bigger picture and how to expand the relationships among the entire food and beverage supply chain.
3. How do I capitalize on a trade show’s potential for success?
Potential for success abounds. Trade shows have the potential to score a marketing team win by building broad brand awareness and the potential to score a sales team win by reaching key customers and important prospects while uncovering previously unknown opportunities. Operating at these two levels — the umbrella of building broad brand awareness and targeting specific customers — takes a clear overall sales and marketing strategy and open lines of communication between the two functions.
We find that well-planned trade shows and related industry thought leadership can deliver strong return on investment (ROI) as long as they are part of an integrated sales and marketing plan versus a legacy tactic that everyone assumes must be invested in.
Marketing dollars are always being stretched, however, and digital and other more targeted platforms can deliver impressive ROI, so trade show participation can become a challenging proposition. It’s imperative that companies maximize the unique opportunity trade shows provide — a forum for partnership between sales and marketing and a means to educate face to face. If the sales and marketing teams work together to set clear objectives, metrics beyond a simple number of badge scans and booth leads can help depict the value of your company’s trade show interactions. Trade shows still provide value, but sales and marketing teams both must define clear targets for their activity.
We hope to see more food and beverage companies that balance building brand awareness and moving target customers along the buying journey at trade shows in 2017. By including both functions in these traditionally siloed activities, companies have stronger growth strategies, bigger ideas and stronger tactics. Bader Rutter frequently brings together sales and marketing functions as part of customer buying journey workshops and finds the time spent together helps everyone meet their objectives.
We recognize we are not the only ones trekking through these food shows. From the person who tracked the shows online via Twitter hashtags to the people at IFT who walked tens of thousands of steps as measured by the Wellmune pedometer challenge, we want to hear your key takeaways. And as your fall strategy sessions begin, feel free to contact Bader Rutter for a discussion on these key questions or others you’re trying to answer.