Preparing for the Trade Show Season

By Stuart Gates
Published 10th August 2021

After a long hiatus, trade shows are about to open their doors again. The first will be Speciality at Olympia on the 6th and 7th September followed by others such as Lunch/Street Food, Imbibe and Fine Food Show North (at Harrogate on 17th and 18th October).

In fact, Fine Food Show North in early March 2020 was the last show most of us attended and as we sat chatting over a coffee, sharing hand-gel, little did we realise what was just over the horizon!

What can we expect now from Trade Shows since everything that was exciting about visiting shows – like the hubbub, the tastings, walking in crowded aisles, meeting friends old and new – will that still be the same? Or will it possibly be a little sterile? In fact, I wonder will people travel distances to shows and will they want to be around lots of people with, or without, masks… I will certainly still be wearing one! 

For producers, I am sure, it is a time to reflect as well. Having chatted to a couple of them recently they seem very keen to meet people in person again, but the thought of cancellations or postponements are making them wary. But fingers crossed, this time the shows will go ahead. 

For new producers, please take time to prepare to meet buyers and understand the not so sexy parts of your businesses, like pricing and margins. If you need help The Seasoned Grocer will soon be offering selected bundles of episodes on these subjects from £75, just in time for the show season.

If you are a new producer visiting a trade show for the first time they can be a bit overwhelming, so here is a checklist to help you on your way. This has been a good guide to me for the last 40 years since visiting my first trade shows at home and abroad:

  1. Register online, print badges and make sure info is correct before printing
  2. Look at the show website, it usually has a list of businesses showing and list of any lectures/discussion panels
  3. Look at maps and assess how much time you will need to get there. For UK shows you should set aside a day for your visit
  4. Whatever day you attend, it will have to fit in with your business. The first day is usually the busiest
  5. Pack a notepad, charge your phone, make sure you have enough business cards and a printed copy of your ranges to show/share if asked
  6. Think of how best to use social media afterwards, so not too many selfies!
  7. Plan in advance which stands/business to check out e.g. competitors, anything that sounds new and interesting, smaller producers area, showcases such as GTA winners, Best in Show, etc. 
  8. Plan a route of the show and note where to get drinks. Wear comfortable shoes – high heels are a giveaway for Trade Show Virgins. This is not the day to test out new, untried footwear!
  9. Distributors will be attending the show, but remember they are there to sell and do not take too kindly to samples and price lists being left with them unannounced. Research the best you can about them and ask how the process works to get samples to them. Ask for an email/name and look at types of products they sell, do they have several similar to yours? What is missing in ranges? The distributor may have a brochure, take one and study it, be aware of what areas they cover and which sectors e.g. foodservice
  10.  The show organisers often put on a few features and if there is a session with a producer in a similar category, spend some time listening, maybe loiter at the back so you can escape if you don’t find it interesting! Very often these sessions are recorded and can be downloaded later, so find out in advance if that is the case.

In summary, use the shows to research, taste if possible, collect cards from useful contacts and get home and sort them out into various files. If, as a new producer, you are trying to decide is this the show for you, pencil the date in your diary and contact the organisers to see what is involved, what stands available, the costs involved and make a judgement but perhaps talk it through first with somebody like a business mentor or somebody who has shown before. 

I am going to most of them and cannot wait. I hope to see you there and if you want to meet up, please contact me at

Illustration: Ailbhe Phelan

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