Its that time of year again—time for me to hit the road- get on the trade show bus and attend as many trade shows as possible. For someone like me (a consultant) these shows can get expensive but I manage the cost by applying for a press pass, buying cheap flights on SouthWest and not staying at the Ritz!

If you are at any of these shows, just look for me on the expo floor or look for tweets coming from @culinologist tweeting about random food and ingredient items that I see.

I am a trade show junkie. I went to my first IFT show in 1991 and I have never missed a show! Since then I have added on RCA, NRA, WOF, NPE (East and West) and the Fancy Food Show! I want to share these shows with you so you can pick and choose which ones are right for you!

Natural Product Expo: This show is right around the corner, starting this Thursday (March 5 2015). I will be there! This show is unique in that it used to mostly retail natural products (food, drink, skincare, over the counter drugs) but now it is not only those things but there is a huge wing for ingredient suppliers. This makes sense since ingredient suppliers are more established, have more money and can funnel cash into this event making it even bigger grander than its ever been. It does however make the show confusing. Plan ahead what you want to see!

Attend if you: like to see new trends, want to know what is new and hot, work in a supermarket and need new items, looking for new and novel functional ingredients.

Exhibit if you: Are a new retail product maker, ingredient supplier.

Expo Floor Only: $60 to $500

Total Show Pass: $300 to $800

*Discounts for retailers, brokers and healthcare practitioners

Check here for all the cost options (scroll down and click on drop down boxes)

** Note there is an Expo West and an Expo East. The East is the smaller version on the east coast every year.

Research Chef Association: This is a smaller more intimate food show and this year it is taking place in New Orleans on March 24, 2015. This show brings together the food scientists, chefs and “Culinologists” that work for both food and ingredient manufacturers. Seminars are scientific and/or culinary or both. You can learn about food safety, labeling, R&D, new ingredients, trends and more. Great networking opportunities due to the small setting and opportunity to meet and chat with just about everyone. I never miss this show so look for me there!

Attend if you: are in the food industry working as a food scientist, chef or culinologist

Exhibit if you: If you want to sell your ingredients to these people. This show is more “ingredient focused” and you won’t see lots of finished retail products being shown unless those finished products are used in ingredients- does that make sense?

Registration Cost: $650-800 depending on when you register- check out cost breakdowns here, one day options available.

World of Flavors: April 22-24 2015- This is one of those shows that everyone wants to go but not everyone gets to go because it’s expensive (not just the show but the hotels and travel to the Napa Valley!) but if you are one of the lucky ones to get in- you are in for a treat. It takes place at the Culinary Institute of America, it is widely acknowledged as our country’s most influential professional forum on world cuisines, food cultures and flavor trends. They fly in guest chefs from all over the world and have other culinary experts and scientists teaching us everything there is to know about one particular type of cuisine. Mostly attended by Chefs, Research Chefs, menu developers- there are more and more food scientists attending every year as well. The CIA is small, so usually max # of attendees is 700.

Attend if you: Are a foodie, work in the food industry, are a chef, are a research chef, are a food scientist, want to learn about flavors, cuisines and rub elbows with famous chefs in a small setting. Really—you can spend an hour chatting with Morimoto and Rick Bayless at a show like this. They hang out with commoners like us!

Exhibit if you: This is a tricky one—the sponsors are all types and include ingredient flavor companies, companies that sell finished products to restaurants and restaurant chains, fruit and nut boards, commodity specialists (olive oil, canola oil). I would suggest attending one year before exhibiting to get a sense of the overall vibe.

Registration Fee: Ranges from $1000 to $2000 That’s why if your company sends you, thank them and be grateful!

National Restaurant Show: May 16-19, 2015 -This show is for the restaurants and maybe a tiny bit for those selling retail products but really more for the restaurants. I see this show as an opportunity for chefs (at bigger chain type places) to find suppliers who can sell them beef or tomato sauce in a pouch or other bulk produced items. I also see it as a way for ingredient companies wanting to sell to those bulk producers to wander around and find them (but don’t bug them too much, they really want to sell stuff themselves and not be sold too- but still, if you are a good networker you can do it!). There are also lots of equipment companies like ovens and sous vide machines, companies that sell plates and linens and those who sell disposable organic paper forks. I also see several rows of retail food companies and I am not quite sure how they fit into the NRA scene, maybe they can sell their finished products in bulk to the restaurants? There are tons of parties and after hour events (try to get an invite to the PLATE magazine party!) There is also this whole separate alcohol/booze room downstairs with a separate fee to get in. It’s a party in there- alcohol, mixed drinks, cocktail showdowns.

Attend If you: Want to find companies who can buy your ingredients, want to know what the latest culinary trends are, want to drink alcohol all day long in the separate booze section, live in Chicago and like to party with food industry professionals, are a chef who needs to select items for your new menu.

Exhibit if you: Are selling bulk produced finished food products to restaurant chains, are a fruit or nut commodity board, you sell big ovens and equipment for restaurants, you sell tablecloths. You are a small organic natural retailer.

Registration Cost: Only cost $50 to $160 (higher cost includes the alcohol section downstairs) Check out costs here

Institute Of Food Technnologists: July 11-14 2015 -The biggest show on earth for food scientists. I love this show because I feel “at home” with all my people, my old professors, my college friends, my ingredient suppliers, my clients—There are so few food scientists in the world and this is where we all hang out. Food scientists need to go to this show to keep up on ingredients and if you are a food entrepreneur you will want to go so you can learn how we get our xanthan gum (we don’t buy it from the supermarket!) – This is not a show that sells finished retail products, this is a ingredient supplier show!

Attend if you: are a food scientist or working in the development of mass produced shelf stable ad/or frozen food products and packaged goods. Check out this LINK , IFT’s reasons why you should attend!

Exhibit if you: Sell your ingredients to food scientists/developers.

Registration: The show rates vary—if you are student its cheap, if you are not, its expensive. Rates are here – if you want to JUST go to the Expo portion and not go to the scientific educational functions, you can email Brian Sethness for a free floor pass (it’s a industry secret that suppliers at IFT can give out as many free floor passes as they want—after all, the suppliers need buyers on the floor)

Fancy Food Show: June 28-30 2015 This show happens in both San Francisco and NYC, the NYC one is bigger but they are both pretty huge. On the main floor you usually find international importers, lots of cheese, chocolate and established food companies. On the ends and in separate areas you find new retail food products. If you are looking for trends, new ideas or like to eat gourmet foods for three days– check out this show. It only cost about $45 to attend. Exhibit if you want to sell your gourmet food products!

Attend if You: like gourmet food, like to eat, want to see whats new and hot, are a food writer, own a chain of supermarkets, own a single supermarket.

Exhibit if you: Sell gourmet artisan food products.

Registration: $45 bucks  (more if you register late, so do it early!)

With all these shows I suggest planning out what you want to see ahead of time. Go to the website and find the vendors (by company name or by food type) ahead of time and note their booth. Try to get the ones you want/need to see out of the way first and then leave some time for aimless wandering around. Don’t forget to hit the part of the show with all the brand new to the scene companies (they are usually pushed into a basement or a dark room so you may have to check the floor plan to find them). I find the new company section to be the most interesting because.. well… I kind of already know about Jelly Belly and Walker Shortbread but I don’t know about the latest Cave Man Kombucha drink fortified with iron.

If you want to exhibit- check in with Coach Deb—a consultant who specializes in helping companies exhibit efficiently. She even as a book on it!!


About rachel zemser