As sure as school’s out for summer it’s time for the Summer Fancy Food Show time. This blog post is for you, the aspiring food entrepreneur planning to rove the floor seeking inspiration and ideas for your own presence at this show or other food trade shows.

If you’ve done a little digging, trade show booth costs may seem like a small investment with big impact. But don’t let the allure of mom seeing you’ve made it big drive your decision. As a long-time specialty food consultant and business coach, I wrote the book on successful trade shows which offers some on-the-ground insight for those wondering if they’re ready to take the plunge: “Tradeshows are not the right place to decide if an idea is good. There are much less expensive ways to validate a proof of concept.”

I often notice that people are at a show before they are really ready. There are lots of new companies making their food at home still, without packaging, alongside the heavy hitters. You’ll be hard pressed to get honest feedback in such a situation. People are polite; they aren’t going to tell you your product isn’t good. They’ll nod and walk away. You’ll think “everyone loves me!” then go into production.

Do the Math

To recoup a $10,000 show investment you have to make about $30,000 in sales (assuming your cost of goods was $15,000). To break this down, consider your airfare, hotel rooms, booth costs, samples, meals, and marketing materials. It all adds up pretty quickly.

Newbies can potentially make an entry-level debut at the Fancy Food Show in the New On The Shelf area, for around $1,500 (plus the aforementioned expenses). In that area, buyers know that you’re a member candidate so they’re easier on you. They’re looking for innovation and more gentle on you not knowing the ropes. However you still need to be ready to supply enough product. If you’re still testing the water on pack size or where you’re getting ingredients or whether or not you can produce enough, you’re probably not ready.

The bottom line: Know that you are ready to take advantage of all the leads you will be generating at the shows. Unless you’ve been selling to retailers and distributors you won’t know. The cost to be at the show is a lot of money you could use for marketing in your local area.

Checklist Before Taking the Trade Show Plunge

  • Introduce and sell your product locally to test acceptance
  • Prove you’re desirable by having gotten repeat business
  • Know you’ve nailed your packaging
  • Solidify your cost of goods and have a 60 percent gross margin built in so you can work with distributors
  • Number one: work from a business plan. Rather than spend $3,000 repeatedly testing the waters, do the research and approach your development and marketing strategically to ultimately spend less and make more.

Stay tuned for more ways to make a splash at the Fancy Food Show or any other time you exhibit at a food tradeshow.