July 4, 2012

Happy Independence Day! State Fair Success

As we celebrate our Independence in America today with good times, fireworks, and wonderful foods that likely include hot dogs and hamburgers, I am reminded of food products introduced at State Fairs and the opportunity to expand your business at your state’s or regions fair.

State Fairs provide a giant opportunity for Food Manufacturers for a variety of solid financial and marketing reasons. The fairs provide immediate cash, real-time consumer reaction along with feedback on products, a direct connection with consumers, and the opportunity to provide ‘paid-sampling’ in one of the most cost effective methods available in the USA.

Amazingly, many of America’s food icons were introduced at State Fairs:
Dr. Pepper
Iced Tea
Cracker Jacks
Hot Dogs
Ice Cream Cones
Root Beer

The work involved is massive along with the tremendous benefit for companies that can make the necessary preparations along with attending to the needs of fair goers. My hope is this article will provide you insight and encourage you to participate in a State Fair or large event in your region for your food companies success.

The biggest obstacle for most food companies is actually getting the application completed and turned-in on time for the State Fair. Each event has their particular sign-up process along with timing and availability of space. If you are thinking it would be great to sell drinks and popcorn, think again! These events are already full of the fair staples and they will be looking for original, special, and creative items for their fair. Also, they will want to know you have the commitment and ability to serve millions of consumers at their event.

It could be awesome for your company to succeed at some of the largest State Fairs. With annual attendance often in excess of one million people, each of the below state fairs attract visitors from far and wide, maximizing exposure for your food brands to millions of potential on-going consumers. For one client, we always gauged the potential market for our food products at State Fair to be 10% of the event attendance. We would build a list of actions required to market, deliver, store, and sell the estimated amount of product at the event.

Here is a list of the 10 largest State Fairs in the United States:
Top 10 State Fairs
1.       Texas State Fair – more than 3 million guests
a.       Now is the perfect time to begin the planning process in Texas 2013. http://www.bigtex.com/sft/Nav/Food.asp
2.       Minnesota State Fair
3.       Ohio State Fair
4.       California State Fair
5.       New York State Fair
6.       Iowa State Fair
7.       Arizona Expo & State Fair
8.       Kentucky State Fair
9.       The Big E: Eastern States Expo
10.     Puyallup Fair
Source: Worldweb.com

Consider your booth a primary marketing event and brand introduce of your product and company to consumers. What effort, actions, and planning can you make to create the response in the consumer that supports your company mission and facility.
Booth Design and Signage
Uniforms and Personnel
Sampling and Product Offering
Products and Menu Options
Flyers, Coupons, and Building Repeat Business
Directing them to Retailers

What will you do to attract the attention and interest of fair attendees and how will you benefit long-term from this effort?
How will you keep stocked, quickly take cash, and serve the many folks that want your item?
How quickly can you supply a line of people your food items?

Consumer Feedback
You will gain far more information and insight into your food product success when you work directly with consumers. Fairs provide you the special opportunity to learn about your consumers and attempt to gain demographic along with product insight into usage.

In your planning, take action on how you will benefit from all the effort of the fair.
Booth should promote the look and style of your branded food packaging at retail along with getting the attention of event participants.
Consider handing out coupons that will direct consumers to your website, facebook page, specific retailers, and retail in general with a special offer.
Can you sell or giveaway t-shirts at your booth in addition to food?
How can you best connect with your consumers at the event with visuals, food cooking smells, activity, colors, and props?
Prizes and registration that include obtaining email addresses should be top of mind at these events.

After the Event
The big payoff for many food companies is the repeat consumer orders that occur after an event in your existing retailers, new direct clients, and additional consumer demand.
Think about methods to encourage future purchases and the actions you need to take to remind shoppers of your participation and item. Some companies have gone so far as to include State Fair trade dress on their packaging and in their branding. 
Use the emails collected to add to your newsletter and specials list for future purchases.

The Payoff
State Fairs generate millions in food revenue for companies and will introduce your innovative new food item to State Fair consumers and possibly American culture for centuries to come.

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© Tim Forrest 2012. All rights reserved
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