More than 25,000 food fans from 81 countries attended the 57th Summer Fancy Food Show in Washington, D.C.
THE CULINARY LANDSCAPE IN WASHINGTON, D.C., IS ON A FAST MISSION. Voted one of the fittest U.S. cities, the stakes are high as the nation’s capital primps itself to stand on a foodie footing with, let’s say, New York, Miami or Las Vegas.
But for now, Washington, D.C., is happy to play host to two consecutive seasons of the Summer Fancy Food Show—North America’s largest specialty food and beverage event.
Until last year, this expo from the National Association for the Specialty Food Trade Inc. (NASFT) was on its home turf in New York, a renowned bastion of culinary prowess where no fork goes unturned.
For 23 years, exhibitors, suppliers and key attendees have congregated at the Javits Center, the birthplace of the Summer Fancy Food Show. But with a renovation now under way, neighboring D.C. wooed the group for an obvious pairing.
The payoff was a win-win for all.
In 2011 alone, the 57th Summer Fancy Food Show held at the Walter E. Washington Convention Center sold out weeks before the July 10-12 event.
Imagine more than 25,000 attendees from 81 countries under one roof, dishing the latest on spices, sauces and the next new product. Ron Tanner, vice president of communications and education for the NASFT, reports that more than 180,000 food products were exhibited from 2,400 exhibitors, making the 2011 event the third-largest in NASFT’s history. Destination DC reports the ROI from hosting the pivotal show resulted in an estimated economic impact of more than US$17 million.
In the throes of an urban renaissance, Destination DC couldn’t have timed the event better.
“D.C. is a very international city with a strong international presence but also is a city that has only 600,000 residents, so there’s a very intimate appeal with a big city feel,” said Elliott Ferguson, president and CEO of Destination DC.
A consummate host, Washington scored some cool firsts with the specialty food expo, which, over the years, has seen its own firsts by launching products never before seen nationally. Evian, Ben and Jerry’s and Perrier are brands that have crept into fridges across America thanks to the show.
On the client side, the show managed to tap into a market that normally didn’t exist before—in this case, the Southeast U.S.
“Forty-four percent of their attendance came from the southern Atlantic states, which is much higher than in New York, which was only 9 percent of their attendance,” Ferguson said.
Another first was an opening ceremony.
“Normally, we don’t do this, but we wanted to do something special since we were in Washington,” Tanner said. “We found an organization called Operation Homefront, a non-profit organization that helps returning soldiers and their families with food, shelter and financing. We wanted to assist them, so we gave them a donation and presented a check at the opening ceremonies.”
Plus, for the first time, the event’s newfound turf in D.C. meant introductions with civil servants, politicians and embassies was that much easier.
“One of the things in which you could only do in Washington is link with the various embassies, so when you think of the attendee at the show representing various countries there is an opportunity for them to reach out to the embassies here,” Ferguson said, citing Italy, the show’s largest international exhibitor with more than 1,000 products, as an example.
In addition, the show developed a program inviting congress members.
“We were able to identify for the show exhibitors their congressional representatives,” Tanner said, explaining that approximately 60 significant staff members from Capitol Hill, alongside six congress members, attended. “So senior advisors on agricultural issues were there, and inviting them was a really good thing to do. We’re a not-for-profit trade association, and our mission and goal is to help these companies grow their businesses.”
With politicians nearby, Tanner says this accessibility helped open doors.
“Maybe it’s good to just get politicians to understand the small business aspect in the food industry and how important it is to the industry and the economy,” Tanner said.
The notion of international specialty foods and the subsequent companies arriving to Washington also illustrates how talking food is a good bridge between the world’s troubled spots.
“There are troubled spots in the world, but these companies all come together and try to sell their food products, so we would have people from Lebanon, Egypt and Israel there, and [world strife] is forgotten for three days as they try and support their businesses, sell their products and support their agriculture,” Tanner said.
A prime gateway, Washington is in the hub of three airports, major highways and Amtrak, and is also an easy three-hour train ride from Manhattan.
“Our marketing department stepped up to the plate and worked directly with them, offering ideas on how attendees could plug into Washington with ease,” Ferguson said.
Destination DC helped customize an innovative metro day pass in the registration, which was available on the event’s microsite.
“This is something they have not done before,” Ferguson said. “Folks got on the train in New York in the morning and spent a day in D.C. at the show then got back on the train and went home.”
As a result of D.C.’s burgeoning agriculture scene, more local exhibitors signed up to showcase their goods.
“We were able to get new faces in the show,” Ferguson said. “Fifty percent of the people who attended never attended their show in the past, so it was good for D.C. to be recognized for its food scene.”
Off-site venues attracted exclusive evening receptions. There was the 700-plus-seat Carmine’s, a legendary Italian restaurant; D.C. culinary heavyweight Peter Smith’s upscale PS7, located in the ever-growing downtown Penn Quarter area of Washington, D.C.; and America Eats Tavern, a new Jose Andres pop-up restaurant celebrating indigenous American recipes.
Foreign restaurateurs are choosing to plant roots in D.C., from Ping Pong Dim Sum to the Buddha Bar, while local celebrity chef Carla Hall now appears on TV’s The Chew.
“Hosting the Summer Fancy Food Show gives us a chance to profile the food scene as a major attraction to Washington, D.C.,” Ferguson said. “They gave us a portal to let us market and grow the food scene even more.” One+
business of meetings,
food and beverage,
One+ April 2012,