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American Food & Ag Exporter

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Organic Show Has Most To Lose By Breakup

Jim Prevor’s Perishable Pundit, May 15, 2007

Without a doubt the most successful and exciting of all the shows in Chicago was the All Things Organic show. The crowds were thickest, the interest most intense… it was certainly a big winner.

Yet, ironically, it is also the show that has the most to lose by the breakup of the FMI/Power of Five show consortium and also the show most vulnerable in the long term.

The basic dilemma of a show such as All Things Organic is captured in its name — the “all things” part, not the “organic” part. You wind up with a show selling everything from soap and baby clothes to baby food and beef, canned goods, frozen foods and fresh produce, to name just a fraction of the items sold at the show.

Yet retail is not generally organized this way. A Wal-Mart produce buyer has nothing to do with buying baby clothes, nor does the Wal-Mart baby food buyer have anything to do with deli meat, nor does the Wal-Mart poultry buyer get involved in frozen foods, and the guy who buys soap for Wal-Mart is a different person entirely. Obviously, if you are talking chain stores, you would need dozens of buyers, merchandisers and category managers to attend one show.

Because of the co-location with FMI and the other shows, many of these buyers were in the house. It was no big deal to go downstairs to another show. And with organics being hot and often in short supply, it was well worth the visit.

In fresh produce many companies really want to push their organic lines. Sometimes this is because companies already well known for their conventional product want the world to know they do organics as well. In other cases, it is just a function of pushing their most profitable product lines.

This came across vividly in a category like apples. If you were an apple buyer, you would find not one major apple shipper in the United Fresh show… not one. But you had several down in the organic show.

One suspects it will be different next year. All Things Organic will be co-locating with the Fancy Food Show, and the Fancy Food Show attracts mostly smaller buyers who might buy all the products for a small gourmet shop or gift basket company. These buyers are, in fact, perfectly aligned with the All Things Organic show since they can decide to buy a full range of organic products for their stores and operations. They are small-scale buyers and are unlikely to interest big apple shippers.

Add to this the fact that exhibitors at All Things Organic could be available in Chicago for additional meetings with buyers at United and FMI, it was a reasonable decision for a fresh produce company to buy a booth at All Things Organic.

Without the buyers drawn by United and FMI, it will no longer be as simple a decision.

In the short term, organics are still so hot and, in many cases, produce buyers are spending disproportionate amounts of time procuring organics that they may send buyers to an organic show. Long term, however, it is highly likely that companies that sell organic baby clothes, for example, will leave All Things Organic and exhibit at the baby clothes convention to reach the chain store buyers.

In other words, trade shows are defined by the buyer they attract, so a show that promotes “All Things Organic’ will have a tough time because Wal-Mart won’t want to send 50 buyers so each can visit 10 booths.

Large chains will probably start to use the organic show the same way they have long used the big Fancy Food Shows held in New York and San Francisco — as an early warning system for what is hot and up-and-coming.

But those produce vendors looking to sell commercial quantities of apples will probably find their way to shows that attract produce buyers.

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