This weekend, we were humbled by our participation at the Toronto Gourmet Food and Wine Expo. We had a great time overall, put a lot of smiles on a lot of faces, and I'd definitely do it again. Only differently. It was a bit of a full circle experience, since our first ever large scale show was the Niagara Gourmet Food and Wine Expo and this was the last major event of the year. It was supposed to be the culmination of everything that I'd learned, but instead it was in itself, a learning experience. A hard, but valuable one.
You see, I came into the show very proud of the work I'd done on our packaging, specifically our individual front and back labels. I figured people would love our treats; would continue to respond favorably to our sugar conscious branding and would simply gobble them up. I rested on my laurels and I was wrong. I Blackburried myself in not anticipating, not even trying to anticipate, the consumer experience.
The show itself was great. There were plenty of potential satisfied customers - almost all of whom were indulging in alcohol (some of whom perhaps a bit too much). It made for a fun and entertaining scene with at least 25,000 people over four days. We were the only traditional baked goods company there; the only ones selling cookies and brownies. So why didn't we sell out? Why didn't we even come close? After much recollection, mostly after 1am, I came up with the following takeaways that I thought I'd share in case anyone who's reading might be able to benefit.
- Blackberry's product was sexy until it wasn't and they found out too late. Like the tech company, we didn't present anything sexy and we should have. While I think our packaging is great, every other vendor at the show presented their goods with a certain flair designed for the demographic. Our location within the Hall was good, in the direct path of the main area, and so we benefited from natural wanderers to our booth. But there was nothing to draw them in; no "oooh" or "aaah" element to create buzz for our company. Just the standard display we've always erected at every show we've been at. What I failed to understand until it was too late is that this show created certain expectations with the attendees - people were looking for a gourmet, indulgent experience, one that was alcohol fueled. What we gave them was the standard presentation of our products. In this context, the display was boring and the disconnect between what people were expecting and what they saw cost us.
- The messaging was redundant if not counter-productive. We had smiling, happy, boozed-up patrons coming to our booth and asking us about our cookies, and I'd launch into the story about how we're sugar conscious, and vegan and grain-free.... and what I saw were bored, glossy eyes. People weren't looking for the story - just the treat. If I'd kept it simple by saying, we have some frequin awesome cookies - a peanut butter chocolate chip and a chocolate chip walnut - we would have doubled our sales. Our products themselves are rich and delicious; directly aligned with what people were pining for, but our messaging was stale; the proverbial buzz-kill.
- I didn't do the leg-work to ensure a proper consumer experience. With respect to points 1 and 2 above, I could have thought about those in advance and properly prepared. While it's important to acknowledge this failure, it's more important to prevent it from recurring. I keep kicking myself though because one of the founding and guiding principles of the company is to always consider the consumers' experience and to make sure it's a heightened one and I lost sight of that.
Our next public presence is at the Toronto Life FoodiePages Holiday Market on December 16th and December 17th. The mistakes I allude to above will not be repeated, so get excited. We've got some zany ideas about how to make your experience just plain awesome. We're going to bring new meaning to the term "fresh-baked." I'm serious about creating oooh's and aaah's and about enriching the consumer experience when it comes to indulging in our treats. After all, you deserve nothing less.