Every year, Van Eerden hosts an assortment of food shows across the state. This year’s Fall Food Show brought in hundreds of customers as a last hurrah of the food show season. We held this year’s food show at Soaring Eagle Casino on October 11th and featured new items, promotions and a Holiday Party the night prior. A total of 179 vendors in took the booths and hundreds of customers attended. With so much action the casino walls buzzed with excitement during the entire the two-day event.
Preparation Before the Show
Julie Trombley, Van Eerden Graphic Designer, says, “Lots of work goes into the show. I’m not sure if people know hours that get put into making the show great.” Preparation begins months in advance from all departments. Lots of groundwork gets laid ahead of time; including researching venues, booking vendor booths and sending invitations. The show must transpire without a flaw so everyone has to stick to the scheduled timeline.Frequent communication occurred throughout the office before the show. Customers completed and returned paperwork, vendors ordered portable cooking equipment, and we secured space for the show. As with any event, everyone stayed very busy in the weeks leading up to the event. Through several meetings and superb organization, we were ready for set-up the day prior. Several employees and vendors arrived a day early to set-up and decorate. By the end of the day, we completed set-up and felt confident about the starting the show.
This year, we hosted a Holiday Party the night before the Food Show, giving vendors a special opportunity to highlight many of their new and holiday themed items. Customers roamed the aisles of the banquet hall while sampling festive foods and drinks while listening to holiday tunes. The atmosphere felt very relaxed, yet allowed vendors and customers to do business with one another. Decorations for the holiday part included Christmas trees, holiday bears and red and gold centerpieces. Although Halloween had yet to even arrive, no one would guess it wasn’t December. The holiday party showcased our appreciation to customers while presenting excellent holiday food items, getting everyone in the holiday spirit.
The Food Show
The morning of the show, employees and vendors eagerly made last minute adjustments before customer arrival. Even though the holiday party made for a late night, food preparation and final set-up began as early as six in the morning. At 9am when the doors finally opened to customers, the food aroma filled the halls. Customers arrived hungry and tasted samples of French fries, cuts of salmon, pizza, cookies, chicken and more. Vendors kept busy all day creating dishes for customers to try throughout the course of the day. Many vendors made samples of fan favorites, as well as new items and upcoming food trend cuisine.
Vendors also answered any and all questions customers may have had. Sara Ferguson, Marketing and Events Coordinator, knows the significance of these questions. “It’s important to have someone who can answer all of the technical questions like portion costs and plate presentation ideas. Customers want to know product origins, the ingredients, and how it’s made” she says, “Customers have many questions and this is a great forum to answer them.”
Answering questions and engaging with customers also helps the vendors. Fred Nichols, a vendor from Byron Center Meats said, “We try to make all of the VE shows so that we are doing everything possible to try and grow the business. We did sell a couple of new accounts.” All booths provided POS sheets for customers to order at the show which allowed vendors to immediately see the reward of attending. “The show has a very good turn out with customers with true interests. It is very customer driven and sales focused and several factors to keep customers and vendors interested and motivated” says Mandy Yoder, vendor at Beaver Street Fisheries. When asked if she would return next year, she responds, “Definitely!”
This year we featured new promotions that encouraged customers to order items from VIP or new vendors. Prizes included stuffed bears and time in a Cash Cube which featured over $2500 worth of cash and prizes. Customers had to order 10 cases a week from five different vendors to earn the smallest bear. To win the largest bear, customers needed to order 10 cases from 15 different vendors. To win 15 seconds in the Cash Cube, we required customers to buy 10 cases a week from 20 different VIP vendors. Time also increased by 15 seconds with an additional 20 vendors. As customers got closer to winning each prize, many asked for assistance on finding the next vendor or item. “It was rewarding to help them find that one last item they needed to get a stuffed bear or a chance at getting in the cash cube” says Ferguson.
At this year’s show we also featured 30 minute stage presentations from a few of our vendors. These presentations lasted 15-30 minutes and captured the attention of our customers. Waypoint took the stage for the first presentation and spoke about generational differences at restaurants. Next on stage, all the way from California, Mann Produce spoke about buying and creating fresher salads. Vendors from McCormick presented on using spices to kick up basic flavors and Chef’s Corner presented creative Asian cuisine. Our last presentation came from McClary, a Michigan-based vinegar and shrub maker. The former Shark Tank winner spoke about mixers and drinks using her Michigan-made products. These presentations allowed vendors to highlight food trends which gave customers insights on market demands. We featured a variety of presentations to help utilize what works best for each operator because each restaurant is different.
Closing the Show
The Fall Food Show wrapped up at 3pm and customers, vendors and Van Eerden employees all left feeling prosperous. Vendors gained new accounts, customers ordered multiple items and relationships continued to grow. Everyone left the show highly satisfied with full bellies. We donated any leftover packaged food items to the Isabella County Soup Kitchen to ensure we wasted no food. Everyone left Soaring Eagle this year excited for the future, ready and anxious to see the results of the show. At Van Eerden, we left with a sense of satisfaction knowing that we put on a fantastic show. Although only a few weeks have passed we are ready to begin the process again for next year.