No, I Haven’t Forgotten

Do you still remember the Mid-Atlantic Food & Beverage Expo we used to attend in October every year? The Restaurant Association of Maryland (RAM) produced the annual show and indeed by its demise, it had exhausted its life support groans and RAM pulled the plug. Some said we could bring it back in better times, but I said at that time … once you kill it, it stays dead. Life has gone on, but there is still an unfulfilled void.

Make no mistake, the Annual Ocean City Hotel-Motel-Restaurant Association Spring Trade Expo is my favorite show of the year and other than the hummingbirds coming back to my back deck in April of every year, the OC show is my best harbinger of spring. Susan Jones, Liz Walk and the team of volunteers, board members and the whole OC community make it possible for buyers and sellers to get together in a relaxed, fun … and productive setting to begin the cycle of getting ready for a new Eastern Shore tourist season.

I’ve said it before … all shows are good shows for Foodservice Monthly. Our readers come to them and we can interact with them … and even better the advertisers and potential advertisers that fund our effort to give you the best possible newsmagazine are manning the booths. Every show is a great time for us to reconnect, thank them and listen to our readers and advertisers as well as cultivate new ones.

But the Mid-Atlantic needs something else … something to be worthy of our marketplace that includes Maryland, DC, Virginia and Delaware. Just this week, the National Restaurant Association forecast shows we will top $30 billion in 2015 for the first time.

Where are we today? Distributors a few years ago started to compete with the new products shows like the Mid-Atlantic Expo by going into the show business … selling booths to manufacturers that had to buy a booth to please their customer (the broadliner). Then in the fall and spring we had show on top of show of what was referred to as the selling shows. Get the customer in and give them strong discounts to buy increased quantities over a period of time. All the shows suffered over time.

Some distributors started to back away from their shows … either canceling them or cutting back to one show instead of two … or making them “invite-only” for key customers. Progressive distributors (not just broadliners) looked to strengthen their relationships with more one on one networking … forming “partnerships” with customers.

We’ve already seen a major upheaval in the broker model as strong regional brokers are being absorbed into mega national marketing agencies. If you’re a restaurateur, chef … a buyer, you may be asking, “What the hell is a broker?” Few end users understand the broker model and you’re not supposed to.

Has anyone asked you how you want to find out about new products, the latest trends and special pricing? What about innovation? How can you run a better business? How can you make better buying decisions? Are you willing to see demos by other chefs showcasing new techniques and the latest trends? Do you want educational seminars? How far will you go and how long can you stay away from your operation to attend an event tailored to what you need to know? To be successful is more than shaving pennies off the cost of a tortilla or a French fry.

Where is this going? I am going to suggest that instead of reinvesting in what was broken when it went away, let’s create events that mean something to the buyer and seller together. It won’t be an Association as they have enough on their plates already. Rather I see now an entrepreneurial driven product which can be something the Associations would be proud to support, but something that will make the foodservice industry proud. We’re looking for someone with a strong vision who can offer a value driven proposition to introduce the marketplace to a foodservice event showcasing a combination of the latest products, educational seminars, networking and value.

Foodservice Monthly would support the right provider … and it would have to be a gutsy risk taker with a potential for a high reward for all parties.

What do you think? Are you ready to talk? Contact me at or take a real chance and call me directly at 301-529-4683 and let’s talk … then let’s take action.

About the Author

Michael Birchenall is Editor and Publisher of Foodservice Monthly, a regional trade publication covering the foodservice industry of the Mid-Atlantic (DE, DC, MD, VA). Foodservice Monthly has been recognized as the Restaurant Association of Maryland's Allied Industry Member of the Year and by the Restaurant Association Metropolitan Washington as the Joan Hisaoka Associate Member of the Year.

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