I’ve been working at Frontera Foods for nearly three years, making it the longest, most profitable relationship I’ve had in my life thus far. Every year we exhibit at three major trade shows: a winter show in San Francisco, a spring show in Anaheim, and a summer show in NYC. Each show is special in its own right and I say ‘special’ the same way my 6th grade art teacher used to describe most of my artwork. Expo West, for instance, is known as the “party show.” Hotel bartenders love when this show rolls into town because we drink a lot and we tip generously. But if there’s one thing that each show guarantees, it’s unlimited kombucha and countless characters from all walks of life. I’ve discovered that each show draws all of the following types: the hungry exhibitor, the shopper, the Rick Bayless fan girl/guy, the salesman, and the ingredient snob. These characters, combined with all the amazing “fashion,” make these shows a lot more fun than one would think.
A brief note on the fashion: The clothing/overall look of some people at these shows is truly remarkable…I’m all for self-expression through fashion, but there is no reason a grown man in the year 2017 should be able to walk freely in an Ed Hardy shirt.
The Hungry Exhibitor
It takes one to know one. At my first trade show I consumed over 3,000 calories in 7 hours…probably. I wasn’t counting because math, but it was definitely an obscene number.
Because we serve actual food rather than slivers of bird food disguised as protein bars, people flock to our booth (unintentional bird pun). While I am more than happy to feed my hardworking peers, there are always a handful of exhibitors who treat the show like an all-you-can-eat buffet. Hungry exhibitors want to try anything and everything, including shit they don’t even like. The hungriest exhibitors visit our booth multiple times, but act like it’s their first time, every time. Like, I just saw you 5 minutes ago, Roy from Popchips, I’m sorry you have to eat Popchips all the time, but you’re getting annoying and you have bad breath.
These people are the worst. They come to these shows with one objective: to fill their bags with as much free product as possible. Some people bring coolers. It doesn’t matter what it is – dog food, an actual dog, cured meats, they just want to walk out of there with a ton of free shit. Some of these scavengers have the decency to ask for a sample, but most just grab it off the table and walk away casually like they didn’t just steal something. News flash: it’s a trade show, not tryouts for “Looter #1” in an apocalyptic movie. Ass.
The Rick Bayless Fan
Bayless poses for a photo with a fan.
Rick Bayless is the brand’s celebrity chef. He’s helped promote the consumption, appreciation and preparation of Mexican food in the US through his TV show, cookbooks, and restaurants. He has over 200,000 Instagram followers, so yeah, he’s kind of a grande deal. One time we talked in the elevator at work. It was sweet.
Bayless has a lot of admirers and many are at these shows. The second most frequently asked question after “Can I take you out after the show?” is “Is Rick Bayless here?” “No, he couldn’t make it” I say. “But he wishes he could be here.” This is a blatant lie. Of course he’s not here, and in fact, he had no intention of being here…I’ve been to one show where he made an appearance, and it was kind of important for him to be there because he was accepting a lifetime achievement award.
So unless they create an award for chef with the best mustache or most flexible chef, the chances of him attending another show are very slim. And we all know Guy Fieri would win best mustache. If you really want to meet Rick, I suggest you go to one of the many cooking demos he does all over the country, or pay me $100 and I’ll personally introduce you to him. Now eat your taco and scram. But don’t forget to take a coupon and have a nice day, too. Ugh.
At least 1 in 3 people at a show are in sales and are there to gather new business leads. I’m pretty much the lowest level employee at Frontera…like one notch above the copy machine, and I really have no power when it comes to making company purchasing decision. These sales guys don’t know this, so they just come up to me and start talking about whatever product/software/service they’re selling. I’m a genuine person with a heart of gold, but I’m also a master bullshitter. I’ve been subjected to countless sales pitches, and they all follow the same script…
Sales guy: Hi Christina! Who do I talk to about marketing/exporting/packaging…?
At this point I’ll either pass him off to a coworker or ride it out.
Sales guy: Great. So let me tell you a little about what we do….
He then begins to go into his sales pitch and I nod and smile, acting all engaged and shit. Sometimes I throw in random comments or ask a question to show I’m listening. Sometimes I actually listen.
After a few minutes of chatting, sales guy wraps up his pitch and suggests we schedule a follow up call. If I find him annoying I pull the old “I ran out of cards, but here’s my colleagues card” trick. But in the unlikely event that he is somewhat attractive, I give him my card and a room key.
Last but not least,
The Ingredient Snob
Remember when there were just people with peanut allergies? Those were the days. And while I respect people who don’t eat meat, or dairy or gluten, I will never be able to relate to them on an emotional or physical level. I am a passionate meat-eater and need to be with someone who is always down to go halfsies on a rack of ribs and a filet. A decent amount of consumers come to these shows in search of products that meet their specific dietary standards. They might be looking to lower their cholesterol or sugar intake, or they might be looking for organic baby food to feed their babies who can’t tell the difference. (When I was a baby I ate an alarming amount of sand from a dirty sandbox and I turned out just fine). It’s easy to identify an ingredient snob because they pick up product off the table without saying hello and study the label silently. After reading the ingredients they either smile and say “Wow, this actually looks really good,” or they quietly set the product back down upon realizing the product does not meet their standards, and disappear into the crowd.