Trade Shows: 11 Ways to Get the Biggest Bang for Your Buck


trade showsExhibiting at trade shows or consumer shows may be expensive and time-consuming, but it’s an investment that can significantly benefit your brand.

How to maximize ROI?

Having a plan is the first step. But, a plan is only as good as the execution.

#1.  Determine your objectives and prioritize them. Do you want to get orders at the show, launch a new product, raise awareness of your brand, find a distributor, drive traffic to your online store, test the response to new concepts or packaging or build a marketing database?

#2.  Find the right show to achieve those goals, ensuring attendees include the audience you are targeting. Pre-screen shows by attending and talking to exhibitors and industry colleagues.

#3.  Prepare months in advance. Assemble a team. Design a booth with “curb appeal” that draws people in.

#4.  Carefully choose the products you want to showcase, in line with your objectives. If it’s hot food, make sure that it holds well over time and has an enticing aroma.

#5.  It’s a food show, so sampling your product is a must! Even if it’s a consumer show, don’t be stingy with samples. Maximize the exposure for your brand.

When I walk a trade show, I sample dozens of products and only remember those that were exceptionally good or bad. If possible, distribute samples for visitors to take home and enjoy at their leisure.

Cooking demonstrations can attract attention and create mouthwatering aromas. If the product is perishable, understand show requirements and local government food safety regulations. And never handle the food with your bare hands; it’s a turn-off for the food-safety-minded.

#6.  Handing out samples in blank packaging is a total waste of money. Always include branding and contact information. Note that Health Canada labelling regulations apply to sample-size packaging.

#7.  Invite your prospects ahead of time via social media, email, a phone call, whatever. Have a hook or incentive for them to seek out your booth. Offer discounted admission if available. Offer value when they get there.

#8.  Staff the booth with people who know your brand, products and points of difference versus competitors. Give them a 30 second elevator pitch to memorize. Ensure they speak the local language. At SIAL I saw a huge booth with lots of graphics in Chinese, no staff and no visitors. That translates into no sales.

#9.  It’s not rocket science but time and again I have seen exhibitors sitting and waiting for visitors to approach them. If your booth isn’t busy, don’t just sit there; get your product out in the aisle and approach passers-by.

#10.  When there’s a lull in traffic, take some time to visit other exhibitors to scope out competitors and learn what works and what doesn’t.

#11.  Scan attendee badges or collect their business cards. Jot down their products of interest. And most important of all, FOLLOW UP after the show. This is an absolute must. Don’t expect anyone to remember you.

And one last thing, SMILE!

Applying these tips will help to make trade shows a worthwhile investment and raise awareness of your brand. No matter how great your product, no one will buy it unless they know about it. Getting it in their mouths can clinch the sale – provided it delivers on taste, is impactfully packaged and priced right.

As packaged food specialists, Birgit Blain and her team transform food into retail-ready products. Her experience includes 17 years with Loblaw Brands and President’s Choice®. Contact her at and subscribe to her Food Biz Blog for valuable advice.

© Birgit Blain


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