Harnessing The Power Of Networking For Foodservice Clients
After nearly a decade managing foodservice accounts and despite the ascendency of the Digital Age, one thing is clear: industry networking remains a critical ingredient of foodservice marketing and public relations. When I map the most successful partnerships and programs executed on behalf of long-standing client, National Honey Board (NHB), for example, personal relationships are a constant and pivotal component.
EHY’s Andrea Schepke and Taylor DeVries represented the NHB at IFEC 2016. For the opening night’s “Chef Showcase,” we teamed with Radisson Blu Minneapolis’ Executive Chef Jim Kyndberg to feature Honey Braised Bison and Honey Glazed Acorn Squash.
Many of our best programs started with informal, one-on-one conversations at such food industry conferences as Les Dames De Escoffier (LDEI), Women Chefs & Restaurateurs (WCR), the International Foodservice Editorial Council (IFEC), and Flavor Experience. By following up on leads and leveraging new contacts, our team has been able to harness incredible food and beverage talent, identify passionate and authentic spokespeople, initiate programs to expand the visibility and everyday use of honey on menus nationwide, and even ignite trends.
Case in point: EvansHardy+Young represented NHB as a sponsor of LDEI’s 2011 conference in St. Louis. At the LDEI InfoFair, we provided honey information materials—along with honey lemonade samples and honey varietal tastings—to conference attendees. One of our booth visitors happened to be the head of recipe development for Vitamix, Chef Bev Shaffer. I chatted with Bev briefly about her interest in honey, we exchanged cards, and our team subsequently invited her to join us at an upcoming “Honey Summit” immersion event. Fast forward six years and we still work with Bev to create new honey-based recipe concepts; most recently, Honey Energy Shots, with a number of valuable collaborations in-between.
EHY concepted and hosted the popular NHB-sponsored Honey Beverage Station at IFEC, enlisting Chef Bev Shaffer to create Honey Energy Shots in 3 trend-forward flavors: Honey Lemon Matcha, Honey Cherry Kombucha, and Honey Carrot Turmeric.
At that same conference, a member of LDEI’s Arizona chapter suggested we reach out to Kim Haasarud, an Arizona-based mixologist who uses honey in delicious cocktails. I contacted Kim on the heels of the conference and pitched her for a trade media opportunity on alternative sweeteners for cocktails. Six years later, we’ve established an incredible honey cocktail program on behalf of the NHB that has influenced menus and driven growth of honey cocktail menuing exponentially. In fact, honey cocktail menuing is up 17% year-to-date (with 2016 honey menu penetration of 18%) and up a whopping 84% over the past four years.
The epitome of an authentic spokesperson, Kim has essentially become a honey ambassador for us in the foodservice industry, sharing her knowledge and love of honey with fellow beverage professionals and inspiring additional honey cocktail menuing and innovation. For instance, PF Chang’s honey-inspired “Garden to Glass” cocktail menu is a direct result of Kim’s work with PF Chang’s beverage director, Mary Melton, and her team.
5 Tips for Making the Most of Foodservice Industry Networking:
- Sponsor Key Events
Vital to the industry, strategic sponsorship of key industry events creates goodwill among members. It is tough to put a price tag on the value of the relationships formed at these events. If budget is prohibitive, start out small and build on participation in year two or three to ensure a proper, strategic fit.
- Rotate Functions
Depending on resources, you may wish to test a variety of events and rotate or alternate years. That way you can evaluate which programs you should maintain, rotate, or possibly add to your roster.
Of course, communication is a two-way street. Educate and inspire your audiences, but also anticipate interaction. Never underestimate key learnings, leads, and tips. Take notes, exchange cards, and commit to outreach.
- Follow Up
Post-event, reach out and provide product samples, information, links; connect on LinkedIn and other channels. Keep new contacts top-of-mind for relevant partnership opportunities that may emerge.
- Create Opportunities
Find good reasons to leverage new contacts. Invite them to immersion events, enlist them for a recipe development project, collaborate at the next industry event. Test the waters if you think you’ve got a “match.” If you have an event in their market, consider partnering with them or inviting them to join you.
The value of participating as a sponsor in key industry events goes beyond the immediate in-person benefit. Seeds planted at these events can blossom into huge client opportunities, as I have seen with honey. Keep an open mind, be strategic and creative, and always look for ways to build on the relationships that you’ve established. You might just ignite the next food or beverage trend, or trigger the next client homerun.