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Every year, restaurant owners, chefs, and suppliers flock to food trade shows across the United States. Each event provides valuable opportunities to discover new technologies and techniques, network with other foodservice professionals, and learn strategies for success in the food industry.

Never been to a food and beverage trade show? Let’s take a closer look at how these events can benefit your business and examine the most popular events in the United States. With the right information, you can choose a trade show that provides the highest ROI for your food industry niche.

Why participate in a food industry trade show?

When you’re operating on tight margins, every expense counts. Before you decide to invest in a trade show ticket or exhibitor booth, consider the potential benefits:

  • Increase brand awareness. Whether you’re hosting a booth or simply networking with other people in the food industry, a trade show is the ideal place to increase brand awareness for your restaurant or food business. This can be helpful if you’re planning to expand, hire new chefs, or collaborate with other food brands.
  • Gain real-time feedback from industry experts. Have questions about your business or future plans? You’ll find plenty of passionate experts who are excited to discuss ideas or provide industry advice.
  • Network with vendors and suppliers. Refine your supply chain by meeting the national and regional vendors that attend trade shows. Many bring product displays and demonstrations, so you can check quality and see which fits best with your restaurant concept. Because everyone is in one place, it’s a cost-effective way to find new suppliers and build stronger relationships with existing partners.
  • Discover new ideas. Food trade shows are a great place to discover new kitchen equipment, ordering technologies, cooking techniques, and menu ideas.
  • Learn about the industry. Many events include educational sessions, hands-on workshops, and expert-led panels and lectures, so you can learn about everything from restaurant marketing to supply chain optimization.
  • Conduct market research. With so many food enthusiasts in one place, a trade show is the ideal time to explore the market. You can research competitors to see what other restaurants are doing well or conduct consumer surveys to gauge popular opinion.

A great trade show packs an enormous amount of information and insight into a few days. Choose the right event and you’ll come away with enough ideas and motivation to carry you through the entire year. 

Top 10 food trade shows in North America

The key to a positive trade-show experience is to choose a relevant event. To get you started, here are some of the best food trade shows in the United States.

1. Fancy Food Show

Hosted by the Specialty Food Association, the summer and winter Fancy Food Shows are the perfect place to discover new specialty products. It’s a good option if your restaurant serves artisan or innovative cuisine — with a huge variety of vendors in one place, you can try hundreds of teas, drinks, foods, and ingredients from all over the world. Do you sell specialty foods? The Fancy Food Show is an opportunity to meet new customers.

Most years, the Summer Fancy Food Show happens in New York City; the Winter Fancy Food Show is hosted at the Las Vegas Convention Center. You can participate as an attendee, a vendor, or an advertiser.

2. The National Restaurant Association Show

Every year, the National Restaurant Association hosts an annual trade show. It’s the largest in the country and offers something for every type of foodservice professional.

Activities include:

  • Exhibition hall. Explore more than 1,800 booths featuring vendor displays, tasting stations, restaurant technology, demonstrations, and more.
  • Educational sessions. The trade show features a full lineup of presentations regarding running a restaurant business, incorporating innovation, mixing drinks, and preparing the latest foods.
  • Networking events. Attendees can participate in planned events, including a young professionals party and an industry night out.

If you decide to exhibit at this show, you’ll gain access to more than 35,000 industry attendees.

3. Seafood Expo North America

When you run a seafood restaurant, the Seafood Expo North America is one of the best food industry events to attend. As you might expect, it’s all about seafood; you’ll learn about everything from aquaculture to sourcing sustainable fish and shellfish. The educational programs are the highlight of the show, especially if you’re concerned about issues such as food safety, climate change, and ingredient traceability.

The exhibition area is largely populated with vendors. You can participate to bring in more business or explore the hall to find new seafood suppliers. If you sell seafood, the expo’s Key Buyer Program is a good opportunity to get in front of high-volume buyers.

4. Natural Products Expo West

Natural Products Expo West attracts foodservice industry professionals who are developing businesses that are both socially and environmentally responsible. You might choose this event if your restaurant values sustainable food, natural ingredients, and eco-friendly practices.

One of the most popular events at the expo is the Pitch Slam, where emerging brands pitch their business ideas and compete for services from the New Hope Network. The exhibition hall is focused largely on natural-food suppliers, so you can find new partners or get your brand in front of buyers.

5. SupplySide West

SupplySide West is a trade show that focuses on health and nutrition buyers and suppliers. This is an industry-only trade show; it’s not open to the general public. It could be a valuable opportunity for your business if you specialize in health food — many booths and events involve sports nutrition, healthy ingredients, and other wellness products.

As you might guess from the name, this event is concerned with the supply side of the industry. Come to promote your products or find new suppliers to fuel your business.

6. Food Processing Expo

The Food Processing Expo is an annual event that’s designed for food processing businesses, growers, suppliers, and educational groups. You might attend if you run a restaurant in or near California and you want to meet new vendors and exhibitors, develop your industry network, or build a stronger supply chain.

Education is a key component of the Food Processing Expo. When you register, make sure to sign up for different talks and sessions to discover what’s new in the processing industry.

7. International Pizza Expo

Do you run a pizza restaurant? Don’t miss the International Pizza Expo, a small and highly focused trade show that’s oriented around pizza ingredients, equipment, and trends. You can attend to find new products, meet suppliers, and learn about the latest developments in this sector of the food industry.

If you want to build brand awareness, consider participating in the International Pizza Challenge or the World Pizza Games. The expo also includes workshops on recipes, alternative ingredients, setting menu pricing, optimizing delivery, and more.

8. American Food Innovate Summit

Explore the future of the food industry at the American Food Innovate Summit. This conference tends to bring in people who are interested in the latest developments in ingredients, technology, and processes. By attending, you’ll be the first to hear about innovative case studies and cutting-edge techniques.

The American Food Innovate Summit is all about communication. Attend educational sessions to learn about topics ranging from the ethics of cultivated meat to the latest policies regarding food trends. You can also take hands-on workshops, attend networking events, or give your own presentation. 

9. Sweets and Snacks Expo

If your business specializes in desserts and treats, don’t miss the Sweets and Snacks Expo. Attend to sell your own products or find new offerings from vendors from around the world. The expo is known for its specialty market and featured product showcase. On Startup Street, you’ll find innovative treats that haven’t yet hit the market.

In addition to an inspiring lineup of products, the expo offers opportunities to network with other food professionals in the sweets and snacks industry. The awards ceremony and the Buzz Networking Reception are two popular events.

10. Bar & Restaurant Expo

Every year, more than 13,000 attendees come to the Bar & Restaurant Expo to discover the most innovative solutions to common restaurant industry challenges. In the Expo Hall, exhibitors showcase their products and offer food and beverage demonstrations; you can sign up to host a booth or explore the floor to find new products for your restaurant.

For business owners, the interactive events are the most exciting part of the expo. Participate in a start-up boot camp, or attend master classes on topics such as beverage preparation, bar management, and general management.

Unlock your restaurant’s potential with Grubhub

Food industry trade shows are a great way to improve your restaurant business. As you look forward to your next event, get a head start on the optimization process by working with Grubhub. A Grubhub for Restaurants account helps you reach a variety of customers in your area; you’ll also get helpful tools for marketing and promotions. To see how it works, get started with Grubhub today.