Aug 22, 2012

Truly WORKING a trade event requires inspiration and some Creative Energy

Tony Treadway

We just wrapped up one of the most productive trade events of the year for Texas Pete. The company’s foodservice sales team prides itself in truly “working” a trade event and this one personifies their hard work and our like-minded drive for excellence and ROI for event marketing.

The Flavor Experience in Newport Beach, CA is a gathering of some of America’s top restaurant chain menu developers. From Wendy’s to Disney, this gathering represents billions of dollars in food sales and multi-million dollar opportunities for food manufacturers IF they can get their products on the menus of these big chains.

The team of the event was “The Next Wave Of Flavor” with a logical nod to menu innovation and the event’s proximity to Huntington Beach-home of the Beach Boys, surfer girls and the gorgeous Pacific. Texas Pete’s Corporate Executive Chef and National Accounts Sales Manager, Michael O’Donnell, is a master at inspired menus and beating the competition in creating memorable impressions on a plate. He teamed with us to amplify what he had in mind beginning in May of this year. Our team of Trinity Lancaster, account executive, and Jason Headrick, art director, developed signage, made stickers and created a beach themed display for the closing night’s pool party that was carefully labeled (including a plan-o-gram for the layout of the table and photos of how the display table should be laid out). By the time the event began in early August, we were locked and loaded for results.

Upon registration, Michael had concocted a deliciously spicy bag of nuts. His Spicy Candied Nuts with Rosemary Salt was a sweet/salty/spicy treat that every registrant took with them as a mid-session or bedtime snack. The nuts were just the first of many positive impressions by Texas Pete at the event.

We would use our recently redesigned “Walking Flavor Table” on the first night. Inspired by an episode from Mad Men when Don Draper visits a restaurant complete with a cigarette girl offering a pack of Camels and some breath mints to his table, our table was custom made to engage trade targets one-on-one during an event instead of waiting for them to come by our table. Michael would load the table on opening night with Spicy Oyster Shooters with Citrusy Champagne and Shallot Sorbet as well as another creation that allowed attendees to manually infuse flavor in their mouth with a pippet loaded with Texas Pete Hot Sauce. Trinity had arranged for a model from San Diego to be a great ambassador of the brand who carried the table on her shoulders for the two-hour opening event. Michael had also created a Spicy Ginger Beer Float for the bartenders to assure that where ever you turned, Texas Pete would be there for you.

For the next morning’s breakfast, Michael had spicy cupcakes on the table and for the next day’s lunch, beautiful spicy shrimp nestled in little baskets of french fried string potatoes.When one of the presenters that morning had mentioned that spicy nuts were a growing trend in bar food at restaurants, I quickly found leftover Texas Pete Spicy Nuts from the registration event and distributed them to attendees at their table, reminding them that spicy nuts were very “on trend” and that they should consider Texas Pete as the flavor their customers would crave.

But, his idea of a “Build Your Own Salsa Beach Party”, crafted as “Hang Ten with Texas Pete” on the closing night stole the show. I initially wondered why a company that also manufactured the world’s best salsa (Green Mountain Gringo) would want people at a trade event to have to build their own. I soon found out.

Rather that spoon out pre-made salsa, Michael knew that the uniqueness of asking menu developers to build their own salsa from more than a dozen fresh ingredients would be irresistible. It would also require them to hover over the beach party table that Creative Energy had designed, complete with dime store sand buckets and shovels, while Michael and co-worker Dan Plunkett struck up business-building conversations.

Meanwhile, Chef James O’Donnell, Michael’s son, was in the kitchen preparing two other creations made for engagement. One was Texas Pete Chipotle Fireballs (meatballs slathered in Texas Pete Chipotle Hot Sauce) and Texas Pete Nuttin & Honey Dates (dates wrapped in bacon, honey and Texas Pete). Here is where my brawn instead of brains was required. When servers who were suppose to carry the two items from the kitchen to the pool to be served didn’t show, I volunteered to help James prep the food and carry it down to the pool for the guests. It was an absolutely crazy two hours that were loaded with opportunity.

The ROI of the event has extraordinary potential that Michael and his sales team will pursue for the next year. From White Castle to Disneyworld and Tony Roma’s, menu developers who are in the business to create WOW, did say just that about our team’s effort at the show-displaying the exceptional products of Texas Pete.

If there is one lesson to be learned from this case study is to not wait to be discovered at a trade event-engage with them on-on-one. Being different in a positive way is the essence of a trade event and our team did just that at the Flavor Experience in California.

Tony Treadway


President & CEO

Regarded in the advertising and PR industry as a top strategist, Tony is considered one of the most respected marketing minds in the business, especially in the $600 billion foodservice industry. As president, he leads Creative Energy in serving a variety of regional and national accounts in the textile, hardware, building materials, electronics, nuclear power and health care markets.