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How to succeed at virtual trade shows

Trade shows have always been an important way for growing food and beverage brands to network with retail buyers. But due to the pandemic, this year’s events have moved into the virtual realm. The Specialty Food Association kicks off Specialty Food LIVE! on January 19th in lieu of the Fancy Food Show, and NRF 2021 is currently underway in a virtual format.

With any trade event, it’s important to make the most of your experience among thousands of other retailers, distributors, and brands. And while the virtual format may seem like an added challenge, it’s also a unique opportunity. Specialty Food LIVE! was built to help buyers discover brands online, with search functionality by category, channel, diet, or company attributes, a social feed, a virtual booth display, and live online sessions. It also makes it easy for brands to find interested buyers, reach out proactively, and schedule meetings. 

Master all of these tools, and you’ll be able to rock a virtual trade show even more than the in-person event. For advice on how to do that, Crisp spoke with SFA’s VP of Member Development & Outreach, Leo Squatrito, based on his experience at numerous SFA events. 

Come prepared

Just like an in-person event, brands that prepare get the most in return. First, think about your goals for attending the event. Who are you looking to connect with? Compare that to the attendee list so you know who you want to meet. Once you have a game plan, take the time to put together a standout virtual booth. One tip from Leo: don’t fill your booth with an overwhelming display of all the products in your catalog. Brands that surface their new, most relevant, and hottest trending products make a greater impact. You can always show your breadth another way -- on your website or with a PDF catalog, for example. 

You also need to get your whole team prepared. You want your event staff poised to represent your brand, but also to take advantage of the moment. Be sure your reps are trained as power-users on the platform, including finding leads, checking incoming messages, posting on the community feed, and managing performance in the event dashboard.

Stories mean more than samples

If you’ve been to a live trade show, you know that product samples are a big part of the experience. But is that really what helps you land new buyers? “This is a product-driven business, and taste and smell is important in the process,” Leo points out. “But there’s one thing attendees forget: buyers love a great story.” Lead with a compelling narrative about your brand and why it was created, and that will lead to enthusiasm for your product. Leo has seen that this sets brands apart at both in-person and virtual events. Plus, the virtual format is a chance to experiment with visual storytelling more easily than creating costly booth displays. Craft compelling descriptions on your profile page, include captivating images or videos, and create social feed content that makes your brand stand out. “They’re going to know you’re super passionate, and that will translate to your product,” Leo explains.

Virtual is different. Take advantage

We might miss meeting in-person, but there are real advantages to the digital format. One is monitoring and engaging with leads. Rather than having to peek at everyone’s name tag while they sample your product, or give out a business card and follow up after you pack up your booth, the virtual format actually makes lead management easier. You can monitor every buyer who enters the show or checks out your brand, from a “passive lead” who takes a look at your page and clicks away to a “hot lead” who stays to look through your product offerings. You’ll be able to monitor this as it happens and reach out to answer questions or start a conversation.

The types of buyers you meet may differ this year, but that could be a good thing. While you might normally be prepared to meet with food service buyers at trade events, you may find that this year, buyers for specialty or convenience stores are checking out your product. The online format enables a whole new batch of buyers to attend who are specifically interested in specialty food items and could be a strong fit with your product. Take advantage of this opportunity to diversify your distribution.

The best thing about the virtual format? You’re not tied to the booth. At previous events, you couldn’t leave your booth unattended to roam around the Expo Hall, but now you can do two things at once. Check out other booth displays, proactively find leads, and explore partnership opportunities with other brands -- you’ll be notified if any leads approach your booth at the same time. This actually helps you get more out of the event’s timeline. Plus, with the online portal open 24/7, buyers have more time to explore. When you start your day in the morning, you may have a list of buyers who checked out your booth overnight.

Crisp is a proud sponsor of Specialty Food LIVE! A data analytics platform, Crisp allows food brands and retailers to stay ahead of rapidly evolving consumer behavior, identify potential supply chain disruptions, track inventory, and measure product performance. Contact us for a demo of our business insights dashboard and be sure to connect with the Crisp team at our virtual booth. 

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Crisp uses the power of the cloud to connect and analyze all of your data sources in real-time, providing you with the most meaningful insights and trends for your business. When you know exactly what’s in store, you can keep shelves stocked and customers happy while skyrocketing profitability.

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