Adrian Beale is the Co-Founder of Buckley & Beale, the importer, exporter and distributor of ambient, speciality food and drink. We caught up with him to get the inside track on how he makes the most of Speciality & Fine Food Fair. Read on for some insider intel!

Speciality & Fine Food Fair is one of some six or seven UK and overseas shows Adrian visits each year on discovery missions for the customers Buckley & Beale serves.

“Shows are crucial to our business, as we have to know what's going on in the industry. We may not buy anything, but our customers – mainly retailers, including Selfridges, Marks & Spencer, Ocado, Wholefoods and Lakeland, expect us to know what's new,” he explains.

Before arriving at an event, Adrian contacts existing customers to establish if they are also visiting and what kinds of products they are looking for. “If I don’t do this, it’s quite easy to be sidetracked by products that we might like, but not have a customer for. We learned a long time ago never to assume what a customer might say yes or no to!”

To ensure his time is productive, Adrian’s approach on the day is to start at one wall, working side-to-side, and as a general rule to avoid making appointments because “you can end up being pulled in different directions and that’s when entire aisles can get missed, let alone individual stands”.

His key advice for fair exhibitors is for them to pay as close attention to their displays as they do to their product packaging: “Stands that attract my attention are those that are simple, clear, clean (this is food after all!), not pushy (all buyers I know hate that), and one that has had some thought put into it and not just thrown together at the last minute. For the second or two that I'm walking past, the stand is effectively doing the same job as a product on the shelf to a customer walking through a shop.” However, he also advises producers not to fall into the trap of overly expensive or contrived stands: “It's the product that needs to stand out, not the stand,” he says.

Untitled 1

When it comes to the products themselves, Adrian stresses that “great” packaging is a must: “Without great shelf presence, a product is almost certain to be rejected by both our trade customers and then by the public, even if it does get listed somewhere.” When he does spot something interesting, he’ll stop to ask for pricing, current stockist information and whether they need or want to work with a wholesaler. “A professional retail buyer will probably also want to know about case sizes, minimum orders, exclusivity, how they can purchase (direct or via a wholesaler), and marketing support such as sampling programmes.” And he points out that any product selections will also be in line with the retailer’s shoppers’ expectations. “Qualification is one of the golden rules of selling. Find out exactly what the customer wants, and then hopefully you can show it to them. Try and avoid going straight into a full pitch if you can. Obviously, you’ll have to answer any questions posed by potential buyers, but don’t be frightened to ask questions back about their category and what is or isn’t working for them. We rarely pitch anything to our customers without knowing first if it's right for them or not, at least in principle,” he stresses, “as that way we’re likely to hear ‘yes’ more often than ‘no’.”

So, what’s likely to turn him off? “Probably best not to get me started - I have an ever-growing list, but open stands with a row of ‘security guards’ standing in front of the products are a definite turn off. Poor hygiene control, clutter, and dis-interested staff (stop texting!) are also heading into room 101.”

Here’s a re-cap of Adrian’s top tips to help producers make the Fair work for them:

  • Put time and thought into your display – and make sure it’s clean!
  • Don’t block the view of your products by standing in front of them
  • Look interested and approachable
  • Try to understand what it's like from the buyer’s point of view
  • Don’t try to force brochures and samples onto them or expect them to leave contact details
  • Sell yourself and your business as one that's credible, reliable, and one retailers want to do business with. Have your answers ready and be confident
  • Go to a show as a visitor and see what you notice, both good and bad - you'll soon spot what not to do

Interested in exhibiting at the Fair? Find out more here.