Best in Show

One thing I noticed at this year’s FMI convention was that austerity is in. For the most part, gone were the big pavilion-style booths that many of the Fortune 100 firms once showcased, along with the full-size portions they once sampled.

There were a few booths that did stand out. With its delivery truck dispensing ice cream sundaes, the Hershey booth proved a popular stop. Ditto the Coca-Cola and Budweiser booths.

One of the more unusual “show stopper” booths was the one on the United Fresh side belonging to Nature Fresh Farms. That company reconstructed an actual hydroponic tomato greenhouse to show retailers what sets their vine tomatoes apart from field-grown counterparts. It was complete with six-foot tall fruit-bearing tomato vines, a drip irrigation system and even a hive of live bees to demonstrate how the plants are pollinated.

However, the one booth that really caught my attention belonged to Sid Wainer & Son, a specialty produce and specialty foods distributor based in New Bedford, Mass. Set up on the perimeter of the show floor, near the moribund Inter-Bev beverage show area, the classiness and attractiveness of this booth helped it really stand out from its neighbors who were basically card tables and a banner or two.

Sid Wainer & Son actually built a specialty store showcasing all of its wares—complete with box-crate type fixtures, wooden tables, wood-and-glass shop doors and even canvas awnings. The company’s various jars of marinades, sauces, jellies, herbs and spices were all displayed around this store and sampled from white ceramic bowls. Plants and bowls of produce were interspersed throughout the stand to give it that “country store feel” including a flat of an unusual type of radish poking above the soil.

When asked about the booth, company president Dr. Henry B. Wainer said the store was modeled after a favorite shop of his in the Latin Quarter of Paris. “We wanted to take everyone out of this big steel building where the show is and take them to a warm, passionate place where things smell good and taste good,” he said.

And he did just that.

Sid Wainer & Son’s booth stood out so much from the competition that I thought it deserved an award. Perhaps next year FMI could start a “best in show” competition and have a team of judges go around and rate the booths and award the outstanding ones with a blue ribbon (and knock off a couple of hundred dollars off of the next year’s booth as an extra incentive). That might encourage manufacturers to go back to putting creativity into their booths and create some positive buzz around the show. There could be awards for best new booth, best equipment booth, best technology booth and so on and so on. That might get people to actually pay more attention to the booths and vendors at the show. Perhaps attendees could even vote on which booth they liked the best for a special award. I am sure a “best samples” award would draw thousands of entries.

FMI should take a page from my favorite Christmas special—A Charlie Brown Christmas—where Snoopy decorated his dog house to “win Money! Money! Money! In the colossal neighborhood lights and display contest.”

Snoopy won. And by rewarding creativity FMI might be able to do so too.

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