The Tea & Coffee World Cup Exhibition and Symposium occurred in Hamburg, Germany September 11-13, 2005. It was a gathering of 55 internationally renowned speakers, 250 world-class exhibitors and over 7,000 visitors. Leading trade organizations attended such as The International Coffee Association (ICO), The Italian National Espresso Institute (INEI), and the Specialty Coffee Association of Europe (SCAE). This is a venue at which tea, coffee and foodservice experts from all over the world meet to exchange ideas, buy and sell products, maintain a competitive eye on the competition, and view new, innovative products. It is, therefore, an excellent venue for U.S. food and beverage companies to identify ways to differentiate themselves from the competition.
Despite an impressive gathering of experts and leading worldwide companies, there was very little originality or creativity at this event, the 8th Tea and Coffee Trade Journal World Cup. Perhaps because the event took place in Hamburg, a traditional free port city that has been importing and trading coffee, tea and other commodities for centuries, most of the products and machinery looked like déjà vu all over again. There was a serious dearth of new products, machines and methodologies for foodservice operators and consumers alike. One exasperated European foodservice distributor remarked to me; “There was nothing new at the whole show!”
There was, however, plenty of information available at the show (as opposed to innovation). There was the usual cocktail reception, delegate briefings, symposia, barista competition, coffee grinding equipment, and coffee and tea certification classes. It was an excellent venue to learn about the technicalities and nuances of the tea and coffee industry.
Unfortunately for those of us seeking creativity, innovation and novel product / packaging ideas, the tea and coffee industry is thousands of years old!
Innovation is King
People are always looking to attach themselves to a “rising star.” The same holds true in the foodservice industry. No matter if they are in Europe, Asia or North America, foodservice distributors, operators and retailers are all seeking innovation in product offering. They want to distinguish themselves from competition, market an “exclusive” product, or introduce a new item. If they do not offer new items, they are forced to rely on the same off-invoice promotions, sales incentives, and other marketing gimmicks.
U.S. food and beverage companies are the worldwide leaders in innovation and inspiring new products. Have you ever wondered why so many foreign visitors attend U.S. foodservice trade shows? For example, the National Restaurant Association trade show boasts visitors from over 100 countries, and its Exhibit Guide is printed in Spanish, French, Japanese, German, Italian, and English. These visitors are coming in droves to see innovative new U.S. products, without which their business languishes. They are the modern foodservice equivalent of a nomad thirsting for water in a desert.
How to Differentiate Your Company
Innovation comes in many formats. Some of the most successful and creative products have taken an existing product (or service) and made a slight improvement. Think about suitcases with wheels. Lots of companies spend time trying to invent a totally new and different concept, which sometimes pays off. The most successful and profitable companies focus on developing products that provide the consumer with a tangible benefit or a useful feature. Innovative products fill a gap that the consumer/end-user may not even have identified as a need or want. In most instances, our customers do not inform us what they want from us in terms of new products or concepts. They leave that to us to figure out.
You can differentiate your company and products by understanding your consumer/end-user, walking in their shoes, and offering a “solution” to their major business obstacles. As suppliers to the foodservice industry, our customers are serving consumers on a regular basis. How can we help them attract new customers, increase their average checks, lower their per serving costs, retain key employees, and a host of other issues facing foodservice operators today? By answering this question, and delivering a truly unique and innovative product or service, you will distinguish your company from the competition.
–Peter M. Guyer
Peter M. Guyer is the Founder and President of ATHENA MARKETING INTERNATIONAL (athenaintl.com), an international marketing, consulting and business development firm serving food and beverage manufacturers. Tel. (206) 749-9255.