Trade Shows, Farmers Markets, and Fairs…Oh My!

Our company still consists of all family members and we split up the jobs of farming, sales, marketing, packaging, & distribution.  Growing this small family business has been a blast and our best sales pitch to date has always been to simply get someone to taste the oil.  We are proud of the unique and elaborate packaging and design but we always say it tastes as good as it looks.  Getting a following and people to taste the oil often involves setting up tasting booths which leads me to this topic.

Our Flight of Oils

At first glance it seems our yearly calendar has something on nearly every weekend of the year.  Our family trades off who attends the events and many of them are attended by all of us as a group.  From the Paso Robles Olive Oil Festival to the San Francisco Fancy Food show all the way down to our local Lodi Spring Wine Show and St. Marys Italian Olive Oil Festival; just to name a few.  Each event has its own flavor and along with that, its own idiosyncrasies.  We have met many great vendors traveling acts and olive oil families on the road, as well as many interesting and intriguing customers.  Learning event or market etiquette has also been a hoot and at times eye opening.  Learning things such as the fact that homeless vagrants will eat all of your bread before the market even opens if you have it displayed  early have been mistakes we have made a few times.

Paso Robles Olive Oil Festival

The last hour of wine tasting events always draw a long line to our Calivirgin booth as well.  “Why”, you might ask?  Because we often have the only food available at that hour.  Watching purple toothed people hold each other up while grabbing handfuls of bread is comical; however, it is often in this last hour of wine events that we have most of our sales as well!

Setting up and taking down these elaborate displays is always a rat race.  Each event has strict and sometimes unique rules for what you need to have, how you can display, and how to take down.  Trying to balance displaying all of your products as uniquely and appealing as possible with ease of taking it all down and getting home as fast as you can is the quandary.  To avoid repacking cases of unsold products and hauling them away, we quickly learned that trading products is often vendor practice at these events,  especially large events such as the San Francisco Fancy Food Show.  A certain family member of ours has a hard time saying no to said proposed

San Francisco Fancy Food Show

trades .  This last year I think we went home with an elaborate box of chocolates, some coffee flavored tea, a huge wheel of brie cheese the size of a basketball, truffle sea salt, Madeleines/Brownie Bites/&Palmiers from Sugar Bowl, and a package of macaroni pasta that was supposed to be animal shaped but looked a little more phallic than the package suggested.  I’m not sure the theory of going home lighter works in our case but if you are looking for a group of suckers who will trade a $15-$30 bottle of oil for a pair of mint flavored chopsticks swing by our booth!

If you have ever sold products or worked a booth at a farmers market, trade show or expo you know the expression, “people say the darndest things.”  Recently over dinner our family was reminiscing about some of the classic one-liners we have heard over the years working countless display/tasting booths and it got me thinking about sharing some of them.  My apologies in advance if you remember giving me material for this piece; believe me when I say that it is often phrases like these that make the long hours of a market or show bearable at times.

While keeping in mind that the majority of patrons who taste test our products seem to genuinely enjoy them (or at least they are really good fakers), there are from time to time people who express their distaste.  I’m not afraid to admit it; if you are in the food industry and you say that you have never had a negative comment then you are a liar and I don’t care if you are giving away ice cream topped with $100 bills.  Someone, somewhere, sometime will blow you away and complain or offer a suggestion on how it could be better.  This is in part why these events are so much fun.  I truly enjoy interacting with people and the anticipation of the facial expressions or reactions they get when they are about to taste our oils or vinegars are almost like a mini adrenaline rush.  Again, don’t get me wrong; I could go on and on with positive quotes or reviews from chefs, aficionados, foodies or the occasional Sunday stroller but today I wanted to add a little humor.  Now for some one-liners!

“Your olive oil is fantastic but it looks like shampoo” –Referring to our bottle.  We have had a few people say it looks like perfume too!  I usually laugh and add that it is actually a French cognac bottle.  I’ve had a few, “cognac huh, looks like perfume to me”

One lady tasted every product we had.  All of our balsamics, our extra virgin olive oil and all of our crushed flavored olive oils and then plainly looked at us and said she didn’t like any of them. (Kind of bold but fair enough right? I appreciate the honesty)  Then about two hours later she came by and bought two bottles.  I really wanted to ask if we were to be included on some “things not to buy” list but resisted.

Our Calivinegar balsamic and our Premium Calivirgin olive oil were in dishes side by side and after tasting both of them, one lady told us that she “Liked the black olive oil way better than the light gold olive oil.”

Most people who taste fresh extra virgin olive oil can’t believe how much flavor it has.  They are used to the rancid and sometimes refined garbage they typically buy and didn’t realize how fresh olive oil is supposed to taste so we get a lot of feedback on this.  Taste descriptors such as a grassy taste or fruity are often discussed.  Some people swear we have added something to the oil to add taste. “You put bananas in there don’t you!” I have been told.

Calibody Skin care made with Calivirgin Olive Oil

At a few events, (usually wine tasting events) we have turned our back for a second and then returned to find someone (usually a guy, sorry guys) with a spoon eating our samples of Calibody hand moisturizing cream made with olive oil.  I guess with fragrances like Cucumber Melon and Lemon Pound Cake it can be sort of suggestive but I am pretty sure the last guy ate Cool Rain.  He seemed to enjoy it and I didn’t have the heart to embarrass him.

– Author Mike Coldani

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One thought on “Trade Shows, Farmers Markets, and Fairs…Oh My!

  1. Reblogged this on Tagami Food, Wine & Travel and commented:
    In 1982 I attended my first SF Fancy Food Show in Brooks Hall, and in the past 30 years have probably trod thousands of miles of industrial carpet past 10,000s of exhibition stands (or booths as we Americans call them). During my peak travel years I might walk 12 trade show floors in 10 different cities located in six different countries in a ten month period.

    You learn to walk quickly, your eyes sweeping from left to right 15 feet ahead to catch the sight of something new. We didn’t always buy shelf goods, we developed product; which means that we were at shows to find manufacturers we could work with in the future. [Only then would we enter a stand and start a discussion].

    Trade show were primarily for sourcing…factory visits were for development.

    Unless this sounds mechanical, let me add that trade shows were (and are) also reunions where producers, former colleagues and other veterans greet in mid-stride with a European cheek kiss — mostly two sides, sometimes three, but never just one — and stride on with an exuberant wave and a cheery, “we must catch up”.

    Deals are made, referrals given, and old ties renewed. It was with great pleasure that I read Mike Coldani’s account of his trade show experience — one from inside the booth. Please enjoy!

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