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If you love chocolate as much as I do, then Food Fête Chocolat — our first press event devoted exclusively to premium chocolate — was the place to be last Thursday, Nov. 10 in New York City.

Having produced 17 Food Fête events since 2005, this one ranks in my top three personal favorites in terms of overall excitement, energy and engagement between the food press and chocolate brands. Not only was it a fun event to produce, it was rewarding to see unfold, prompting media to comment about the chocolatiers’ passion for their craft (making it very educational), with some media telling me it was one of their best chocolate event experiences.  I also observed a lot of note-taking at this event.

Fourteen exhibitors and about 85 food journalists and bloggers came together to share their knowledge and learn about all things chocolate (modern and even historical), some of the challenges facing cacao growers and, of course, sample lots of amazing chocolate bars, truffles and bonbons from around the world.

There was also no shortage of unique flavor combinations, with Madison Chocolatiers West’s black garlic truffle generating a lot of buzz. Lindt’s Excellence Intense Cranberry bar also created a nice chocolate and fruit combination for the holidays, though it’s available year-round. For the professional chocolatier as well as home confections enthusiast, Truffly Made showed their latest silicone truffle molds, which make truffle production a lot easier. David Lurie Sun Cups, which makes a line of organic, gluten-free and nut-free chocolate candies, had virtually nothing left on their table by the close of the event.  Not a bad way to end the evening.

There was far too much to comment on individually, but it’s safe to say that nothing failed to deliver.

Our 2011 Food Fête Chocolat exhibitors included:

Amano Artisan Chocolate
American Heritage Chocolate, Distributed by the Historic Division of Mars, Inc.
Chuao Chocolatier
David Lurie Sun Cups
Divine Chocolate
Fine Chocolate Industry Association
Gail Ambrosius Chocolatier
Gnosis Chocolate
Hotel Chocolat
KALLARI
Lindt
The Madison Chocolatiers West
Truffly Made, Inc.
Valrhona

An impressive roster of high-level food writers from top food and lifestyle media outlets were on hand, including All You, Bloomberg Businessweek, Brides, Dessert Professional, Epicurious.com, Every Day with Rachael Ray, Food Network, FoodNetwork.com, Food Network Magazine, Food & Wine Online, Grocery Headquarters, Health Magazine, Huffington Post, Martha Stewart Living, Men’s Health, O The Oprah Magazine, Prevention, TheNibble.com, Woman’s Day and Woman’s World, among others, plus an assortment of bloggers and freelance writers anxious to discover what’s new in chocolate.

As bloggers often do, some began sharing their experiences right away, which you can read below.  I’ll update this list as new posts and/or articles are published.

  • HeyDoYou.com (lots of great exhibitor photos in this post!)

Finally, here are some pics from the event (photos: Michael Harger, Jeff Davis)

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It’s sometimes hard to wrap my head around the fact that Food Fête is seven years old.  Food Fête is the single longest “job” I’ve ever had, though I don’t look at it that way at all.

It’s more like a baby I’m still nurturing.

What started in 2005 as a curious idea about how to combine my PR background with a personal interest in food and the culinary arts, has grown into a mainstay event of the food PR industry. We’ve been fortunate to showcase products from many start-up brands alongside the major brands that occupy coveted supermarket shelf space. I’m also humbled by the level of national food media who continue to attend each year.

Yep, there have been some missteps. I’m still trying to forget the summer of 2007 when the venue’s air conditioning broke on a blistering July day, and all I did was apologize for two hours.  Then there’s the wannabe media “party crashers” who apparently will do almost anything to get in just for free stuff.  Ask me sometime about the guy we had to chase down the back stairs and onto the street after sneaking in and stealing a gift bag.

The good news is that lessons learned from these “incidents” have made the event better with each passing year, and I recognize there’s always more to learn.

In looking back at that first NY Food Fête event, we had 26 exhibitors. Today, that number has doubled, along with the media attendance.  My challenges continue to be how to keep things fresh, which I believe we’ve accomplished this spring with our new health-focused events and the new all-chocolate Food Fête coming up this November.

I’ve also been working on some “back burner” ideas that I’m ready to bring to the front in 2012, and hope the industry continues to respond favorably to what we do.

With our big summer media event in New York City just three weeks away, we’re on track for another record event. This is the first year we’ve not framed Food Fête around the Summer Fancy Food Show, which has moved to Washington, D.C. for the next two years.

That connection has become less and less important for Food Fête, as food brands and PR agencies continue to find value in what we do, and keep coming back, regardless of whether they are participating in that industry show.

They say a 7-year itch is when people begin re-evaluating their relationship. My 7-year relationship with Food Fête is just fine, thank you, but that’s not to say I’m not itching to keep creating something new and different.

Keep watching.

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(UPDATED 3/30/11)

NOTE: Some early blog coverage has already been posted, and I’ll keep updating this list as I find event round-ups or coverage of specific products.

MyLifeOnandOffTheGuestList: http://bit.ly/dEhLNi
GlutenFreeMike.com: http://bit.ly/gVefqE
Gluten-Free Fun: http://bit.ly/gpxur6
HeyDoYou.com: http://heydoyou.com/food-fete
Refresh (Supermarket News blog) http://bit.ly/fDAt88
Kafi Drexel of NY1 News (via Facebook): http://on.fb.me/f74BNc
Brooklyn Allergy Mom: http://bit.ly/gAZWbJ

The first of our new health-focused Food Fête events took place last night in New York City, focusing exclusively on allergen-free foods.

Allergies and intolerances to foods that contain gluten, dairy, eggs, tree nuts, peanuts, soy (and more) affect a growing number of Americans who are always on the lookout for foods they can safely eat. The idea behind this event was to bring together a collection of such products to help educate writers and bring attention to a food-related health issue that doesn’t appear to be going away any time soon.

Given the product niche, this Food Fête was more intimate than most of our events — showcasing products from 14 companies. Dominating the product offering were a variety of gluten-free baked goods including cookies, breads and snacks. Pasta Prima introduced two very delicious raviolis, the first gluten-free ravioli to hit the market.

A few companies, including Chobani Greek Yogurt and Lucini Italia, focused new attention on existing products that are naturally gluten-free, giving allergy-sensitive consumers options they might not have otherwise considered, given these products are not specifically marketed to people with Celiac disease.

The National Peanut Board, which at first glance might raise some eyebrows as to why they’d be included among a collection of allergen-free foods, delivered the message that while some experience peanut allergies, peanuts and products made from peanut flour are gluten-free and widely consumed by Celiacs.  Finally, General Mills was on hand not only to promote their line of gluten-free cereals and snack foods, they recently launched GlutenFreely.com to provide consumer education on living with Celiac disease.

Profiles of all the participating companies can be found at www.foodfetepress.wordpress.com.

More than 40 food writers and bloggers interested in this specific product category were treated to some totally new products from companies they had not heard of as well as those from several familiar brands.  Food blogger and author Sloane Miller (a.k.a. Allergic Girl) also signed complementary copies of her new book “Allergic Girl,” set to hit stores in a week or so.

I’d like to extend a huge thanks to the participating companies and all the writers who came out last night.

Next up for us is our “Healthy Foods for Kids” press event on April 28 in New York.

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It has been so long since I posted here, it’s almost embarrassing.  But a lot of good things have been happening over the past few months to keep me busy.

A quick recap.

We partnered with BlogHer to produce a special Food Fête event during their 2nd annual BlogHer Food Conference in October in San Francisco.  It was a big success with more than 230 food bloggers — all BlogHer Food conference attendees — stopping by to see new products and mingle with food producers.

Next, our regular winter Food Fête event, scheduled for January 17 in San Francisco, officially sold out yesterday, marking the earliest we’ve ever hit that milestone.  In fact, we’re already pre-selling exhibitor tables for some of the new health-focused events coming in 2011, which is also very encouraging.

Read all about our event plans for 2011 here.

So, what does all this tell me?

Food Fête, which turns seven in 2011, has been very fortunate to have not been negatively affected by the tough economy of the past couple of years.  In fact, our business has never been stronger, experiencing year-to-year growth.  I see this trend continuing into 2011, as evidenced by the early interest among food companies already contracted to participate in our events next year — some of which are more than six months away.

I’ve said this before, but I am continually humbled by how the specialty food industry, public relations agencies and the food media have supported Food Fête. We continually strive to create better events by learning from our mistakes, staying on top of what’s happening in the industry and operating our business from a position of integrity and delivering value.

Keep up with our progress by following us on Twitter at @foodfete and “like” our Facebook page.

Happy holidays!

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I’m very excited about what’s been keeping me busy for the past couple of months–namely, pulling together our 2011 event schedule, which I’m happy to announce includes three completely new events, each focused on a specific health issue.

Here’s a link to the official press release: http://pitch.pe/84484

Since 2005, Food Fête has produced two press events annually — one in January in San Francisco, and the other in June in NYC — each timed alongside that big trade show known for “fancy” foods (Disclaimer: Their lawyers prefer I refrain from mentioning their name).  The one exception was last fall when I added a regional food event by taking a small collection of artisanal food products from Oregon to New York, which press attendees loved by the way.

That got me thinking.

Healthy eating and foods aimed at specific health conditions are flooding the pages of food magazines and blog posts, so maybe it’s time to create a platform for products that address specific health issues.  So, that’s what we’re doing. While we’ll continue producing our annual January and June events next year, we’re adding three new health-focused events in New York City, which will showcase:

  • food products for people with food allergies
  • healthy foods for kids
  • glycemic-friendly foods for diabetics

If you follow the specialty food industry, you probably already know the aforementioned food trade show is temporarily moving from New York City to Washington, D.C. in 2011 and 2012.  Based on my informal research with NYC-based media who regularly attend our events, there’s a good chance many won’t make the trip to D.C. due to tight work schedules and travel budgets.

That’s why our flagship summer event will remain in New York City for 2011 and 2012.  The San Francisco event is already scheduled for Monday, Jan. 17, 2011, and we’re still finalizing the date for the New York event in June.  By the way, our January and June events will not be themed, and open to all product categories.

If you’ve done the math, that means Food Fête is producing five events in 2011.

A couple of other changes are also in store for next year, which I’m anticipating could get mixed reviews.  First, we’re saying goodbye to the media gift bag as you’ve come to know it.  We’re a very lean operation, and given our expansion plans, I must commit every resource to producing the most meaningful events possible.  That means not spending time and manpower managing the logistics of receiving hundreds of cases of food products, then sorting and stuffing 175 bags in a matter of hours.

As Food Fête has grown, so have the challenges of creating the gift bag.  This past summer, we even tried outsourcing the gift bag assembly to a fulfillment house.  It sounded good on paper, but in trying to accommodate far too many exhibitors who missed the fulfillment shipping/delivery deadline, what should have been a time and resource-saver turned into, well, let’s just say the opposite of that.

I’m the first to recognize the sample distribution component of the gift bag is important to companies without the resources to do it themselves, so I am looking into alternatives that meet the same objectives, but without physically creating a bag.

For the past two summers, the gift bag has actually grown into two bags, which the media have commented are heavy and  cumbersome to deal with as they leave our venue.  We’re also attracting a growing number of perishable products at our events, which obviously cannot be added to the bag, so “schwag” gets substituted in their place — something I don’t want the gift bag to become.

On the positive side, exhibitors and their agencies will no longer have to deal with the cost and hassle of shipping cases of product, hoping it arrives on time and in tact — because sometimes it doesn’t.

We’re also eliminating the “Networking Level” participation option.  We typically have only a few participate at that level each event, and after evaluating the pros and cons, I’ve decided it no longer supports our growth strategy.  Since we’re eliminating the gift bag, the stand-alone, gift bag-only option is also gone.

My hope is all the positive changes will outweigh any perceived negative ones, and that everyone is looking forward to our new health focus in 2011. The media have already indicated they’ll support multiple themed events, so we’re anticipating a record year.

The 2011 event brochure will be available soon, at which time we’ll also be accepting applications for all of next year’s events.

Use the comments section to tell us what you think about our plans for 2011.

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I know I’ve been remiss in updating here, but the good news is I’ve been busy working on a new event with the wonderful women from BlogHer.

We’re co-producing a product showcase that doubles as the “Welcome Party” during the second annual BlogHer Food Conference (the conference is already sold out), taking place Oct. 8-9 in San Francisco.  Our event is from 6:30-9 pm on Friday, Oct. 8, where we will host up to 25 artisanal food and beverage companies.

Here’s a link to the release: http://pitch.pe/82721.

This event is slightly different from our “regular” Food Fete events in that it’s only open to BlogHer Food Conference attendees — about 300 food bloggers from across the U.S.  Because bloggers usually work independently and are so geographically dispersed, it’s not everyday that companies get a chance to meet this many food bloggers in one location, so we believe this is a pretty unique opportunity.

The sponsorship fee for a table to sample products is $2,000, and we’re already 50% sold out, so contact me if you’re interested in getting involved.

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It’s hard not to be just a little proud when food writer after food writer goes out of their way to tell me this was the best Food Fête yet.

Especially when I happen to agree.

Despite a little rain around the time Food Fête opened its doors Monday night, nearly 140 food journalists and food bloggers attended our sixth annual Food Fête event in New York on Monday to meet with our 55 exhibitors — record numbers on both fronts.  Particularly rewarding was when some of the most prominent names in food journalism walked through the door.

On hand were writers/producers from Food & Wine, O the Oprah Magazine, The New York Times, Food Network, CNN Eatocracy (CNN’s new food blog), Martha Stewart Living, Ladies’ Home Journal, Better Homes & Gardens, CBS Sunday Morning, Huffington Post, CoolHunting.com, Epicurious.com, AOL/Slashfood, Family Circle, Real Simple, Parade, Parents, Woman’s Day, Woman’s World, Dessert Professional and TheNibble.com, to name a few.

Metrics aside, I believe the vibe and energy of the room made this particular Food Fête memorable. Among the comments from editors were how friendly, energetic and professional the exhibitors were; how we assembled a really strong mix of companies; and how Food Fete continues to be their favorite food event of the year (okay, I never get tired of hearing that.)

Some very early coverage has started to pop up, and I will update this listing in the coming days and weeks:

You can also read what some of our media attendees and exhibitors had to say by following the #FoodFete Twitter stream.

2011 will be a year of significant expansion for Food Fête, but I can’t reveal those details just yet.

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