It was the company’s biggest-ever and best-ever food show, said Thom Lipari, president of Warren, Michigan-based Lipari Foods.
“We’ve been doing this since the late 1980s, and this show had the most booths, the most customers attended, and when the final numbers come in, we’re pretty sure it will be the highest-value show that we’ve had in our history,” he told The Shelby Report’s Geoff Welch. “There were 680 booths, and close to 700 or 800 exhibitors, because some have a couple of different vendors in them.”
A party held the night before the April 26 show in Novi was well attended, too, with somewhere between 1,500-2,000 people gathering to have a good time and catch up with industry friends. It started out several years ago as a small event for customers coming into Detroit from out of town.
“It gives people in our industry a chance to talk to people that maybe they don’t see all the time and really sets the tone for the show,” Lipari said. “It gets everybody in a good mood.”
But the big event is the show itself. That’s where customers get in front of vendors to learn about new products, negotiate some good deals and “hopefully pick up some extra margin,” Lipari said.
“But most importantly, they get to see what’s going on in the industry and what’s new this year,” he said. “It’s really a win-win for everybody. It’s a great situation for customers, because they get new items and special deals. It’s great for vendors, because they get to talk to thousands of customers in one day in one location. It’s wonderful for us because it helps us drive volume up and helps us make our customers stronger.”
Specialty grocers more popular than ever
Natural and organic sales continue to grow as the eating habits of the consumer have shifted to cleaner products across all categories, but organics, in particular, still can be pricey. The industry has to adapt, Lipari said.
“I think that’s where we’re at right now as far as the grocery industry. We’re really making a change to better-for-you types of foods,” he said. “That’s what the younger consumer is looking for, that’s what they’re expecting, and you’re seeing that trend throughout the whole food chain.”
Lipari Foods’ niche is the perimeter of the store, and that is a good place to be. Its advantage is offering something different to “even the bigger guys.”
“The big wholesalers do a great job selling groceries and Campbell’s soup and Tide soap and that kind of product,” Lipari said. “We do a good job of dealing with perishables, new trends, new items. We can offer an expertise that’s very difficult for big (wholesalers) and their warehouses to do, so that’s what we’re really focused on.”
The big-box is giving way to specialty grocery stores, and that is the customer Lipari Foods is focused on. National brands are giving way to local and specialty foods, and that is where Lipari Foods shines, he said.
“The grocery industry gets a lot of bad press and you know that there’s not much growth and all this different competition coming in, but if you see the excitement around the type of products we sell and the enthusiasm from our customer, I really believe our industry is doing really well,” Lipari said. “It’s changing. It’s adjusting. It’s not going to be the same as it was 20 years ago, but it’s alive and well and it’s growing. Our future is going to be very bright because we’re out on the leading edge of that type of product.”