- General

Event Planning: Marketing Local Food

Sponsoring a local food event in your community can not only show your commitment to local growers and food producers, it can be a profitable way to bring together the public and provide needed publicity for your business, charity or municipality. With summer turning to fall, there are many opportunities for event planning such as harvest dinners, farmers markets and late summer festivals. Seasonal events such as these offer many ideas for local food marketing.

A well planned local food event has 3 key elements for success:

  1. Know your event’s theme and stick to it!
  2. Fully promote your event
  3. Stay within Your budget

Know your event’s theme and stick to it!

A consistent presentation of your event’s theme is the key to success. Your theme should be represented by the food served, the décor, the music and the atmosphere. For example, an Autumn Harvest celebration could showcase locally pumpkins, pears and apples in traditional pies and butters. Remembering your purpose is to sell local food, locally grown potatoes, sweet potatoes, squash, and onions should all be displayed as key ingredients in traditional autumn harvest dinners. Having the recipes on hand for customers will encourage them to buy the ingredients and make the dishes at home. Visually appeal to your customers with traditional harvest themed décor with cornstalks, pumpkins, and gourds. High spirited music will round out the event and provide a fun and lively atmosphere.

While this example may seem straightforward, I have been to several events where the presentation was inconsistent and the theme was lost. For example, a hoedown event should not offer music by the local church choir. While the choir may be excellent and the lead singer may be your wife, the tone set by the music is inconsistent with the theme. Your message will be lost in the contradictory presentation and customers may lose interest. By comparison, a well themed event will have your customers talking positively! Word will spread about your event and your local food retail business.

Fully Promote Your Event

A well attended event is a properly promoted event. While a local food event is focused on your community, a properly promoted local food event can bring in new customers from neighboring communities. You should promote your event early, and promote it often!

The first promotional decisions to be made are the name of your local food event, the date and the theme. Once you have made these decisions, go with them and don’t look back! Use this information on every piece of promotional literature printed, on your web site and in your press releases. Also consider selling event merchandise such as t-shirts and tote bags and contact your vendor.

Four to six weeks before the event, start your in-store promotions. Have attractive banners or posters made and prominently display them in key locations around your neighborhood, business district and community centers. If you own a retail business, printing up flyers can be an inexpensive promotional tool that you can slip into every customer’s shopping bag. Clearly state your event information on your flyers or invitations! Here are some avoidable pitfalls which can be taken care of by good planning and proofreading:

  • Your invitation should represent the event. If it’s a party, make sure your invitation or flyer is fun, welcoming and eye-catching!An invitation for one event was mailed to 200+ potential guests in a business envelope. Our guess is that for many, it resembled just another piece of junk mail and it was ignored. Only 30+ people were in attendance.

  • Make it easy for guests to locate your event! An attractive flyer advertising your event is great, but ineffective if it does not include the address where your event is to be held. Including a map on the face of the flyer is an added bonus for your guests. One recently attended event had sub-par attendance because although the many sponsors were noted on the event flyer, the host location was not!

  • If you are sponsoring a benefit event, clearly state the recipient charity or organization on your promotional materials. Even unintentionally misleading your guests can lead to bad press and a poor reputation in your community. At a harvest dinner hosted by an organic farm, a banner clearly stated, “Support your local farmers at [this dinner]” yet proceeds actually went to an international food movement.

  • If you will be selling merchandise at your event, make sure that information is also included in promotional flyers and press releases! Some harvest dinners have a considerable ticket price just to attend. Not realizing there would be merchandise to purchase, many guests did not bring extra cash or credit cards and sales were lost.

Ask neighboring local businesses to put up posters advertising your event. Remember that business your event draws into the community benefits them, too! They will be happy to accommodate your request.

Two to three weeks prior to the event, issue a press release to your local newspaper, and to those in surrounding communities. Ask the newspaper to run this announcement two weeks and one week prior to the event date. Newspapers often have a special Thursday section highlighting upcoming weekend events. This is the best tool to reach those individuals who may never have been in your retail store or your community!

Stay within your Budget

Always remember the purpose of sponsoring a local food event is to make money and to promote your company or organization. While the side benefits of fostering goodwill and encouraging community spirit definitely exist, those elements alone do not keep your doors open!

Costs: The first financial decision to be made is your budget. Your budget should be as detailed as possible, considering the cost of food, entertainment, décor, promotional materials and municipality licenses. Brainstorm with co-workers to capture all the possible costs related to your event, then commit them to paper.

Sales: Next, determine the immediate sales resulting from your event. Will you charge a fee for the entertainment? Are you selling prepared food? Will t-shirts, tote bags or note cards be sold? Tally the expected sales for each resale item and compare it to your costs. Be realistic with your projections – an easy way to forecast sales is to calculate the number of hours the event will take place multiplied by an average number of products you expect to sell in an hour. For example, a four hour event x one t-shirt sold every 10 minutes = 24 t-shirts sold. If your gross margin (sales price less t-shirt cost) is $4.00 per t-shirt, you will earn $96.00 from t-shirt sales to cover other event expenses.

Are your sales covering your costs? If not, don’t start eliminating essentials of your event. Get creative and consider funding options. Contact other local businesses and offer them promotional space at your event in exchange for them helping to supplement entertainment costs. Ask your local printer for free event flyers in exchange for a free advertisement in your store newsletter. Promote a local restaurant in trade for a free on-site chef demonstration. Cross selling is an excellent way to stay within your budget but still offer a fully themed, well sponsored event.

Managing these three elements will provide a proven, successful framework to plan your event. Once the day arrives, have fun and enjoy your own local food event. You worked hard for it!