Tom Loughran, Vice President/General Manager, IRFSNY Show
For nearly 20 years of his career in trade shows, Tom Loughran has an insightful perspective on the coming changes for the food industry in New York as well as the rest of the country for 2020
Surrounded by the culinary industry, Tom Loughran has noted the continual trends he’s observed as emerging for the current year and shares his wisdom for restaurants and foodservice professionals to harness the power of trade shows for greater business success.
You’ve had a couple of years now to lead the IRFSNY Show in NYC. Can we get your thoughts on how it has evolved?
Since I’ve joined the show team 2-1/2 years ago the show is dramatically different. I mean the first thing that we’ve done is we acquired Coffee Fest. And introduced our healthy eating section. The synergy that coffee creates is amazing. Every foodservice operator is in the coffee business because it is at the top of the profit center opportunity for every operator. Our show really focuses on helping the operator understand the ins and outs of roasting beans and then finding that very specific machine for their operation. Think about how many times you have been to decent or above restaurant from a food standpoint only to be disappointed with a low quality cup of coffee. Shopping Coffee Fest makes finding the right coffee strategy a breeze.
What else has led to maximizing the experience for your exhibitor base?
Again our ability to generate quality leads for our exhibitors has grown tremendously. As we look at this success, much of it is in fact the ability to have the Coffee Fest buyer walk and shop the restaurant show. We have also worked diligently to convert to a paid model that delivered a much higher quality buyer to our exhibitors’ booths.
We’ve been very focused on quality of buyers and then that’s something that will we focus on and will continue to drive new partnerships with organizations to drive more buyers to the show. It gives special access to the show for that quality buyer. Keep in mind that if we flip the discussion, many coffee shops and c-stores now see a valuable new revenue stream so they are now very focused on food. Our show gives the coffee shop operator the opportunity to shop like the restaurants do.
How has the show evolved for the attendee?
One thing attendees will see is the continued growth of food exhibitors on the show floor. With our Taste of New York and NFTE section and the Healthy Food Expo, our attendees are asking us for more food and we have worked hard to deliver that.
As your base of food exhibitors grows on the floor, how do you avoid comparison with the Specialty/Fancy Food show in June?
The SFA is a great show but much of it is grocery and gourmet product. The big difference is that we have everything from A-Z. You walk into a restaurant from kitchen to software, our show has it.
Can you talk about some of the equipment supply innovation that attendees can expect to see on the show floor?
That has been a significant accomplishment for us. We understand the important role that the equipment dealer plays in the local foodservice community. Many of the largest dealers, Singer/M.Tucker, Roger and Sons, and Sam Tell all look at this show as a crucial piece of their yearly marketing plan. They love the show because it gives the direct access to an end-user operator that is so vital to their success.
Can you can you explain why it’s still important to make the effort to come to a show rather than just shopping online?
Besides the fact that when it comes to food you can’t taste something on the internet, people still feel the need to connect. There’s simply nothing more valuable than seeing your current customers or a prospect face to face. People still have the desire to come together as an industry. We know the internet has become important in foodservice. But with our show you get to see and touch a number of different solutions for anything you are trying to solve on our show floor. When you get to touch and feel a piece of equipment, you can get a sense of the level of quality that you simply can’t get online. Exhibitors love it, because we have an aggressive show special program that enables them to sell on the floor. I think the internet is great for reordering a product you have shown on our floor.
This show of all the shows that we ever covered has done the most amazing job of showcasing what’s new. How have you maintained that culture?
You can’t manufacture that. It is something that happens organically through the exhibitors driven by who’s launching products. This show has always been a great starting point for either new companies that are introducing product or existing brands that use our show to debut their latest, and want additional exposure. Again we have our New Product Showcase and our show specials that drive the “What’s New” theme. We know it’s a major reason why people come to the show.
What special events do you have planned for this year’s show?
The special events we have every year are lead by the Torch Award. It’s really about a philanthropic award for people that support the industry. This year it’s going to PS kitchen and that’s part of the mission is donating 100 percent of profits to sustainable charitable work locally and overseas. We will be presenting our Beacon Award to Allison Kave and Keavy Landreth. They both serve on the Council for Women In Food Service. We will have our Rapid Fire dessert competition and a bartender Hip-Sip event that features cocktails with coffee. Our Centerstage will once again feature several top chefs including Chris Jackal, Alex Guarnaschelli and Mark Forgione. Once again, our workshops will be highlighted by the Restaurant Coach David Scott Peters, as well as workshops on recruiting and keeping your staff. There’s also a complete educational track that deals with everything from employees and staffing to social media marketing and operational excellence.
Once again your exhibitors are dealing with your attendees exhibitors are dealing with a host of issues everything from the banning of Foie Gras and plastic bags to paper straws. How can the show help the attendee plan or respond to those issues?
We gear our education program to focus on key issues go on We’ve created a simple website to easily access all the titles for our sessions. We work hard to stay on top of what the hottest issues are in the restaurant food service industry, and ensure that we’re delivering that education to our attendees to give them another reason to attend the event. We are very sensitive to the need of our attendee base. We use our Hot Trends platform to discuss those issues. In many cases, we seek the help of our partners at NYSRA to update our guests on the status of legislation.
The amount of apps and tech in the restaurant and foodservice space can be daunting. Can you talk about what the show’s approaches to helping attendees create a tech strategy?
We expect to make a major announcement at this year’s show regarding technology. We are teaming with one of the biggest names in restaurant technology. We will roll out the new program in California later this year and bring it to the 2021 show at Javits.
Whoever would have thought that the Javits neighborhood become the hottest area in New York City. All kinds of amazing restaurants are about to open just outside the show door. How do you think that’s going to impact a visit to the show?
It’s been amazing, I’ve been doing shows with the Javits for 20 plus years and seen that whole neighborhood evolve. With all of the Hudson Yards, all the new restaurants and hotels there’s a lot going on and that will improve the overall customer experience for both the exhibitors and the attendees.