Tuesday, March 19, 2013

New England Food Show: Some Thoughts

Along side the International Boston Seafood Show (IBSS), there is a smaller trade show, the New England Food Show (NEFS), and I always take some time to check it out, to see what new food & drink items are being showcased. The NEFS seemed more crowded than the IBSS on Sunday and Monday, and it was difficult to pass down the aisles due to the crowds. On Tuesday, it was far easier to navigate the NEFS, to check out the various booths which cater to restaurants, food shops and more.

I found numerous items that had been shown at the NEFS last year and some items which, though tasty, didn't impress me. I only found two items, one food and one drink, which were especially compelling, which I wanted to bring to the attention of my readers.

The Swatt Baking Company, located in New York, produces L.A. Cinnamon Bread, which they prepared with a sweet glaze atop it. I love cinnamon bread and this was an excellent example of such, with plenty of cinnamon flavor, a good texture to the bread, and the glaze added a nice sweetness without stepping over into being cloying. A two pound loaf of bread and a 15 ounce bottle of cinnamon glaze costs $7.95, with discounts for larger quantities. Unfortunately, their website has very little information about the product.

Want a new, tasty local drink that might actually be good for you too? Motto Sparkling Matcha Tea was created by two friends, Tom Olcott and Henry Crosby, and it was launched about seven months ago. This drink is crafted with premium matcha, basically ground green tea, as wellas apple cider vinegar, honey, organic agave, lemon juice, sparkling water and "other natural flavors." A 12 ounce bottle sells for about $3-$4 so it is priced similarly to other high end juices and carbonated drinks. A bottle also contains 70 calories and 16 grams of sugar.

Green tea has a number of health benefits so this drink should provide some of those benefits, though I don't know how much matcha is in this drink or its rough equivalency to a cup of green tea. I may follow up on that matter with the creators. What appealed to me was its taste, which was only lightly sweet and with a prominent green tea taste. I am not a big fan of sweet tea, but the sweetness level here is low so I enjoyed it. It also has a clean and compelling taste which many tea lovers would enjoy.

There was a panel discussion, put on by the Massachusetts Restaurant Association, at the NEFS called Social Chefs: Using Your Followers to Build a Following. This discussion brought together four prominent Boston chefs who shared "some of their tips and tricks for converting virtual followers into regular customers." Though I was unable to attend this discussion on social media, I received some notes on the discussion that I wanted to share. Though much of this information is directed to chefs, everyone will be able to find value in these words in regard to the use of social media.

Chef Jason Santos:
-His phone is always in his pocket so it’s very convenient to be active on social. “I try to make is a part of my day.
-He doesn’t look at social as a competition. “We’re all friends. I just naturally go into it and use it to engage with my followers.
-His tactic is to keep it visual. He likes to excite people with what he’s doing. “Pictures add realism.”
-It is important to be active on social. “As chefs we are in charge of shaping the brand.”
-Always create a conversation. “I always end my posts with a question to keep people engaged.
-He thinks it is important to use hashtags on Twitter

Chef Joanne Chang:
-“It takes all of a minute. I try to engage my following by letting them know what’s going on behind the scenes.
-She gets ideas from other chefs/ restaurants and finds social educational.
-“I ignore negative feedback. If I can’t do it positively, I just don’t do it at all.
-“If you view social media as advertising, it will backfire.” Her tactic is to keep things educational and create a buzz.
-Twitter is her favorite social platform because it’s short.
-“My managers are busy engaging with guests, I engage virtually on social platforms.

Chef Jamie Bissonnette:
-Facebook is like a calendar, uses it to post pictures of events but mostly uses Twitter day to day.
-Engages managers and chefs to post on behalf of restaurants and wants them to be a part of their social voice.
-Social media allows for a new platform to learn about peers worldwide. “We don’t have to travel to France to see what chefs are cooking there. It’s a new way to get to know each other.
-“It’s all about PMA-Positive Mental Attitude. You have to support everyone and engage in friendly competition.”
-“We have our own voice in this city, we aren’t competing with the food scene in NYC or Chicago.
-“A chef is a teacher. I teach my employees but I learn from them too. It’s the same with social, it allows us to learn from each other.”
-When asked about negative feedback on social “I look at it as a door to turn the situation around.” Explains that he can reach out to them and listen to their concerns.

Chef Brian Poe:
-Uses Yelp to keep track of customer complaints and fix any reoccurring issues. “If I see continuous comments that a door guy is charging $20 to let people in, that’s something I wouldn’t have found out otherwise.
-Explains that building a following on social takes time. “Be patient.
-“The Boston food scene is becoming more serious, we have some of the best chefs, our clientele is becoming more educated.
-“Twitter is instant and more like a filter, Facebook has staying power.”
-At first his tactic was just to get people to go in and eat. He would use social to see what others were doing. Now he’s “grown-up” and working on his brand.

We can see that each chef views social media in their own way, though there are similarities between some of their positions. Each chef has provided some valuable insight here and it is worthwhile to consider their thoughts in our own use of social media. These are chefs who have been successful in their use of social media so they have the experience and knowledge to help others.

Would any other chefs like to add their thoughts on social media?

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