Larry Graham On What EXPO 2007 Will Bring

The National Confectioners Association recently announced big plans for the ALL CANDY EXPO, the largest confectionery show in North America, beginning in 2007. Next year the EXPO will move from its traditional early summer date to September 17 – 19, a Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday instead of the Tuesday through Thursday schedule of the past.  Additionally, NCA’s ALL CANDY EXPO Committee made a move to include additional snack categories as it expands to a global definition of confectionery. To accommodate the growth, the EXPO will move to the West Building, a new hall within McCormick Place. To find out the motives behind the changes, NCA President Larry Graham sat down with us at the 2006 EXPO.
Confectioner : NCA announced four major changes impacting the ALL CANDY EXPO starting in 2007. What prompted these developments?
Larry Graham: You would hardly believe how much research and discussion went into these decisions. NCA and independent consultants conducted surveys, focus groups and one-on-one discussions with retailers of all sizes from all classes of trade. In the fall of 2005, an NCA task force held a two-day session with a well-respected strategic planning firm. In all, we have heard from thousands of buyers.
In order to provide a valuable experience for both exhibitors and customers, trade shows have to evolve. Today we have fewer people doing more work across all aspects of the confectionery industry. The ALL CANDY EXPO needs to continue to offer everything retailers want, or they will find other venues to meet their needs. The changes to the EXPO were industry initiatives — improvements made by the industry for the industry.
Confectioner : Why September though? Hasn’t June been successful in the past?
Larry Graham: When the industry first started planning the EXPO, the candy calendar was crowded and June was really the only time open for a confectionery show appealing to all trade channels. The show has been successful, but I think that’s more a reflection of the quality products offered than of the date. Confectionery customers have told us that a September EXPO better meets their annual planning schedule. Plan-o-grams are created in December or January, more products are introduced in the fall, and September is the time of year when decisions for the next year are made.
Confectioner : Is that the reason you’re also moving to new days of the week?
Larry Graham: Yes. The middle-of-the-week schedule of previous EXPOs certainly had its advantages — primarily that no one had to travel over the weekend. However, with all the EXPO activities on Monday including plant tours, valuable learning opportunities and the Welcome Reception, everyone was traveling to Chicago on Sunday and Monday. Then, because Thursday is so full with more learning opportunities and a busy show floor, no one was leaving until Thursday night or Friday morning. That’s basically a whole week that attendees have to spend away from the office — and no one can afford that any more.
Confectioner : What prompted the move to include more confectionery and snacks?
Larry Graham: The short answer, and the most important reason, is that we were motivated by the requests of confectionery customers. But, of course, lots of planning and discussion went into the decision and we’ve been considering the right course of action for years. There is also the very important reason that the EXPO has become a global show, and the rest of the world includes most sweet goods in the definition of confectionery.
Most buyers cover several snack categories — or work as part of a team that may buy cookies, crackers, chips and pretzels, even jerky and nuts. These customers have indicated that it is inconvenient and inefficient to attend multiple shows with multiple buyers at multiple times of the year. Our members are expanding into all sorts of snacks, and we need to keep pace with the industry.
Confectioner : What can attendees expect to see next year? Are you changing the name of the show?
Larry Graham: We’re still the ALL CANDY EXPO, and attendees will continue to meet candy, chocolate and gum exhibitors. But attendees can also expect to see cookies and biscuits, crackers, sweet snacks like breakfast bars and fruit snacks, nuts, savory snacks like chips and pretzels, and meat snacks. We’re working closely with the Snack Food Association to make sure we have the right mix of products to attract both attendees and exhibitors.
Confectioner : How much do you expect that the show will grow?
Larry Graham: Truthfully, that’s hard to answer. We know that 60 percent of current attendees claim they will bring additional personnel because of the product expansion, and we know that 63 percent of confectionery customers who do not currently attend say they will begin attending.  In terms of sheer numbers we’re not going to make a guess right now. We do think the added products and attendees will warrant the move to a bigger space, however, and we’re proud to announce that the ALL CANDY EXPO will be one of the first shows to open in the new West Building of McCormick Place.
Confectioner : How will all of this affect the ALL CANDY EXPO experience?
Larry Graham: The NCA Board and the ALL CANDY EXPO Committee are all really looking forward to these changes and think that 2007 will be the best experience for manufacturers, suppliers, brokers and, most importantly, confectionery customers alike. The changes in store for attendees bring greater value to the ALL CANDY EXPO experience. We have a great new floor plan and you can see it online very soon. NCA is going to host an exhibitor briefing at McCormick Place on October 31 during PACKEXPO and the briefing will include a hard hat tour of the new facility. We can hardly wait until next September!