SNAXPO Attendees Hit Jackpot

Nearly 2,000 snack industry executives and suppliers hit the exposition floor at SNAXPO 2006 in Las Vegas on Monday, March 20, searching for new ideas, solutions and opportunities to help their businesses grow.
Attendees from 44 nations visited 151 exhibiting companies, including equipment manufacturers and suppliers, ingredient companies, processors, snack food manufacturers and more over three days. The convention opened after “Elvis” helped cut the ribbon.
SNAXPO got underway on Sunday, March 19 with a day-long Latin American Educational Program, conducted in Spanish. That program featured a discussion of the U.S. Food Industry Outlook by Dr. Valente Alvarez, director of the Food Industry Center at Ohio State University.
‘Magic’ of Value
The trade show opened Monday morning following a fascinating presentation by Gary Loveman, chairman, CEO and president of Harrah’s Entertainment, Inc., who revealed how his company, since 1998, has achieved astounding success and growth through a combination of branding, service and effective use of highly targeted marketing using a customer loyalty program that now has more than 41 million participants.
“Even if you have a plain vanilla product, you can get people to pay more for it if you have a proposition of value that is unique. You can then get out of the position of competing only on price,” Loveman said.
Loveman told the story of how he came from academia, took over Harrah’s, helped turn its culture around, focused on its targeted customer profile, developed the marketing and loyalty programs, dramatically increased profits and raised its stock price from $14 a share in 1998 to about $76 a share, as of March 20, 2006.
“The magic comes in a fairly distinctive proposition of value for a specific set of customers,” he said, as he described that “proposition” and told attendees just how it was accomplished.Snacking State of Industry
Even though many Americans are trying to eat healthier, and perhaps even snack less, “snacking is not going away, and, in fact, is very vibrant,” said Sally Lyons Wyatt, senior vice president, Information Resources Inc., as she presented IRI’s annual State of the Industry report.
Wyatt noted that over the past year, snack food sales overall were essentially flat, but that there was significant growth in the “healthier” snacks category. In addition, there was “tremendous growth and continued opportunity for manufacturers and retailers alike” in the natural and organic arenas, she said.
The strongest sales channels for snack foods were convenience and drug stores, she said. Convenience, which typically draws younger consumers, saw sales of salty snacks increase by 5.3% last year. Also showing strong convenience store sales increases were chocolate candy and gum.
In the drug channel — favored by older shoppers including Baby Boomers — cookies increased by 16.4% and crackers by 8.5%, according to IRI.
Wyatt urged manufacturers to partner with retailers to be sure they have the correct product mix to maximize sales.
Healthy Snacks Report
Sales of snack foods categorized as “healthy” grew 6.8% between 2002 and 2004, and 2005 numbers will show similar growth, according to David Lockwood, U.S. research director at Mintel International.
Lockwood told a SNAXPO audience that the introduction of new products that make health claims increased some 25% over the past four years.
“We see more better-for-you products coming in the future,” said Lockwood, noting that portion control products are responding to consumers’ needs. “People want it done for them,” he said.
Got Buzz?
SNAXPO attendees were challenged to find ways of creating interest in their products by using techniques that will attract media attention and get people talking. Mark Hughes, author of the book Buzz Marketing, revealed how he has helped major companies obtain millions of dollars of free media exposure on miniscule marketing budgets.
Hughes advised companies to put their brand second and the “story” first in advertising and marketing messages and to find ways to capitalize on the media’s interest in David vs. Goliath stories, controversy, outrageous activities and more. Complimentary copies of his book were provided to all attendees and exhibitors.
  Food Safety Summit
SNAXPO attendees heard Dr. David Acheson, director of the Food and Drug Administration Office of Food Safety, Defense & Outreach, describe the federal government’s efforts to protect the food supply from terrorist attacks.
Speaking at the Food Safety Summit, co-sponsored by SFA, Dr. Acheson discussed various threats that the government must be prepared to defend the food supply against and what steps are being taken. He said his agency is coordinating with America’s food companies and making available information that was previously classified.
A new software program being developed to assist the government and the food industry combat bioterrorism will be provided free of charge to food industry companies. SFA will keep members informed of these developments.