It's Time to Go Beyond FNCE

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Another October has just about come and gone, which means another Food & Nutrition Conference & Expo has as well. FNCE, as it’s known, had become the centerpiece of the professional marketing plan for many healthy food brands and companies—an opportunity to interact with 10,000-plus registered dietitians. The goal? Between educational sessions and awards ceremonies and social engagements, encourage dietitians to walk the large expo floor, sample some food, and take that experience back to their patients and clients.

Unfortunately, over the years as crowds grew and more brands came to exhibit, the expo floor became less and less of a productive place to engage with professionals. And food companies responded by upping the “pizazz” to cut through the clutter and make an impression. That included live demos, costumed characters, celebrities, contests and giveaways.

Having just returned from the 2018 edition of FNCE, we’re happy to say that much of the “pizazz” that characterized previous years was noticeably and gratefully absent from the expo floor.

This year’s expo felt smaller and more focused to many we spoke with. But attendance numbers were strong, so perhaps the lack, for the most part, of gimmicky booths and the wider aisles afforded by the Walter E. Washington Convention Center gave the expo a more intimate feel.

But people were right to point out that the expo floor felt smaller, as many high-profile companies decided to pass on exhibiting this year. For many who were used to seeing the likes of Kellogg's, Unilever, Chobani and others on the floor each year, their absence was noticeable. Undoubtedly, questions about the value of four days of handing out food samples in a loud and crowded convention floor to a mix of dietetic students, practitioners, industry consultants, and CPG employees has many thinking about better ways to engage and educate dietitians.

In fact, many of our conversations at FNCE this year centered around how healthy food companies and brands could build upon their interactions at FNCE to build relationships with dietitians that last throughout the year—and arm them with the knowledge and resources to truly influence the patients and clients they counsel.

Given the trends visible at this year’s FNCE and the fact that the Academy of Nutrition & Dietetics is working toward a Master’s degree requirement for registered dietitians, one should expect that the educational conference portion of FNCE will likely reassert itself as the dominant focus of the event. That will require healthy food companies and brands to rethink how they engage dietitians beyond the walls of the expo. 

A booth at FNCE should no longer be the centerpiece of a health professional marketing plan for any healthy food company or brand. The trusted conversations these professionals have with consumers day in and day out demand—and deserve—a richer form of direct engagement, away from the “pizazz” of the expo floor.