By Bruce Milletto
President, Bellissimo Coffee InfoGroup

As with most industries, the specialty beverage trade boasts no shortage of conferences and trade shows. But given the diversity and high number of events, deciding which ones to commit to as an exhibitor or attendee can be a daunting task for the average retailer. Most of us can't afford the time and money it takes to attend the myriad trade shows held in any given year, so it's important to pick and choose the ones best suited to your operation. In 2003, there will once again be numerous conferences and trade shows from which to choose. Here's a guide to some of 2003's most relevant shows for the specialty beverage retailer.

Fancy Food Show, January 19-21, San Francisco, There are a limited number of shows in the first few months of the year, but one that I highly recommend is the Fancy Food Show in San Francisco. This event features items you may want to sell on your menu retail shelves, like special baked goods and candies. A number of coffee, tea and syrup companies also exhibit.


Coffee Fest, February 28-March 2, Las Vegas, Fro several reasons, this is usually a worthwhile show. Coffee Fest Las Vegas tempts people interested in combining business with pleasure, resulting in some different attendees than other shows might attract. Expect to find helpful seminars and workshops, as well as many West Coast coffee-related exhibitors.


National Coffee Association Convention, March 6-9, Boca Raton, Fla., Last year, I attended my first National Coffee Association (NCA) meeting and was impressed by the quality of the seminars. The NCA has typically catered its summit to large corporate coffee companies, but now the organization is showing more interest in the specialty coffee sector.

Take Me 2 Tea Expo, March 16-18, Las Vegas, This will be the inaugural Take Me 2 Tea Expo, and the first ever tea-specific trade show. Long overdue in the industry, this event will feature workshops on such topics as opening a tearoom and financing, as well as seminars on industry profitability and current trends in the U.S. tea market. More than 150 vendors of tea and related products are expected to exhibit.

Specialty Coffee Association of America Conference & Exhibition, April 25-28, Boston, One of the year's biggest shows, the SCAA event features the latest and greatest industry products and trends and a diverse cross-section of attendees. Though it can be an excellent experience for coffee retailers, be aware that many of the exhibitors are from the green side of the industry. It is a great opportunity to taste many of the world's specialty coffees and attend seminars given by some of the top presenters in the world. Added excitement comes from both the National Barista Championship and the World Barista Championship, to be held in conjunction at this year's Boston event. There also are many after show parties that provide wonderful networking opportunities.

Specialty Tea Institute Symposium, April 25-26, Boston, Formerly known as the APTI Symposium, this event was renamed after the 2002 merger of the American Premium Tea Institute and the Specialty Tea Registry to form the Specialty Tea Institute. Piggybacking with the SCAA show, this symposium will include valuable discussions of origin, industry trends and the outlook for specialty tea. It's a worthwhile event for anyone interested in selling premium tea.

Gourmet Products Show, May 3-6, San Francisco, This giant show for the specialty products set does include specialty coffees, teas and foods, but the emphasis is primarily on gadgets, appliances, storage items, and maintenance equipment. Organizers report a projected 900 exhibitors, and seminars on such topics as branding, strategic display techniques and marketing will be offered.

Fancy Food Show, May 4-6, Chicago, The Chicago show is quite a bit smaller than the San Francisco and New York Fancy Food shows, but if you live in the Midwest, it might be a good choice. Workshops, tastings, demonstrations, and seminars are all featured.

National Restaurant Show, May 17-20, Chicago, This show is huge, and almost all the major equipment manufacturers will be present. The show also features food items you may find interesting. With around 2000 exhibitors from 90 countries, this show features product demonstrations, specialty pavilions, seminars, and culinary competitions.

Coffee Fest, June 6-8, Atlantic City, NJ, This year will be the third for this Coffee Fest location. Attendees are drawn not only by the business opportunities offered at the show, but also by the area's nightlife. A lot of East Coast companies are represented, and the show features the same instructive morning seminars and three days of exhibits.

Tea and Coffee World Cup, June 15-17, Rome, Italy, Anyone looking for an excuse to be in Italy while learning more about the international coffee market will find the Tea and Coffee World Cup a worthwhile investment. With more than 300 growers, exporters, importers, coffee roasters, equipment manufacturers, and tea packers from around 140 countries expected to exhibit, the show is consistently large and well attended.

Fancy Food Show, June 29-July 1, New York City, The location of this event draws enormous international base, and products are featured here that are often absent at other expos. Educational seminars, workshops and demonstrations are scheduled.

NASCORE, September 12-14, Portland, Ore., The NASCORE Specialty Coffee and Tea Trade Show enjoyed its hottest turnout to date in 2002, with around 3000 attendees. The show, to be held again in the specialty coffee mecca of Portland, will include hundreds of exhibitors, coffee and tea tastings hosted by industry experts, and seminars on marketing and products. This yearÕs show will once again host the Western Regional Barista Championship, which highlights the skill of some of the West's most talented baristi.

Coffee Fest, October 24-26, Seattle, Perhaps the biggest and best of the Coffee Fest shows is the one held in Seattle. This will be the 12th year for this industry mainstay. Not only can you attend a show full of impressive exhibits and seminars, but you can also see what is happening in the epicenter of American specialty coffee.

Sintercafe, November 15-19, San Jose, Costa Rica, . Since 1987, this private, nonprofit Costa Rican organization has hosted seminars and workshops for producers and consumers from around the world. The event features presentations by producing and consuming nations, visits to coffee farms and mills, cuppings, cultural activities, and networking opportunities.

Kona Coffee Festival, November 7-16, Kona, Hawaii. Combining Hawaii's rich culture and stunning environment in a celebration of Kona coffee, this event is a unique way to learn about coffee. It's an economical way to visit a coffee origin, and it is spread out over a period for two weeks, rather than the usual few days into which trade shows tend to be packed.

It's impossible to tell how noisy a machine is, how hot the base of a blender gets or how crumbly the cookies are without testing them firsthand. Trade shows are the perfect places to get hands-on in this very applied industry. Plan to attend a few shows if you can in the coming year to keep your operation on top of the newest trends and products, and to brush up on your skills and knowledge in workshops and seminars. And enjoy yourself; as exhausting as trade shows can be, the clients and friends you'll meet make it all the more worth it.

Bruce Milletto is president of Bellissimo Coffee InfoGroup, a company specializing in consulting and media for the specialty coffee industry.

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