Guarnieri Trade Show Offers Taste of What’s New

NILES, Ohio — If it’s a food product found in a convenience store or gas station or concession stand, on either side of the counter, odds are it can be found at the Albert Guarnieri & Co. Trade Show.

Filling the Eastwood Expo Center Wednesday, vendors displayed racks and tables of candies, chips, tobacco, pizzas, coffee, food-and-beverage containers, thermometers and craft sodas. And while typical convenience store fare was available, what really caught the eyes of those browsing the wares – and sometimes the vendors themselves – were the new products, which some vendors were showing customers for the first time.

“My favorite is the new Dove Fruit,” said Stephanie Dattilio, customer development manager for Advantage Sales and Marketing, which represents M&Ms and Mars candies. “It has real fruit in it, no gel or flavorings.”

Dattilio’s company had two tables at the show, one dedicated to the new products Advantage carries, among them vanilla frosting Combos and Crispy M&Ms. Customers came in steady streams to the table, sometimes browsing before moving on while others stayed to ask about prices.

“It’s a chance for our customer base to come in and see, eat, taste and feel products they haven’t seen before,” said John Guarnieri, vice president of Albert Guarnieri & Co. “It’s also where vendors can introduce new products to the marketplace”

The family business, now in its fourth generation, was started 127 years as a fruit and vegetable stand near downtown Warren. A storefront followed, Guarnieri said, then the family became a wholesale supplier and 17 years ago, started its annual trade show.

“We were in the same space [17 years ago] but with far fewer booths. We’re at over 100 booths now with at least 200 manufacturers from the state of Ohio, plus Pennsylvania and West Virginia,” Guarnieri said. “It’s been fun to see the changes. We’ve grown and expanded, with food service being the biggest aspect. It’s been a good ride”

At the other end of the Eastwood Expo Center from Advantage’s booth, PepsiCo educational development manager Kim Oates showed off PepsiCo’s new Top ‘N Go bags. Similar to a walking taco, the bags are larger, thus allowing customers to top the chips – buyers can choose from Fritos, nacho cheese Doritos and cool ranch Doritos – with cheese, chili, peppers and other nacho toppings before they leave the store.

“We’ve gotten a lot of interest for the new Top ‘N Go items. Quite a few school directors are stopping by to check out our school products, mostly the oven-baked chips we offer,” Oates said.

PepsiCo, a company that works with Guarnieri to supply its products in supermarkets and convenience stores, sees the expo an opportunity to meet some of the people who sell its products.

“We have an opportunity to show off some new products, new concepts, new ideas to customers, who can then take it back to their stores,” Gates said. “It’s a great partnership for everyone involved. We’re all in a for-profit business. The retailers make more money. Our customers make more money and Guarnieri makes more money. It’s a partnership that helps everyone.”

Good Greens, based in Shaker Heights and a purveyor of what’s described as a nutrition snack bar, set up a booth for the first time. Where many of the products at the fair are typical service station fare, Good Greens are fruit- and vegetable-based and rich in antioxidants, according to Kimberly Root, “brand ambassador” for Good Greens.

“Most of the other vendors here will carry things that you typically see in a convenience store that have higher fat and sugar contents. We have a nutrition bar that has the antioxidant equivalent of 100% of your daily fruits and vegetables that are gluten-free, dairy-free and vegan,” she said.

The four-year-old company, she added, is outselling Clif Bar and Kind Bar, both nationally recognized brands of nutrition bars, and its products are sold in Marc’s and Giant Eagle supermarkets. The success, she added, has resulted in part from its displays at expos such as Guarnieri’s.

“You need a chance to show distributors everything we have to get our product in as many stores as possible,” Root said. “It’s all about getting the word out.”

For some vendors, inducing people to stop by their booths poses a bit of a challenge.

“I don’t have any food, so most of the people just walk on by,” said Stella Minkel with a laugh. “I’ve been trying to call people over and get their attention.”

Minkel, an equipment and small-wares specialist with US Foods, spent most of her morning standing next to a cushioned mat for the use of cashiers who spend most of their day standing behind a counter. Those stopping at the mat seemed impressed by how comfortable it was to stand on, but most continued on their way.

Further down the row of tables, all filled with US Foods products such as chips, sodas and sandwiches, customers stopped, chatted and sampled the food.

“That’s what they’re really here for,” Minkel continued.

Cliff Cole, regional business developer for Java Classics, based in Renton, Wash., spoke with customers about the redesign of their stores so they could install a new coffee bar.

“We can actually come in and design their store coffee bar and really bring a full experience for great coffee,” he said. “[At the expo] we can offer customers a chance to have a hands-on experience with the coffee, taste it, look at the equipment and see how it could be fit into their store.”

Whether veterans or newcomers, vendors recognized the benefits of the trade show as an important stop for marketing and business purposes.

“I’ve worked this show about four years and every year is a little different. There are a lot of good customers that come through and there’s always a good showing,” said Shawn Quinn, assistant food broker for Team Saverino in Chicago. “This is a fabulous venue. You get the store owners, who coordinate through us and help us promote our products, and the other middlemen who do a fabulous job here. It’s definitely worth it for us to come out.”

PICTURED: Kimberly Root is a “brand ambassador” for Good Greens Nutrition Bars, based in Shaker Heights.

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