In always-changing industry, keeping up with trends is key

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In June 2001, the National Restaurant Association turned over its primary news delivery duties to SmartBrief, publisher of industry vertical newsletters. The partnership has been successful: Circulation has more than doubled in less than five years-SmartBrief now goes to more than 51,000 restaurant owners/operators and foodservice executives daily-and its list of advertisers are a who's who among restaurant suppliers. BtoB asked Jack Fordi, director of sales for the National Restaurant Association SmartBrief, for insight into the opportunities and obstacles marketers face with the booming restaurant industry.

BtoB: What are the biggest challenges for suppliers trying to reach and engage restaurant owners/operators?

Fordi: Staying in step with the latest trends remains key for suppliers. Fads and trends are quick to change, so marketers have to be sure the restaurant owners/operators are confident their products will resonate with their customers. Trade shows have traditionally been the industry's bread and butter, giving restaurateurs the opportunity to taste food, test the equipment and experience the possibilities firsthand. But more and more, consumers are adopting trends and experimenting with different foods, often within a short time frame, putting the pressure on marketers to promote their changing products and messages to restaurant operators on a regular basis. This increases the reliance on recurrent vehicles such as search, e-mail and Web sites.

BtoB: What are the best marketing strategies/tactics to use to reach the restaurant audience?

Fordi: Between the large chains and the mom-and-pop independents, there is a lot of disparity in the restaurant industry. Appealing to both can be difficult. Suppliers often have an array of products targeted at a wide swath of prospects, so they have to hit their targets on multiple levels. Trade shows will always be a focal point, but the strongest marketers in the industry-such as Tyson, McIlhenny, Kikkoman and FoodService Rewards-are in front of restaurant operators daily with a variety of messages aimed at different segments of the market. The opportunity to quickly change their promotions to deal with trends or new competitor products is vital.

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