It’s that time of year again, the Allergy Show is coming soon!
Please remember my top rule for staying safe at the show – if in any doubt at all, don’t eat anything. Read labels, speak to staff, check, check and check again. Make sure you and the exhibitors are clear about what you’re allergic to and you should have a very enjoyable show. Just please don’t take any risks.
It’s also been a year since I last interviewed the show’s director, Tom Treverton. I saw Tom at the Food and Drink Innovation conference last week (more on that to follow…) and quizzed him again about how the Allergy Show is moving forwards and his hopes for the future.
Q1) How long have you been involved in the Allergy Show now?
The first show we ran was the 2010 London edition. This Autumn’s ‘Allergy & Free From Show North’ in Liverpool, on 26 – 27 October, will be the 6th edition we have organised (4 in London, 2 in Liverpool). It’s been an amazing three (and a bit) years; a really exciting journey and a privilege to work on such an important event.
Q2) So what’s new for 2013 and the Allergy Show North?
Lots! 2013 has become such a big year for both the London and Liverpool events.
We cannot wait to take the show back to Liverpool and the North West this October. Last time I was on your blog (just over a year ago), we were busy launching the inaugural northern show. We had high hopes for the event and were confident it would succeed, but the launch ultimately exceeded our expectations and was a wonderful show. In just one month’s time, we’ll be back at the BT Convention Centre on Liverpool’s stunning water front with a bigger and better event; more tasty ‘free from’ food and drink, skincare and ‘everyday’ products, plus more advice from Consultants and Specialists. For the first time ever in Liverpool, the Sainsbury’s Kitchen theatre will deliver amazing ‘free from’ cooking classes throughout the two open days, plus there will be dedicated kids’ activities, courtesy of Allergy Adventures.
Next month’s Liverpool show comes hot on the heels of our biggest ever event in London in June, which was a record-breaker in every sense. Close to 22,000 came to Olympia over the three day event, and we had 242 exhibitors there to meet them, as well as 4 fabulous content theatres and a ‘free from’ restaurant. When you consider the show was attracting around 4,000 before we became involved, this growth in three years is really something, and just goes to show how much people wanted an event like this and how important it was to create something credible that would educate, entertain and deliver much-needed ‘free from’ solutions.
Q3) What are the major changes you’ve seen over the years you’ve been involved?
These shows are growing quickly and constantly changing, which is absolutely right and proper, as they have to stay interesting and offer something new to visitors each year. Furthermore, strong exhibitions must be strong reflections of their market, and there has been a lot going on in the world of allergies, intolerances, autoimmune diseases in the past three years!
Major increases in the number of companies developing and distributing quality ‘free from’ products has led to more exhibitors attending the events, and better onsite choice. Improved activities and advice from charities, associations and support groups has meant that the level of onsite educational content (via seminar theatres and exhibition stands) has developed and improved. The shows have successfully engaged many of the UK’s best NHS Consultants and Specialists, who are bringing more and more vital treatment knowledge to the events each year. All really positive stuff, which adds so much to the shows’ visitor experience.
The London show, specifically, has moved into larger halls (within the Olympia complex) in the last three successive years. These moves have been necessary to accommodate rising visitor and exhibitor demand, and also to incorporate additional show features, widen shopping aisles and improve onsite amenities. Basically to make the show more useful and more fun!
Q4) Roughly how many visitors did you get to the last North show?
Last year 5,148 people came to the Liverpool show, which was a brilliant total for year one in the north, particularly as this event is a two day show (London runs for three days).
Q5) How many do you expect this year if it follows London’s growth?
We expect between 7,000 and 8,000 to join us in Liverpool next month. Pre-show ticket numbers are way up on this time last year, and the excitement is well and truly building for opening day on 26 October.
Q6) Do you get totally different exhibitors up North or are their different stands/companies?
It’s actually a great mix. It’s wonderful that so many of the fabulous exhibitors at our London show also come to Liverpool. That said, there are also companies unique to each show and its region, which ensures each event delivers on both a national and regional level.
When we launched in Liverpool, we had a two-part mission:
(1) to take the best of the London show to a North West audience, but also
(2) to ensure that this event had its own identity, which was in some way unique and more relevant to its location. I think this strategy is working.
The Liverpool show’s onsite content is a good example of this plan in action. Like in London, visitors to the Liverpool show will be able to enjoy cooking demos in the Sainsbury’s Kitchen, meet NHS Consultant Allergists, plus other specialists and representatives from the best charities and support networks. However, when they meet an NHS Consultant Allergist, they will meet a North West based professional. When they attend a talk, care will be taken to make the content relevant to where they live and provide answers they need and can use.
Q7) Do you get totally different delegates or do people travel from the South to attend?
The visitors are different for each show, in the vast majority of cases.
We launched in Liverpool after three years of running the event in London and had become increasingly aware of how London / South East centric the audience to that show was. It was great that the event had developed so quickly in the London area, but we knew that the show’s themes were national issues and that we had to deliver another event to provide a more viable option for people living further north. The Liverpool event delivered a brand new, largely North West based audience, which is exactly what was intended.
I am not saying there are no visitors that attend both shows. We have some amazingly loyal fans of the show, who do attend both editions (which is incredible given the distances between them).
I am also not saying that the Liverpool show has 100% solved the geographical problem. There are people from Scotland, Wales, the North East, Midlands, Western and Eastern regions that travel very long distances to be at these events, because they are the only events that attempt to deliver what they need. Thousands more from these regions want to attend but are unable to fund the journey.
I receive emails and phone calls on a weekly basis from people that cannot get to London or Liverpool and that want an edition of the event to be launched closer to where they live. My message to all these people is that we intend to run more editions of this event and would, in fact, love to launch in every single region of the UK. However, in order to deliver events of this size and ensure that each one provides a phenomenal visitor experience, the best companies in the ‘free from’ industry need to be there too. We are in regular contact with our exhibiting community on this; when we have a critical mass that are able to support show number three, we will deliver it!
Q8) What measures have you made to make the show safer and to educate stand holders and workers?
The safety of our visitors is (and always will be) our first priority. We are 100% aware of, and totally accept the responsibility we have as organisers in doing all we can to ensure the events provide a safe, enjoyable and informative experience for attendees.
We covered this point in detail when I was last on your blog (August 2012), which is there for all to view on the ‘What Allergy?’ archive; everything we discussed then still applies now. However, it is important to reiterate that safety at these shows will always be a three-way street, between us as organisers, our exhibitors and visitors, with everyone having an important role to play. We want this show to remain an event that is inclusive and relevant to people with all kinds of allergies, intolerances and related conditions. Therefore, attending visitors must always be aware that not every product on the show floor will be relevant to their specific condition and that they should attend with precisely the same high level of vigilance regarding their own circumstance, as they would do at any other destination.
With regard to specific measures taken by us, as organisers, over the past 12 months, these include…
- In collaboration with Hazel Gowland (Allergy Action) we have produced a comprehensive ‘code of conduct’, which is sent to and signed by every single exhibitor participating at either show. The code is basically a list of expectations that we ask of show participants that centres on an appreciation of the diverse vulnerability of our audience and a commitment to exhibit safely and professionally. The detailed document covers many specific areas, including the dangers of cross-contamination, clear product displays, transportation of stock, exhibitor staff training and the ‘no chat, no sample or sale’ policy (the idea that a conversation between visitor and exhibitor regarding product ingredients must take place prior to a sample being sampled, or bought). Our brilliant exhibitors have embraced this code, as they are as keen as us to ensure the safest shows possible.
- We have increased the number of communications to visitors regarding safe attendance, maintaining, at all times,100% openness and honesty regarding what the show is, and what the show isn’t. These messages are communicated via pre-show emails, show websites, show tickets, social media channels, the official show guide and onsite signage.
- We have increased the widths of the aisles and seating areas at our shows, in order to create a more comfortable visitor experience and improved shopping environment.
- We invest more year-on-year in additional onsite medical services, to coincide with increased visitor numbers.
Q9) It won’t be long before you start planning the 2014 show, what changes will we see next year?
Planning for London 2014 started on 10 June, the day after the 2013 show closed. A serious amount of time has already gone into preparations for next year’s London show and we are very close to making some very exciting announcements. I’d be delighted to come back on your blog when I can say more, if you’ll have me – watch this space!
Q10) Do you ask delegates for feedback on the show?
Our visitors play a massive role in how our shows develop and their feedback is proactively sought and used throughout the planning processes. We produce extremely comprehensive online visitor surveys for each event, and the response we receive is tremendous; 568 completed our survey after the Liverpool launch last year, and a staggering 1,258 people participated in June’s London Show survey.
We ask for detailed feedback on where people have travelled from, what conditions they live with, what they spend on their condition, how they heard about the shows, how satisfied they were with the event, what they thought of any seminars they attended (every item of show content is rated), their ease of travel, how long they spent at the show, their likelihood of recommending the event and returning in subsequent years, plus what they would like to see that’s not currently available.
The surveys give us a serious amount of valuable information that help us to further develop what people like, and determine what the shows are lacking. Thankfully, the feedback we have received to date has been overwhelmingly positive. People want the shows, love the shows and recommend the shows. That said, our visitors remain very demanding of us; they will waste no time in telling us when they don’t like something and want to see the right improvements! This is so important, and we wouldn’t want it any other way.
Q11) What do exhibitors say about the show and why they exhibit? What do they love about it?
Our amazing exhibitors love attending the shows, as they provide unique opportunities to get their products in the hands of thousands of relevant customers and create multi-sensory, memorable experiences. In a just few days, our exhibitors can promote what they do to thousands of people. They can give samples, make sales, get invaluable feedback, promote / launch a new product, present themselves as the people behind a product, convey the ‘story’ of that product, reward customers with onsite offers… the list goes on and on.
Digging a little deeper, if you take a second to think about it, our events represent the opposite of almost every other technique our exhibitors can use to meet customers … visitors to our shows choose to be there because they have a desire to source product solutions. This is a wonderful concept for exhibiting companies, as they are marketing their products to people that want to meet them, rather than interrupting people as per other marketing techniques (like TV, radio, newspaper or magazine advertising).
Furthermore, our events provide exhibitors with the opportunity to work on all 5 senses. At our shows, visitors can see, touch, hear, smell and taste a product (if appropriate!), something unachievable in anything other than a live, face-to-face situation.
Q12) Have any famous people been to the show? Apart from Ruth of What allergy of course 😮
Ha ha, aside from you, of course Ruth, a few celebrities have attended the show in recent years, that I am aware of. F1 presenter Lee McKenzie, TV Weather Presenter Sian Lloyd, TV personality Janey Lee Grace and TV Dr Chris Steele have all been involved in the event. I also spotted, then spoke to TV / Radio presenter Gaby Roslin at one show, who was walking the aisles as a visitor. Gaby has a wheat allergy and told me that discovering the show made her “Want to cry (but in a really good way!)”, as for years she had wanted to attend something like our show, where choices were available to her and she wasn’t made to feel different or alone. Actually, the Gaby conversation led to us securing an interview on her BBC London Radio show, which was broadcast live during the 2013 London event.
We do try and approach as many celebrities as possible that we learn either have an allergy and intolerance themselves, or have experiences of / sympathies with the issues. Naturally, famous people can play influential roles in raising awareness, and it would be great to develop some more formalised celebrity endorsements – will keep working on that!
I should add, however, that to us, ‘famous people’ also include world-renowned health professionals in allergy attending and speaking at the shows, or incredible innovators that have brought game-changing products to the events; certainly no shortage of these types of ‘celebrities’ at our shows.
Q13) How many exhibitors do you get with products which are freefrom all top 14 allergens?
It is very rare that an exhibitor delivers a product like this, or markets it as such. I am aware that there is strong demand out there for more products that omit more than one of the most common allergens. We certainly encourage our exhibitors to market the relevancy of their products against the top 14 in order to widen their appeal at the shows, i.e. if your product excludes more than one of the most common allergens, make sure you tell our visitors. I think that as more brands develop more options catering for people with multiple allergen triggers, the show will simultaneously be able to improve its offering on this front. If you or any of your readers can recommend companies / products to us, then we would love to hear from you!
Q14) How can people meet up at the show and make contacts with others with similar allergies?
This is definitely something we want the shows to be known and used for. The shows exist to provide unique access to products and information in one place at one time, but they also provide unbeatable opportunities for people to meet and talk to other people going through similar experiences, as this can be so uplifting, reassuring and invaluable.
We have social media groups on Twitter (@allergyshow) and Facebook (search ‘Allergy Show’), where people can interact with us and each other in advance of the shows. Naturally, fantastic blogs like yours Ruth offer additional opportunity for pre-show chats and networking, as do all the incredible charities, associations and support group partners that attend the show. You question has actually given me an idea for a ‘notice board’ style page on our website, where we could ‘pin’ anyone’s requests / suggestions on meeting up for all to see. (WA: Great idea Tom – I’ve tried to meet people at the shows before and found it difficult to orchestrate. This should really help and especially for those who may be newly diagnosed or have noone to visit the show with.)
Finally, we want people to talk to us about their show plans and we will help in any way we can, should anyone require it. Talk to us via any of the above routes, or call / email us directly. Contact details for all of our show team can be viewed at www.allergyshow.co.uk/
Q15) Have you ever thought of introducing Allergy Mentors who can take others round the show and explain which things might be safer to explore and which not?
If this was something that people wanted, then we would absolutely consider it. We want people to discover the event in a way that best suits them. If visitors are seeking this kind of company at the event, then they should tell us and we would think about what we could do.
Q16) Do you ever get Food Services companies wishing to exhibit? Have you approached them and do you think the new Food Regs coming into force in Dec 2014 will encourage more interest from them?
We want to see a lot more food service companies at the show and are speaking to as many of them as we can; I am confident that more will become involved over the next few years. The regulatory changes on labelling that you speak of are certainly prompting food service companies to consider their allergy / intolerance offering more closely, which is a great thing. There are examples of major chains and independent outlets that are making admirable strides forward in these areas, and more will follow. We are working hard to partner with the best food service has to offer those with allergies, intolerances and autoimmune diseases, and convince them that our show is something they have to be part of!
Q17) What food would you miss most if you had an allergy that meant you had to cut something out?
I have a small addiction to Fab ice lollies. I have the addiction under control, kind of, but a dairy issue would threaten my twice-daily consumption. (WA: Fab ice lollies – now you’re talking. That’s the kind of food I dream of…)
On a more serious note, since my last time on your blog, my second child, Harry, has been born and is now just one. He has had a really tough year, as he has endured severe eczema, a suspected cow’s milk allergy / intolerance and confirmed egg and tuna allergies. My wife and I have lived that first year with a son that’s constantly poorly and often in a lot of pain (but that cannot tell you what’s wrong), which has been tough for all concerned. The journey of trying to identify Harry’s issues and get him the specialist help (and products) he needs has been worrying, stressful and deeply upsetting, and I now certainly have more first-hand experience of the impact allergies and intolerances can have on family life. Harry is doing a lot better now, and we are set on making his second year in the world a lot better than the first. (WA: Sorry to hear your little Harry has allergies. I hope you have found specialist help and it sounds like he’s had tests and allergies diagnosed. Keep monitoring and keep a basic food a symptoms diary if he eats anything new. Is he coming to the show?)
Q18) What’s your favourite kind of cake? You can name any here, anything at all. Mine’s lemon drizzle.
Will join you on the lemon drizzle there Ruth; a mighty fine cake.
Thank you Tom! A fascinating insight there from the Director of the show. If you have any questions for Tom or the show team or suggestions for future shows please do get in touch using the link above or post a question here for debate.
So, who is going to The Allergy Show North?