I'm Brad Bennett, a channel marketing manager for Tyson Foods, Deli Division. Our team is all about finding innovative research and strategies that take deli out of the store and to the consumers, so I chose six innovative and diverse food fests from around the country to see how retailers and suppliers can educate and inspire shoppers.

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The Big Why

What if it were possible to achieve double-digit department sales increases only by changing how we talk about dinner? Here at Tyson Foods, Deli Division, we know it’s possible to do cool and unique things that help the prepared foods department grow. In fact, we’re doing it.


We’ve learned that purchase intent and store loyalty are driven much more by engaging our shoppers on the meal experience than trying to sell them something in a box. In fact, the most important thing a retailer can do, in partnership with suppliers, is to educate and inspire shoppers. When we do that, consumers are enthusiastic and highly satisfied with the food they serve to their families and friends, which is what they truly desire.


That’s why I'm inviting you along as I explore some of America’s most unique and interesting food festivals to see how they’re successfully engaging consumers to use our offerings to reach that end state they seek.

Where and When:

The 2018 Austin Food + Wine Festival took place April 27-29 at Auditorium Shores and Fair Market in Austin, Texas.

What Happened

Now in its seventh year, the 2018 Austin Food + Wine Festival was one of the best yet. Between the world’s largest hands-on grilling demo on Friday evening to over 120 restaurants, wines, cocktails and beers at Auditorium Shores, it was clear everything really is bigger in Texas. Throughout the weekend, guests were treated to culinary creations from Austin’s top restaurants, bites from nationally renowned pit masters and chefs, Master Sommelier-led wine tastings, cocktail classes and more. There was no shortage of delicious moments to savor.

Why I went

This festival showed how retailers and suppliers can make an emotional connection with consumers and create experiences they love. Attendees called it a “once-in-a-lifetime experience.”


The down and dirty - and hysterically entertaining – “Grillin’ and Chillin’ rundown of basic grilling techniques was led by Texas native and celebrity Chef Tim Love, featuring ingredients branded with sponsor H-E-B’s logo. It was truly an authentic experience to see 400 people grilling out and having a blast together. And what an opportunity for H-E-B to engage with shoppers and provide them with delicious foods they could purchase again to recreate the meals on their own.


All in all, the Austin Food and Wine Fest provided the perfect grounds to kick off the festival season while creating a foodie’s dream world of learning, tasting and entertaining.


At a Glance

  • Audience: 5,000 visitors; 69% Female, 31% Male, 10 states represented, 56% are ages 35-54, 41% make $200K+
  • Hosts: Over 100 beverage brands, 50+ local restaurants & artisans, 40 demos & tasting sessions, 13 renowned chefs.
  • Presenting Sponsors: H-E-B, Bank of America, Republic National Distributing, Toyota, and FOOD & WINE

Where and When:

Celebrating 40 years of family fun, the 2018 Gilroy Garlic Festival took place July 27-29 at Christmas Hill Park in Gilroy, Calif., about 30 miles south of San Jose.

What Happened

Living up to its official certification by Guinness World Records® as the world's largest garlic festival, the Gilroy Garlic Festival served up three full days of incredible food, beverages, arts & crafts, live entertainment and cooking competitions. Founded in 1979, this event attracts a bevy of celebrity chefs and is hosted by thousands of community volunteers who raise millions of dollars for local schools, charities, and non-profit organizations.

Why I went

When a festival is still going strong after 40 years, they must be doing it right. The Gilroy Garlic Festival is recognized as the world's greatest summer food festival for its innovative concept, community impact, entertainment experience...and, of course, fantastic food!


The heart of the Garlic Festival is Gourmet Alley, the gigantic outdoor kitchen where the world-famous "Pyro Chefs" put on a spectacular flame-up show while preparing garlic-laced calamari and scampi in huge iron skillets.


I really got fired up at the Garlic Cook-Off Stage where everyone from famous TV chefs to the kids in the Garlic Chef Jr. contest created original dishes and wowed the crowds. It was thrilling to see thousands experience the exciting cook-offs and educational demos that inspired them to create meals they had never even considered making before – all because of one ingredient.


And who knew that “only-in-Gilroy” garlic ice cream could be that good! Yep, I’ll be back next year.


Where and When:

¡Latin Food Fest! is California’s largest annual Hispanic culinary celebration and is actually three total events. I attended the 6th annual summer festival at San Diego Bay, August 17-18, 2018. It will be held again in Orange County November 9-10, 2018, and at Santa Monica Pier, March 29-30, 2019.

What Happened

The ¡Latin Food Fest! events draw a diversity of attendees while helping to raise awareness and funds for the fight to end domestic violence for Ending Violence at Home and for the fight against hunger for Mama’s Kitchen and the Westside Food Bank. The 2018 festival in San Diego, just 15 miles from the Mexican border, created a unique and authentic cultural experience for guests and opportunities for corporate partners to showcase products and connect with consumers by featuring a comprehensive tasting of Latin spirits in California, paired with a variety of Hispanic cuisine. New to the agenda were the thematic culinary pavilions showcasing cuisine from South America, Caribbean, Mexico, Central America, and Spain.

Why I went

Did someone say “Latin spirit?” Or, was that “spirits…” Either way, I was immersed in the experience! The signature Gran Tasting is ¡Latin Food Fest!’s cornerstone event at which passionate millennial consumers sampled food and beverage, rubbed elbows with culinary personalities and engaged directly with brands. I found a sea of tasting tents showcasing food and beverage suppliers, all energized by bloggers, media email, online influencers, partner offerings and street marketing. There was always a vibrant Latin beat playing somewhere nearby, and I often found myself with a tasty tapas selection in one hand and a glass of something refreshing in the other. It was “la buena vida!”

At a Glance

  • Audience: 100,000 guests, primarily from Central and Northern California; 54% female, 46% male; 41% are ages 25-44; 24% make $150K+.
  • Hosts: A private non-profit corporation powered by 4,000 volunteers; celebrity chef judges for amateur and professional cook-off competitions; some of country music’s hottest sensations appearing in 50 concerts on three stages.
  • Presenting Sponsors: Raleys, BelAir, Nob Hill Foods

Where and When:

Hosted at Woldenberg Park along the banks of the mighty Mississippi River in New Orleans, the National Fried Chicken Festival took place September 22-23, 2018.

What Happened

Presented by Raising Cane’s, this free outdoor festival brought food, music, family and festivities together in celebration of the classic Southern dish. Events included the Fried Chicken Tenders Eating Contest and the Best Fried Chicken Contest, judged by local and national food writers, bloggers and critics.

Why I went

Crispy, extra crispy, double dipped, spicy, mild, extra spicy -- fried chicken is served a lot of ways in a lot of wonderful places in New Orleans. It’s also a go-to staple for prepared foods shoppers. This marked the second year we’ve partnered with grocer sponsor, Rouses Markets, to truly bring the deli to the people. We joined in with other booths to sample some of the best of the best and provide incentives for shoppers to head into the store later for more deli goodness. We also provided unique ways to pair fried chicken for a satisfying and quick meal to educate our shoppers. This free, outdoor, two-day festival transformed one of deli’s basic building blocks into a memorable meal experience. The event featured two music stages, cooking demonstrations, family-friendly activities and a fried chicken finger-eating contest.

At a Glance

  • Audience: 20,000 visitors in two city locations at eight events; 65% female, 35% male; 85% Hispanic; 47% are ages 25-44
  • Hosts: Headliners included celebrity chefs Aaron Sanchez, Marcela Valladolid and Enrique Olvera. Entertainment was headlined by Latin rock sensation, Sonsoles.
  • Brand Partners: Northgate Markets, Toyota USA, Don Julio, Wines of Garnacha, HENEKEN, The J.M. Smucker Company, Sutter Home Wines, Milagro Tequila, Obrigado Coconut Water USA, Tequila Corralejo, Bohemia, Joseph Gallo Farms, Exotico Tequila, Las Palmas Sauces, Big Green Egg, and Los Arango Tequila

Where and When:

Now in it seventh year, Feast Portland has been called “the best food festival in the country” by Thrillist, the “food festival to beat” by Tasting Table and has been recognized by local and national media alike. Consisting of more than 40+ events that were held at various locations centered around downtown Portland and throughout the city, Feast Portland took place September 13-16, 2018, in Portland, Ore.

What Happened

With events both intimate and expansive, both consumer-facing and industry-fueled, Feast Portland is a thoughtfully designed and time-tested forum to showcase a brand, launch a product, test a concept and tell a story. From intimate dinners featuring Portland’s best and the world’s best chefs, to industry parties welcoming top media and food world elite, to large tasting events featuring dozens of chefs and thousands of attendees, Feast is a celebration of the newest, the hottest and the best the food world has to offer—all located in one of America’s most inspiring and delicious places: Portland, Oregon.

Why I went

With 50+ events, classes and experiences, Feast Portland is more than a food and drink festival. It’s a movement that showcases the energy, creativity and enthusiasm that’s driving America’s food revolution. From the Grand Tasting, a city-blocked sized food celebration that is a celebration of all things fresh and delicious, to Fireside Chats with Bon Appétit Editor-in-Chief Adam Rapoport, Feast offers some of the most compelling experiences and original programming in the modern food festival conversation. Vive la revolution!

At a Glance

  • Audience: 175,00+ attendees from all 50 states; 60% are from Louisiana, neighboring states are well-represented; 65% female, 35% male; 50% African American, 40% Caucasian, 10% other
  • Hosts: The Spears Group and its non-profit subsidiary, Festivals for Good, which donates money, food and culinary programs to local agencies including Café Reconcile, Liberty Kitchen and Second Harvest Food Bank.
  • Brand Partners: Raising Cane's and the grocery sponsor was Rouses Markets

Where and When:

The Arizona Taco Festival believes in creating meaningful and memorable experiences. The 2018 festival was held October 13-14 at Salt River Fields in Scottsdale.

What Happened

Having celebrated its eighth year, the Arizona Taco Festival now occupies a permanent position on Arizona’s annual calendar of signature events. Every year, festival goers flock to Salt River Fields to taste the most delicious tacos from the valley’s best restaurants and food trucks. The 2018 theme was “From Beach to Barrio.”

Why I went

As the millennial melting pot continues to shape the profile of American demographics, the nation’s collective menu is following suit. Multi-ethnic foods and beverages are on pace to be a $10.7 billion industry by 2018. Tequila sales have more than doubled in the last decade from $962 million to $2 billion and tacos are leading the way…up 42% since 2009. This is more than a fad. It’s a conversation changer that deli needs to explore and “Taco ‘bout” some more. We partnered with Bashas’ to offer a fun, engaging experience with shoppers and provide incentives to drive them into stores later by inspiring them with taco meal trends, made easy with rotisserie chicken from the deli. Plus, there was a photo booth (that generated 200K social media impressions) and who doesn’t love that?!

At a Glance

  • Audience: 20,000+ attendees, primarily from Oregon; 67% male, 32% female; 57% are ages 25-44; 30% make $200K+; 162 members of the media with 602M media impressions; 127 chefs
  • Hosts: Founded in 2012 by Mike Thelin and Carrie Welch, Feast is also a festival that puts charity at the core of its mission. Since its inception, the festival has donated close to $400,000 to help end hunger in Oregon and across the country. In 2018, Feast will support two worthy hunger causes – Partners for a Hunger-Free Oregon and Urban Gleaners.
  • Presenting Sponsors: Bon Appétit, New Seasons Market, Travel Oregon, and Washington State Wine