Event | Northumberland County
Purpose of Project
The Bon Appetit! Food Business Conference was hosted in partnership between Northumberland County, the Ontario Agri-Food Venture Centre (OAFVC) and the Agri-Food Management Institute (AMI). The goal of the conference was to introduce Ontario agri-food entrepreneurs to AMI and OAFVC, highlight the importance of business skills, and build networks and relationships to benefit conference participants and sponsors. Many communities in Eastern Ontario had never offered AMI workshops. In partnership with AMI, Northumberland County hoped to bring together food entrepreneurs to facilitate the promotion of the OAFVC as a niche food-processing facility; Northumberland’s Business and Entrepreneurship Centre’s services; and AMI’s business skill development resources.
Effectiveness / Meeting Objectives
Everyone’s goal for the Conference was to bring together as many food entrepreneurs as possible. We wanted to
keep the conference as “business to business” as possible. Northumberland County committed to a conference
attendance of not less than 60 people, with a stretch goal of 40 of those attending self-identifying as food
entrepreneurs. Entrepreneurs were invited to participate as speakers, to share their success stories and their
challenges. The notable exception to entrepreneurial speakers was a Canadian Food Inspection Agency speaker who
agreed to address upcoming regulatory changes that would impact many niche processors and entrepreneurs.
Interest and participation far exceeded expectations with 117 delegates registering, including 91 food entrepreneurs.
Most registrants were from the targeted eastern portion of the province.
Challenges & Changes Made
Food Entrepreneurs are notoriously challenging to market to. Social media provides vast niche networks but they are
scattered, hard to identify, and offer membership to food entrepreneurs while declining membership to service
providers. Community newspapers, formerly a reliable resource to reach local audiences with marketing messages,
are shuttering every week. To that end, Northumberland sought to implement a unique approach to marketing by
focusing on a radio campaign, augmented with sporadic social media posts and personal emailed invitations.
Understanding that entrepreneurs in the start-up stage of their business are more likely to stream local radio stations
into waiting rooms, shops, and even as “on-hold music” for traditional business phone lines, we partnered with
MyFM’s 19 stations across the province and ran a two week “pop-up” campaign to promote the conference. In
Northumberland, we have noted a 60% increase in attendance at events when we use “pop-up” advertising – running
three or four ads a day, three to five days a week in the two weeks before the event. In this campaign, we saw similar
results in eastern Ontario, however feedback from western Ontario indicated that much longer lead time and a more
traditionally structured approach to promotion is needed.
This event was marketed to all Ontario food entrepreneurs, but organizers hoped to specifically engage
underserviced eastern Ontario agri-food entrepreneurs. Anecdotally, agri-food entrepreneurs generally fall into two
demographic categories; a) young entrepreneurs under 40 who are highly educated but have never run their own
business, they usually work at least part-time for an unrelated employer while working to launch their own company,
and b) “second career” entrepreneurs who are generally over 50, retired, have varying levels of education but
frequently see the benefit of applying knowledge gained in their previous career and are supported by an alternate
source of income such as a pension or RRSPs while they launch their company. In this case, as eastern Ontario
entrepreneurs were our key target audience, we feel the advertising campaign was a success.
Any specifics as detailed in the particular Awards Categories
Please see the attached radio commercial, conference program, outcome & metrics report, and post-conference
media samples to better understand the success of this event.