Wine and Food Festival pours a profit

January 31, 2010
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The 2nd Annual Wine and Food Festival held at DeVos Place in November had a $62,000 turnaround from the first event.

“We’re very pleased to come in with nearly $32,000 worth of profit,” said Henri Boucher, vice president of Showspan Inc., which partners with the Convention and Arena Authority for the three-day event.

The second festival turned a profit of $31,886, while the inaugural one lost $30,516. The CAA and Showspan split the event’s profits and losses.

Attendance at the 2009 festival was up by 26 percent from 2008: Nearly 10,000 people sampled wines, beers and food items. Revenue from admissions jumped by 48 percent to $76,748, up from $51,825 the previous year.

“The advance sale for the show was quite high — 700 through TicketMaster,” said Rich MacKeigan, CAA executive director, who explained that usually about 100 tickets are sold before an event like this one.

The average ticket price rose by 18 percent, from $8.74 in 2008 to $10.34 last year because complimentary passes were reduced by 8 percent.

The 2009 festival took in nearly 30 percent more in rental revenue, $124,900 vs. $96,600, with the number of exhibitor booths rising to 213 from the first event’s 160. But income from sponsorships dipped in 2009 to $45,000 from the $55,000 the first festival netted. Total revenue stopped just short of $248,000.

Total expenses fell by 8 percent, dropping to $216,041. More than half of the expense total last year, nearly $119,000, went to market and advertise the event. MacKeigan said most of the marketing was aimed at exhibitors, while the advertising was directed at the public. “We do think we will see that number come down,” he said, for future events.

Despite the higher attendance at the second event, Boucher said individual wineries reported selling less wine than at the first show. The sales dip was credited to the number of wine exhibitors growing by 40 percent to 140, and the larger number gave consumers more choices. Roughly 1,100 wines were available for tasting in November compared to 770 at the first event; the number of beers doubled from 70 to 145. Those figures set off a red flag.

“We have to make certain that we don’t grow too much,” said Boucher, who noted that size matters. “We want to make sure that our vendors do well. That’s our overall goal.”

Boucher didn’t think more restaurants would be added to the event, as he didn’t want to dilute business for the 10 that took part in November. He did say that he’d like to have the restaurants hand out free coupons to attendees at the next one. “I think they’d benefit more from the show,” he said.

One aspect of the event that may grow larger is the Riverfront Market. It sold fresh food items, and Boucher said he would look into expanding the market. He also may add a “beer garden” in the Welsh Auditorium lobby for the next show, which will run Nov.  18-20.

CAA Chairman Steven Heacock asked what the wine and food festival would look like in 15 years, and MacKeigan said defining that now was a challenge. But he added that Showspan has “walked this road before” with longer-running events, such as this week’s Michigan International Auto Show now in its 12th year, and that the crowd attending the festival will change over time as its current patrons grow older. “It’s about us putting on a quality show” was how MacKeigan summed up the situation.

One change Boucher promised to make for 2010 is to shorten the wait to buy sampling tickets. He said those transactions took too long to complete on the event’s second night, a Friday.

“People come to spend two or three hours with us and they stand in line for a half hour,” he said. “We have to change that.”

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