World Tea Expo and the Bar & Restaurant Expo – an interesting pairing

The 2022 World Tea Conference + Expo (WTE) was held 21-23 March in Las Vegas, Nevada at the Las Vegas Convention Center. Although it was the second show to take place ‘in-person’ (there was also a WTE in Las Vegas in 2021), for many it was their first one since 2019.

This year’s event kicked off on the 21st with an all-day Tea Business Incubator, which was geared towards anyone who is thinking about starting a tea business or just starting a tea business and looking for knowledge about the business-end of tea. Speakers addressed topics such as ways to attract and keep loyal customers; the ‘must-haves’ to start a business; understanding the current supply chain and shipping issues (both international and domestic); how to properly price your teas; and the importance of creating a business plan.

Sherolyn Sellers, CEO (‘TEO’) of Atlanta, Georgia-based Urban Tea Party, opened her session, ‘Why A Business Plan?’ appropriately quoting Benjamin Franklin while accurately summarising the best reason to create a business plan: “If you fail to plan, you are planning to fail!” After outlining all the reasons to create a business plan, and how to do so, Sellers noted that even a small business plan is better than no business plan, stressing to attendees that “hope is not a strategy — your business plan is your strategy.”

Lead emcee and speaker Babette Donaldson informed the audience that this year’s Tea Business Incubator was the largest WTE has ever held, with approximately 140 people in attendance.

The first day culminated with a WTE 20th anniversary party where the 2022 World Tea Best of Awards (that recognise tea leaders and innovators across key categories) were announced and past John Harney Lifetime Achievement Award Winners were honoured. Prizes were also raffled, including a grand prize: passes to World Tea EXPO Korea 2023 (not affiliated with Questex’s World Tea Expo) and hotel accommodations.

The World Tea Conference + Expo education sessions/lectures and the show floor opened on 22 March, co-located with parent company Questex’s other event, the Bar & Restaurant Expo (formerly the Nightclub, Bar & Restaurant Expo). Both exhibitors and attendees were all happy, even ecstatic, to be at an in-person event again to reconnect with friends, long-time clients and customers, and of course, network and conduct business face-to-face. The partnership brought added visitors, energy, and excitement to the show floor – bubble and fog machines, music, flame-throwing entertainers (near the Fireball Whiskey booth), a center-floor sports bar, pub/bar food and games, ample alcoholic beverages to sample and even a Tea Bar that featured both alcoholic and non-alcoholic tea-based cocktails – but many exhibitors wondered if the co-location would generate quality meetings and/or new business.

This year WTE also introduced ‘Tea Tycoons’ – a sort of Shark Tank for tea – where new companies pitched three judges (on a show-floor stage) on their new products in three key areas: unique customer relations, sustainability and innovation. The ‘contestants’ all have interesting concepts, and I am curious to see how their brands/companies will evolve.

Most WTE exhibitors all agreed that they were busy on the first day reconnecting with customers and fielding inquiries from WTE-specific visitors (some first-time attendees, other repeat ones). Attendance waned on the second day and last day, but the floor was still active. At the conclusion of the final day (23 March), many WTE exhibitors – mostly those who had tea to sample – admitted that while they had multiple visitors from the Bar & Restaurant Show, there was no real business interest or opportunity. So, did the Bar & Restaurant Show attendees bring anything to the WTE table? We will have to wait and see.

The 2023 World Tea Conference + Expo takes place 27-29 March in Las Vegas, once again co-located with the Bar & Restaurant Expo.

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