International Pizza Expo set to be largest in show history
Whether you’re attending your first or 15th International Pizza Expo, it’s safe to say the show has come a long way. This year’s Expo is set to be the largest in its 31-year history. The show hosted more than 1,000 vendor booths and attendees from more than 50 countries in 2014, and “while last year’s Pizza Expo was our largest event in the history of the show, we are anticipating this year’s to be even larger and with more attendees,” says Pete Lachapelle, president and publisher of Pizza Today.
Here’s what you can’t miss this year:
• School of Pizzeria Management. Returning for a second year is the School of Pizzeria Management, a two-day intensive designed to give both new and existing owners an operational leg up. Topics include opening a new pizzeria, building a multi-unit company, employee training and management, increasing business skills, food cost management and digital marketing. These classes will be helmed by experienced pizzaiolos with real-world experience and proven success in the pizzeria industry.
“We’re offering a second year of Pizza Expo’s School of Pizzeria Management after a highly successful launch at the 2014 show, during which approximately 250 Expo attendees attended intensive four-hour workshops on topics designed to improve the business performance of their pizzerias,” says Bruce Allar, vice president of meetings and conferences for International Pizza Expo. “This March we expect more participants and we’ve added two new sessions to the Sunday and Monday pre-show schedule: ‘Saving Dollars and Keeping Score With Your Spreadsheets’, and ‘Digital Marketing for Pizzerias.’”
Hot Tip: A ticket is required for these seminars, which will be held Sunday, March 22 and Monday, March 23. Additional costs apply, so if you’re flying into Las Vegas early, take advantage of the smaller sessions and one-on-one attention from some of the country’s top experts.
• New Operator Monday. Show management has seen an increase in attendees who are fledgling operators or planning to open a pizzeria soon. As a result, they’ve tacked on a first-day lineup of seminars designed to teach these operators about first-year branding, marketing and launching. At the end of the day, there’s a networking reception from 6 p.m. to 7 p.m.
Hot Tip: These workshops are free, and any early-arriving attendees are welcome to attend.
• Competitions. One of most exciting components to Pizza Expo are the competition elements. It takes guts to win the glory, and attendees have several opportunities to rack up big with pizza bake-offs via the International Pizza Challenge (IPC) and championship titles in the World Pizza Games.
The IPC has grown so popular that additional competitor spots were added to all five divisions and filled up months ago. Divisions in 2015 include traditional (red sauce pizza with a set number of toppings, non-traditional (anything goes), Pizza Napoletana (traditional Neapolitan pizza judged on proper baking techniques and old-world taste), gluten-free and pan. The 210 entrants hail from all over the world –– from Australia to Italy, Sweden and Japan.
“This year we made a few changes to the International Pizza Challenge that I think will make the competition better than ever and further establish it as the pizza-making world championships for the industry,” says Bill Oakley, vice president of Macfadden Protech, the parent company to Pizza Today and Pizza Expo. “First and foremost, we’ve added a Pizza Napoletana division that is sure to attract more international competitors. In fact, due to the prestige and reputation that the International Pizza Challenge now has with pizzeria operators from around the world, we’ve decided raise the bar for our judging panels. For the first time, we are going to bring in accredited chefs to judge the Pizza Napoletana division, the finals for the traditional and non-traditional divisions and the Pizza Maker of the Year competition. With all the money and prestige that’s on the line, we thought it was important to have an expert panel of judges to decide the winners.”
The World Pizza Games, always a crowd favorite, includes six categories this year: masters and novice divisions for freestyle acrobatics, largest dough stretch, fastest dough, fastest box folding and the pizza triathlon (a three-division competition). The World Pizza Games Finals will be held on Wednesday, March 25 at the Pizza Expo Block Party. The event is free for attendees.
Hot Tip: Not only do the division winners get to tout their success, but regional winners also use their wins for marketing gold. Consider signing up early for the challenges next year, as divisions fill up quickly.
• Exhibit hall. More than 1,100 booths will fill the North Hall of the Las Vegas Convention Center and will cover every aspect of the business, from POS systems, table apps and appetizers to mixers, sauces and cheese. “Pizza Expo gives pizzeria operators the opportunity to see, smell, taste and work with products they may never have a chance to experience anywhere else,” Lachapelle says. “Most don’t see an equipment representative but maybe once or twice a year and rarely have the chance to test ingredients beyond what their local distributor has to offer.”
• Seminars and demonstrations. While touring the show floor and testing vendor wares are great ways to see what’s new and find tools to get ahead, “first and foremost, (attendees) come for the educational component of the trade show,” says Lachapelle. “While the pizzeria industry is one of the easier and less expensive segments of the foodservice industry to get into, the vast majority of first-time pizzeria operators had no prior foodservice experience, much less had they ever worked in a pizzeria.”
The Pizza Expo staff has lined up a series of business-boosting seminars and demonstrations designed to cover everything from marketing and sourcing local ingredients to merchandising and managing financials.
“We continue to refine topics for the seminars and panel discussions that are free for all attendees,” Allar says. “They begin on Monday afternoon with a focus on programming for new operators and with the popular Pizzeria Concept Showcase. The 60 sessions offered Tuesday through Thursday include multiple first-time Expo presentations. We cover every aspect of the business — from back office, to kitchen, to front of the house — and will bring in more than two dozen successful pizzeria professionals to share their knowledge alongside a roster of top professional speakers and consultants.”
Hot Tip: The Beer & Bull IdeaExchange will be held on Tuesday, March 24. It’s a free networking event for attendees and exhibitors.
• Keynotes that count. This year’s keynote speakers include Jason Dorsey on Tuesday, March 24, and Marc Malnati on March 25. Dorsey is known as “The Gen Y Guy,” and he’ll speak about attracting, hiring and managing Millennials as both customers and employees. Malnati is the co-owner of the iconic Lou Malnati’s brand, a Chicago staple, and has appeared on several Food Network and Travel Channel shows.
Hot Tip: On Thursday, March 26, pizza industry consultant Big Dave Ostrander will helm a super-workshop at 7:45 a.m. covering portioning, purchasing, pricing and marketing. Seminar attendees will be entered to win a two-day, on-site consultation with Ostrander.
Pizza Expo concludes on Thursday with the Pizza Maker of the Year and Best of the Best competitions, and a $20,000 cash giveaway.
“If you’ve never been to Pizza Expo, it’s hard to describe in words,” Oakley says. “You really have to experience Pizza Expo to understand the excitement and interaction that takes place between our attendees and exhibitors. Everyone is truly anxious and motivated to get into discussions about new products, new technology, the latest industry trends and hot-button issues facing the industry today.”
Mandy Wolf Detwiler is managing editor of Pizza Today.