A decade ago, officials at Western Fair District looked around North America and saw the growing popularity of wine and food shows and decided London deserved the same treatment.
With their own experience in consumer and trade shows giving them confidence, the district launched the London Wine and Food Show — to albeit very modest success.
There were 25-30 exhibitors who attracted crowds in upwards of 2,000 people.
However, Heather Blackwell, director of corporate affairs at Western Fair District, said the groundwork was laid for greater success.
“Any new show has to prove itself. In that first couple of years the vendors who were with us had a good experience. The customers who went had a good time and told others about it,” Blackwell said. “So word of mouth spread . . . people were more willing to join for the third, fourth, fifth year. Now we are well respected by the industry by our exhibitor base and it has a good, strong, loyal following from our customer-base.”
To put that growth in perspective, this year’s event, taking place Jan. 15-17, is expected to draw at least the 12,000 people who attended in 2014. While taking in the event — which has moved this year into the newly renovated Western Fair Agriplex — visitors will have their pick of some 100 vendors.
The Agriplex was built specifically for agricultural events, but has been significantly remodeled to allow it to accommodate 5,000 guests.
That extra space will come in handy. Blackwell said the show was at capacity, or sometimes over-capacity, within the district’s Progress Building.
“It was certainly a tight fit,” Blackwell said. “But that atmosphere was good, walking shoulder to shoulder, there was a lot of energy. But we knew that as things expanded we would need a larger facility to meet consumer demand. So we are really excited to be moving into the Agriplex.”
While there may be more room for participants within the Agriplex, the program itself remains jam-packed.
The show opens on Thursday, Jan. 15 with a discounted $10 ticket price which guests purchase in advance. That is followed by what the district is calling “Fun-Filled Friday” and “Savoury Saturday,” which is open from noon to 10:30 p.m.
Among the highlights is the appearance of Celebrity Chef Rose Reisman from 5-7 p.m. on Saturday, Jan. 16. Best known for her many popular cookbooks, Reisman has also written extensively on topics, which include fitness, chronic disease prevention, weight management, career stress, nutrition trends, parenting and dealing with challenges of a rapidly changing world while living a healthy lifestyle.
Another popular event takes place Thursday, Jan. 15, at 8 p.m. The Firefighter Fashion Show will see local firefighters modelling the latest fashions and collecting donations for the Dave Mounsey Memorial fund.
The London Wine and Food Show embraces a concept Blackwell describes as “farm to fork, and glass.” Highlighting this concept will be the introduction of a number of new agricultural education demonstrations and seminars discussing topics such as Ontario grape growing, ice wine harvesting and food pairings, cheese and whiskey production, mushroom blending, healthy eating and more.
Beverage exhibitors will feature a wide range of local, regional and internationally recognized wines, craft beers, and spirits. For the food lover, local restaurant and specialty food exhibitors will bring sampling options to suit all sweet and savoury seekers.
The steady growth of the show, Blackwell said, tells district officials that their gamble 10 years ago has truly paid off.
“The turnout tells us what we are offering is well liked. It is an opportunity for people to try before they buy, sample from many restaurants,” Blackwell said. “It is a great opportunity for people to investigate and enjoy, but also, there is the social aspect of mixing and mingling, talking with food experts, and just learning about what you like in terms of food and beverage.”
London Wine & Food Show
• Takes place at the Agriplex (845 Florence St.)
• Thursday, Jan. 15: 5–10:30 p.m.
• Friday, Jan. 16: 5–10:30 p.m.
• Saturday, Jan. 17: Noon to 10:30 p.m.
• Must be 19 years of age and older to attend
• No babies, toddlers or children at the show
• $10 in advance on Thursday, Jan. 15 only
• $12 advance (until Wednesday, Jan. 14 at 11:55 p.m.)
• $15 at the door
• 10 Coupons: $10
• Couples package $50 (save $10) - two admissions with 30 sample coupons
• Available online at www.westernfairdistrict.com or at guest services locations
• Tickets available at the door Jan. 15–17