June 24th, 2024

Big turnout ensures success for food and beverage expo

By Justin Seward - Lethbridge Herald on January 24, 2023.

Herald photo by Justin Seward Blanco Cantina workers serve up tacos, tequila and churros to Alberta Food and Beverage Expo goers on Saturday night at Exihibition Park.

Thousands flocked to Exhibition Park to sample breweries, distilleries and foods during the Alberta Food and Beverage Expo on Saturday night.

The last AFBE was held in April 2022 under COVID and now the show is back to its normal schedule.

“This feels like the regular schedule, that’s for sure,” said Chris Meilleur, AFBE show organizer. “I think it’s going to be more consistent to what we would expect in a regular year for sure.”

There were approximately 150 vendors at the AFBE that made up 200 booths.

“And we have a ton of new companies, breweries and distilleries here in Alberta,” said Meilleur. “And there’s quite a few new companies from around the world as well representing their product. So it’s a ton of variety, a lot of new things from the last show, and then the restaurants are here demo-ing their latest and greatest and here to kind of meet everybody.”

Meilleur said it made it difficult when it came to planning this show after the one in April.

“Because we just had the show (10) months ago, which people aren’t used to,” he said. “So now we’re back to a once a year schedule. But a lot went into it and there was a lot of stress I think coming from a lot of vendors because no one really knew what to expect coming out of COVID, and everybody has been working really hard to try to get things back to normal. But from when I talk to the vendors, and the restaurants and the reps, it feels like things are getting back to normal. People are starting to get out again, and get out there and support those local businesses.”

Meilleur thought it is important for the vendors to know that Lethbridge is a great market and it’s not just Calgary and Edmonton.

“As much as we love those cities, this is our city, and we want to make sure that these guys are coming out and meeting and acknowledging the guys that run businesses that carry these products or could be carrying these products,” said Meilleur. “I think that’s where it’s important. It’s important to highlight these not only to the consumers, but to the business owners. And to come and support them and meet the reps that are behind the product, so they can get them back to the city (and) supporting their brands. Which in turn is supporting the businesses here in town.”

AFBE did about 3,000 ticket presales this year.

“We usually don’t do that high,” said Meilleur.

“So I think that bodes that we’re going to have a really good night tonight.”

Blanco Cantina is a new restaurant in the city that is hoping to open up this spring at Festival Square for those taco, margarita and tequila enthusiasts.

Jeff Chisholm and Darren Weekes are the owners.

“Something new to Lethbridge, something exciting, something youthful,” said Chisholm. “I mean Lethbridge has a lot of good restaurants and they’ve had those restaurants for a long time and we’re excited to kind of introduce something new – a new concept altogether. We’re going to have rooftop patio down there eventually and some excitement for downtown Lethbridge.”

Chisholm said the Food and Beverage Expo has been awesome.

“They’ve been a great partner, I mean we’ve been working with them for the past six, seven years with our brand Original Joe’s and now with Blanco,” said Chisholm. “And it gives us a great chance to kind of showcase and so excited to work with Chris and his team.”

Steve Kuffler, Justin Atterbury and the rest of their team started Taynton Bay Spirits five years ago in Invermere, B.C.

“We’ve been rocking and rolling ever since,” said Kuffler. “We went on Dragon’s Den there; we were looking for some marketing opportunities and ended up landing a deal with (venture capitalist) Arlene Dickinson. We made it through the old COVID and we love coming to these Alberta festivals. They’re absolutely fantastic. They’re the No. 1 marketing tool that we have probably, is people get to come and try our product here.”

The team has realized how competitive the spirits industry could be.

“You got to be on you’re ‘A’ game to make sure that you make it,” he said.

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