PORTLAND, Maine – Entrepreneurs from northern New England gathered at at the Portland Sports Complex this weekend for a chance to sell their wares in stores and shops across the country.
The 30th annual New England Made Giftware & Speciality Foods Show brought together products from 275 Maine companies with more than 2,000 buyers representing small mom and pop stores as well as retail giants like L.L. Bean.
For store owners, the trade show offered an unparalleled panorama of unique New England products – from Moxie flavor jelly and moose dropping earrings, to handcrafted jewelry, driftwood home decor, and locally themed children’s books. For local entrepreneurs, the event provided a chance to turn a weekend hobby into a full-time job or a small-time operation into a major production.
Penny and Ian Bigmore were among the buyers at the show this weekend. They run County Airs, a small gift basket company in Salem, Mass. They try to attend the trade show every year to find new and interesting products to include in their baskets.
“We come to see lots of fresh new products,” said Penny.
The Bigmores said the New England Made trade show is different from other shows in New York in that you see more custom work and lower minimum purchase requirement – and ideal arrangement for their small business.
The Maine vendors exhibiting their goods range for well-known companies, such as Stonewall Kitchen and Wicked Joe Coffee, to recent start-ups looking to gain market entry.
Gavin and Mary MacDonald, the purveyors of Swineheart BBQ sauces, say a passion for food got them interested in smoking meats at contests run by the Kansas City Barbeque Society. From there, said Gavin, it was a “hobby that went sideways.”
Now the MacDonalds produce and market dozens of creatively labeled BBQ sauces at tradeshows across the country.
Jill Miller, owner and baker of Maine Pie Co., opened shop in October and is looking to expand her operation. The Kennebunk-based bakery specializes in gluten-free pies and will soon be relocating to a large space in Biddeford.
“Everyone has loved the pies today,” said Miller. “We’re hoping it leads to more business.”
The yearly event is produced by Giraffe Events, a family-owned Maine-based company that does similar shows throughout New England.
“Our successful spring show has long been known as the showcase for quality New England made products,” said Stefa Normantas, show producer with Giraffe Events. “Retailers look to us as a one-stop shop for unique New England made gifts and speciality food.”
Exhibitors pay fees based on the size of their display booths. The Maine Department of Economic and Community Development supports the event with a small grant of roughly $20,000 each year.
The next trade show will take place in Sturbridge, Mass., Sept. 14-15.