Marketing / 08.13.18
State Fairs Return to Roots With Unique Treats
Did you know the original purpose of state fairs was to promote state agriculture? Through competitive exhibitions of livestock (rodeos) and displays of farm products (petting zoos), state fairs came into existence to celebrate and boost state food production.
With that in mind, if your friend takes a photo of a funnel cake at your local state fair and captions it with, “It’s all about the food!” they’re kind of right.
Of course, rapid industrialization brought carnival games, amusement rides and neon lights to the state fair, which added another layer of fun to the experience. For decades, state fairs drew massive crowds with this hybrid of food and entertainment, but recently, there’s been a shift. Director of ticketing and analytics for the Kentucky State Fair Dale Gann says he’s seeing unique attendance challenges today for state fairs.
“The size of our collected world has gotten so much smaller with the explosion of Facebook, mobile devices and the internet,” said Gann. “Fifty years ago, your community and friends were composed of 100 or so neighbors within a five-mile radius of your house. Now, your community and friends can include people in Great Britain, Japan and every state in the United States. The challenge is that we’re competing for guests’ attention in an age where so much entertainment is available at our fingertips and in our homes.”
To face these challenges head on, Gann says the Kentucky State Fair is going back to its roots. “The Kentucky State Fair has always been a celebration of what Kentucky is truly known for worldwide: agriculture,” said Gann. “From the amazing horses seen each year in the Kentucky Derby to the millions of crops harvested, the Kentucky State Fair celebrates the important history of agriculture and its impact on the lives of people around the world.”
This year, the Kentucky State Fair has introduced several new attractions: “Agland,” which will have all things agriculture in one place, and the “Bluegrass Village,” which will showcase Kentucky-crafted foods, beer and bourbon. The Bluegrass Village will also have an interactive entertainment area and be adjacent to the free concerts every night for the 11 days of the fair.
Another way of going back to food roots is with… food. One surefire way to always draw a crowd, no matter the event, is with delicious treats ― particularly ones that are social-media worthy, like the Kentucky State Fair’s “Dragon’s Breath” ice cream.
“For Dragon’s Breath ice cream, picture cereal balls coated in liquid nitrogen and served in a tall cup,” Gann said. “When you pop them into your mouth, they are cold like regular ice cream and, because of the liquid nitrogen, when you then breathe out, you look like a fire-breathing dragon!”
Gann says Dragon’s Breath has proven to be a big hit with fairgoers, as has their “glazed donut burger.”
“The glazed donut burger is a taste sensation that really needs to be tried to be appreciated,” Gann said. “A hot and fresh glazed donut is sliced in half, then a 100 percent USDA beef patty is placed in the middle. When it was first offered, there was the obvious hesitancy by our average fairgoer. Now, the line begins when they open each day and never really goes away until they close for the night.”
These larger, more extreme treats are a staple of state fairs in recent years, with everything from fried butter to a “beef sundae” in Indiana to a $100 gold burger in Toronto. They’re seen as a great way to get people interested in attending their state’s fair, even if the awareness of their own comes through a clickbait article on others’ crazy fair foods.
Although Gann agrees that it’s important to tease out these tasty treats to whet potential fairgoers’ appetites, he recommends that ticketing professionals prioritize early promotion of their state fair and communicate the value included with the purchase of fair admission.
“We are offering free concerts this year and discounts for customers who purchase tickets online in advance,” he said. “We want to communicate the value that is included for guests with the purchase of admission.”