The recent trend of boutique music festivals popping up all over North America may be taking the headlines, but in the world of food and drinks festivals, boutique has been the name of the game for many a year. Niche food festivals range from quaint country affairs to big-money enterprises. Gimmicky and quirky as they may often be, niche food festivals offer a lot of insight into the power of market segmentation, owning your niche, and how to tap into community heritage. For example: Who knew that thousands of people would flock to a five-day festival where the biggest name on the lineup (in fact, the only name on the lineup) is lobster? Did you even know that garlic cheesecake exists and that people will pay up to $1500 to try it?
Further, small niche food festivals have proven to be very creative at marketing: you’d be surprised at how many world records there are to be broken with specific foods! As an event industry professional, it’s always wise to take a look at adjacent industries to cherrypick ideas. So with that in mind, here are some of the most remarkable niche food and drink festivals in North America…
Gilroy Garlic Festival — Gilroy, CA
With a motto of “Bigger, Better, Bolder,” Gilroy’s Garlic Festival is three days of pungent, pungent bliss for California garlic enthusiasts. With food vendors from all over the world offering savory delights (plus one garlic cheesecake stand!) and a Miss Garlic Queen beauty pageant, the event is a family-friendly community affair.
It also happens to be a big source of revenue. For those who really, really love garlic, VIP packages can run up to $1500!
Maine Lobster Festival — Rockland, ME
One of the biggest niche food festivals in the US, the Maine Lobster Festival cooks up 20,000 pounds of crustaceans every August. A five-day affair with a full calendar of festivities, the Maine Lobster Festival also includes a parade, a cook-off, a beauty pageant, a fun run, crate race, three nights of live music, and a full market of beer and wine tastings. The festival was built upon the fine reputation of Maine lobster, and has turned the local tradition into a brand with a major event enterprise. Smart!
Uncorked Wine Festivals — Multiple Locations, US
Aiming for the higher-brow, higher-income demographic of wine drinkers, Uncorked Wine Festivals has produced a series of events around the United States—New York, Los Angeles, Chicago—and invites over 50 wineries per edition at glamorous locations. Their flagship annual event is in San Francisco, and ticket prices start at $60. Taking their small, upscale boutique event nationwide has opened the brand up to new markets and major revenue. The touring model has proven very effective for Uncorked, much as it has for smaller festival series’ in other spaces.
Halal Food Festival — Toronto, Canada
Approaching a decade in operations, Toronto’s Halal Food Festival brings the city’s multicultural identity to the forefront with a weekend of food that’s halal — or cooked to standards suiting Islamic tradition. Much like the kosher requirement of the Jewish faith, any food can be halal if prepared accordingly. Fittingly, there’s everything from burgers to cronuts on array as people of all faiths and walks of life attend. In this instance, a boutique food festival that’s uniquely fitted to the multicultural identity of its city is a vehicle for cultural engagement and a sign of a vibrant city.
Fellsmere Frog Leg Festival — Fellsmere, FL
Nothing says “Florida” more than a weekend stuffing your face with frog’s legs and alligator tail, and that’s just what the Fellsmere Frog Leg Festival offers. Famous for their $3 Frog Pops and $5 Gator Pops, this homey little festival has been going strong for over 30 years, holds a number of records in the Guinness Book, and Fellsmere is now—officially—the Frog Leg Capital of the World. The fest claims to have served almost 100,000 frog-hungry attendees. The festival is just another example of how picking a very, very, very tight niche can be a boon. It’s unlikely the Fellsmere Frog Leg Festival will ever have much competition in regards to amphibian eating events!
Cheese Curd Festival — Ellsworth, Wisconsin
Every June, little Ellsworth, Wisconsin is inundated with cheese curd enthusiasts from all over the country. Boasting 2300 lbs of cheese curd, curd-eating contests, a cheese curd-sculpting competition, and a 5k run to burn off all the calories, the Cheese Curd Festival has cornered the market in cheese-mad Wisconsin for #curdlife. The event has put Ellsworth on the map, as it was officially designated at the Cheese Curd Capital of Wisconsin, and has created a fledgling tourist industry where there was none before.
Corn and Apple Festival — Morden, Manitoba
Morden’s Corn and Apple festival deserves applause for sheer longevity. They’re been going for over 50 years with their truly unique combination of apple juice and corn-on-the-cob, with fruit and vegetable grown right in the community. The corn and apple juice are totally free, and the entire community of Morden takes part as volunteers or parade members. It’s a reminder that sometimes when establishing your niche, to think outside of the box. Sometimes your creation can take a life of its own—even if it doesn’t seem to make sense on the surface—and last for a half century!