By Carson Whitlock
When I was younger, I had a passion: sugary sweets. Growing up in the Southern Californian desert with one of the nation’s largest producing date areas, resort-styled desserts, a nationally-renowned toffee factory, and Halloween nights filled with candy bartering between close friends and family, I was privileged to be around a lot of great sweets.
With such great roots, and now living in Utah and seeing all the different dessert artisans and entrepreneurs here, I realized that there must be something greater than just trying out all the different places every time I went on a date. There was something more to it all than merely dessert shops vying for coupon space on an annual calendar that my roommates and I hung on our fridge. I thought there must be some sort of event that brought all these fantastic products, people, and their stories together to showcase something that made Utah’s food culture stand out from others. In all my time looking at other events, all I saw were specialized chocolate, or donut, or keto conferences that had elements of these various dessert places, but never celebrating the industry as a whole.
The birth of One Sweet Festival
During the summer of 2018, I was hired by a marketing firm that focused on sports and political clients. The state’s professional rugby team, and the largest Utah rodeo, were two clients I spent the most time with, helping them market and build great events. While the rodeo had been around for 175+ years, the rugby team had just started its inaugural season. Working side by side with these two clients helped me to catch the entrepreneurial spirit as well as see how a larger event ran itself, dealt with vendors, and convinced sponsors to participate. With this perfect match, when the idea came to run my own event, the decision was not hard. I felt like I had enough basic experience to proceed further. That’s when One Sweet Festival, Utah’s premier dessert/sweets festival, was born.
Balancing the two types of event experiences
While working with the marketing firm, I realized the importance of two types event experiences: the experience a business has when it participates and the guests’ experience. Many other events I had attended focused on either one or the other, with the exception of a few. The events were either too business-focused, or they just tried making everything free for guests to where businesses were better off not attending the event as opposed to remaining involved. This seemed wrong to think that most events needed to focus on one side rather than trying to find the relationship between both. My belief is that if you can create a great experience for both parties, then that is what strengthens communities more quickly and where you will find greater success.
With One Sweet Festival, my goal is to establish these two types of experiences simultaneously. For vendors, we want to make this a great marketing event where they are more intertwined with the festival’s narrative and make money to sustain their businesses. For guests, we want to provide opportunities to discover, support, and enjoy different businesses and activities. So far, the response from both parties has been great. The festival’s goal is to have 5,000 guests attend in the first year with more than thirty dessert and sweets-specific vendors ready to sell and interact with these guests. My team has been working earnestly to intertwine the guest experience with the vendors’ experiences so that each feels like they are contributing to something greater than just the transaction around a cookie, brownie, or slice of cake.
Involving relevant industries
We have also been working with a local culinary program to use the event as a platform for their students to learn more about the industry, what the market is like, how to deal with customers, raise revenue, and inspiration for their own future creations. For their involvement, we will be setting up a scholarship for a student who wins our taste-off competition that will be put to the higher level culinary school of their choice.
The influencer marketing hustle
In terms of marketing, we know that desserts naturally get Utahns excited. Even with that natural instinct, we have plans to promote and brand the festival to the immediate area’s citizens. With our social media, we have focused on highlighting local foodies who are already contributing to the Utah food scene. We work with a lot of micro-influencers to get their ideas on what they would like to see at the festival and how they got started promoting restaurants and other food products. With their highlights on our pages, we have personalized our social media marketing so that guests can see all those who are excited about coming. Inspiring these foodies with my ideas has also been an enjoyable experience, as many have been invested in sharing their ideas to make the event more successful.
While we are still in the earlier stages of the event, our personalized social media that promotes businesses and our attendees has built a community that I know will grow and be strengthened in time for the festival the first week of September. Follow us on our Instagram account @onesweetfestival or on Facebook to see the exciting things that are happening as we grow and continue to engage in the community.