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CEO DATELINE – Restaurant show deal marks major reversal

June 2, 2021

By William Ehart

It was a “unique” deal to begin with three years ago, in the words of the publication Restaurant Business, and now it has taken a singular, 180-degree turn.

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The National Restaurant Association, which sold its huge trade show to media and events company Winsight Holdings in 2018, has just taken a majority stake in the company. Winsight will remain independent with its current leadership team, the association said in a statement Tuesday. Reading between the lines of a statement from Winsight CEO Mike Wood, it’s clear the deal is meant to save his business. The lucrative restaurant show was canceled in 2020 and 2021 because of the pandemic.

“In the face of an historic challenge, our industry has shown resilience, innovation and teamwork,” he said in a statement. “Restaurants are in the early days of a comeback that promises significant growth for the next five years. Convenience and grocery stores have evolved and redefined what it means to be essential. Thanks to this renewed partnership with the association, Winsight’s market-defining thought leadership will be available to fuel a rebirth.”

Terms of the original deal were never disclosed, nor have been the terms of this deal. However, information from the restaurant association’s 2018 IRS Form 990 shows the deal boosted the association’s investment income by about $170 million. The show had been generating annual revenue of $30 million or more; the association reported total revenue of $110 million in 2017.

One of the selling points for the deal in the first place, for then-NRA CEO Dawn Sweeney, was to reduce the risk of the association’s exposure to the National Restaurant Association Show in case it ran into tougher times. But no one could foresee the impact of a pandemic like COVID-19.

“Together, the National Restaurant Association and Winsight will be better positioned to support the dynamic demands of the restaurant, foodservice and allied retail industries as it continues to rebuild,” NRA CEO Tom Bené said in a statement. “The association’s investment in Winsight reinforces its commitment to support and best represent the interests of the entire industry. Winsight’s robust engagement and event platforms along with their industry-leading informational resources contribute enormously to the success of every restaurant.”

Winsight’s collection of businesses address each segment of the food and beverage industry: restaurants, noncommercial foodservice, convenience stores and grocers, according to Restaurant Business, which along with three other publications is owned by Winsight.

Winsight also operates the annual Restaurant Leadership Conference and other meetings, and owns Technomic, a market intelligence firm for the food and beverage industries. And in addition to Restaurant Business, Winsight owns the convenience-store publication CSP, Foodservice Director and Winsight Grocery Business.

“Winsight’s business units and activities align with the association’s current and future strategic objectives related to providing our industry and members with useful content, best practices and convening opportunities,” Bené told Restaurant Business in an email. “In short, our board of directors recognized the tremendous synergies and opportunities between Winsight and the association.”

Bené noted that the association also provides support to the grocery, convenience store, hotel and lodging industries, and that Winsight’s businesses in those sectors could open more doors for both organizations. “This deal will provide additional opportunities for both Winsight and the association to supply best practice training and content to these existing markets,” he said.