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Berk Concession Supply - Always Innovating

5/15/2017

By Mary Weber

Photo courtesy of Matt Cook

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Berk Concession Supply had humble beginnings as a family restaurant supply business. Through Rob Berk's hard work and perseverance, Berk Concession Supply has become one of the foremost concession supply companies in the fair and carnival industry. 

Berk's internal art department and "hitting the streets" advertising strategy has allowed them to build a strong client base predicted on serving concessionaires' specific needs and wants. 

Rob Berk's family was in the restaurant supply business. Their company, "Berk Paper and Supply," sold paper products, pots and pans, and cleaning supplies to restaurants. After college, Berk worked for the business as a salesman and, according to Berk, "Concessions was the last thing on my mind."

However,  Berk diPhoto By Matt Cookd enjoy going to the local county fair and noticed the different packaging concessionaires had available. 

Going from county fair to county fair, Berk saw a new opportunity for his business; selling a range of products to concessionaires.  Soon Berk had a price list of potential products and went after the industry. 

At the time Berk entered the concession business, the wheat design lemonade/drink cup was the only model for concessionaires. 

All drinks used the same cups and again, Berk saw an opportunity. He was the first in the concession industry to suggest ordering a cup exclusive to the vendor with "lemonade" written on it. 

These cups were unique; it allowed vendors to each have a different look and add more color to their concession line. Berk began delivering cups to concessionaires within a 40-mile radius for a delivery zone. Then, the design started picking up traction and demand grew: "Everybody liked the idea of a new, independently designed lemonade cup," says Berk.  Soon sales expanded beyond his home base.

A couple years after the roll out of specially designed lemonade cups, Berk created a new, specific "lemon cup" design. The cup featured lemons all over the outside of the cup with the word "lemonade" on it. 

The "lemon cup" design is one of Berk's most widespread and commonly used cups to this day. As his designs gained in popularity with fairs and concessionaires, Berk heard about the trade show in Gibsonton, Florida. Seeing an opportunity to introduce his products to an even wider audience, he called to try and reserve a space at the following year's show but found out that the entire inside of the building was sold out. He was offered a tent outside of the building on the grass and Berk enthusiastically replied, "I'll take it!"

Berk attributes a lot of his company's growth to his first year at Gibtown. He was able to meet many concessionaires and vendors and introduce his line to them. The next year, Berk got into the building at Gibtown and was able to show his designs; at this point he only had one line to display. 

A few years later, Berk met Jack Hanson who had created a "Next Generation" bottle that featured a clear lid with a straw; it was made with Pepsi, Coke, and generic drink designs. Berk loved the concept and  brought the design to Gibtown the next year. 

Dave Campbell saw the design and immediately wanted to order some of the cups. "I had a hard time getting the goods because they were selling so fast. Vendors were selling drinks they never had before because of the bottle," says Berk. Local market customers were ordering in large quantities and Berk just couldn't get them fast enough. He knew he had another hit on his hands

Once the "Next Generation" design took off, Berk began designing other  new and fun products for the industry. Reflecting the new emphasis of the family business, Berk decided to change the name of the company from "Berk Paper and Supply" to "Berk Concession Supply."  

One of the most unique features of Berk Concession Supply is their internal art department. Using the internal art department, Berk Concession Supply can work with concessionaires to design and create whatever design suits the company's needs or desires. "Our claim to fame is that we can customize cups for people and help them enhance their company's image," says Berk.

For example, concessionaires in the industry used to only have a one color print cotton candy bag; Berk came up with a five-color cotton candy bag to add more flair to the stand and the product. This kind of design and color innovation is what allowed Berk Concession Supply to become the dominant name in the industry. 

In order to continue growing his business, Berk would hit the streets to advertise. He would often hit five state fairs over a two week period to hand out cups and samples to potential customers. 

Art Rodgers started as a delivery driver with Berk Concession Supply but as the company grew bigger, Berk promoted Rogers to sales manager; "It was a natural progression for Art. I spend most of my time in the office managing things now," says Berk. Rodgers hits the streets and keeps in touch with customers.

Staying in the office allows Berk to spend more time with his family. He is the father of five children. Berk spends his time out of the office collecting pinball machines and video games. He even started his own pinball exposition show in Chicago. His love of collecting gaming machines has passed to his son who has started a collection of gaming systems on his own. 

Currently, Berk Concession Supply is working on rolling out some exciting new products for concessionaires. Berk says that they get most of their design ideas from speaking to people in the industry. By listening to their customers, they come us with solutions that can make their business more profitable.

Berk is rolling out a new line of lighted products, which will add some excitement to vendor booths at night. Additionally, Berk Concession Supply is working on making decorative products available to their clients to spruce up food joints; lemons and other vegetables on a rope to hang on food trailers are now part of the supply line. 

Some of their newer products include a thirty-two ounce tanker jug (an insulated drink container), as well as a strawberry topper cup, which includes the strawberry as part of a lid. Building on the popularity of smartphones and texting, Berk says they are working on designing an emoji souvenir cup.  Also in the works is a 12-ounce cup with a lid that looks like the face of a mosquito with the straw serving as a nose. 

Their tried and true products and innovations such as the fry bucket, mini donut bucket, and personalized "to-go" funnel cake bags are always available to customers and can be customized as each vendor requires. 

Berk Concession Supply's 2017 product catalog is available on their website


Art Rogers working the Berk Concession Booth in Gibtown

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