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BOSTON -- This year's New England Produce Council Produce & Floral expo took place on April Fools Day, and most attendees and exhibitors would probably agree that the real fools were those who did not attend.

Now in its ninth year, the expo, which took place here at the Boston Convention & Exhibition Center and played up April Fools Day with the theme of "Gotcha!" drew about 1,000 attendees and had 210 booths, according to Laura Sullivan, executive director of the council.

"We've received some very positive comments" about the show, Ms. Sullivan told The Produce News at the expo. "It's an opportunity for people to get together and showcase new products, meet some new people and maintain old relationships as well."

Jack Salamon, the organization's president and senior category manager at Shaw's Supermarkets Inc., told The Produce News that he "expected attendance to meet and exceed last year's. The show has grown every year, and we try to add something more every year. It's something I personally believe in because as travel budgets for retailers get tighter and tighter, regional shows are going to become more and more important for people who don't get to go to the national shows. [Buyers] can go to the regional shows, and I think that's a real key thing. Everybody loves to go. Retailers will even come in split shifts, it's that popular with the buying staffs."

Attendees and exhibitors on the floor echoed Mr. Salamon's and Ms. Sullivan's sentiments.

Jim Lancey of the Boston-area retailer Market Basket, which had a large contingent of attendees on the show floor, told The Produce News, "This is an excellent show. There's a lot of new products to see, and in the last two or three years, we've seen more and more people" attending.

Jennifer Poulson of The Oppenheimer Group said that the expo was "like a mini-PMA for the Eastern Seaboard. It's nice to be able to talk to produce managers, and they can learn about products as well as how to merchandise them."

Pierre Dolbec, vice president of sales and marketing for Mirabel, QC-based HydroSerre Mirabel, which has exhibited at all previous expos except for the first, said that "this is one of the better produce shows out there. Compared to PMA [Fresh Summit], where maybe 5 percent of attendees are potential customers, everyone here is a potential customer."

Ms. Sullivan noted that this year the organization changed the venue for its popular cocktail reception, held this year on March 31, "which was very well attended and a success. We're lucky we have two great sponsors [in 4M Fruit Distributors and Oneonta Trading Corp.] to make that possible."

She added that the highlight of this year's expo was the NEPC's partnership with the Produce Marketing Association's Foundation for Industry Talent. Nine New England-area college students attended the event through its Career Pathways Program, and NEPC board members served as their advisors.

"We're looking to the future to bring some young professionals into the produce industry and we hope to continue with the Career Pathways Program," she said. "We look forward to partnering with the PMA next year and maybe expanding the program to possibly add another college. The addition of the program coincides with our mission to promote the fresh fruit and vegetable industry through education."