TORONTO -- They came for the strong networking opportunities. They came for the quality business sessions. They came for the engaging speakers and the entertaining receptions.
Whatever the reason, members of the produce industry rallied in the face of the challenging economy and came to the 84th annual Canadian Produce Marketing Association Convention and Trade Show, held here May 6-8.
"I sensed the energy of the people who came this year," CPMA President Danny Dempster told The Produce News during the waning hours of the trade show May 8. "I know that people are working their butts off this year and I know that things are busy, but you sense that people were looking for a forum to go to get out and do business, but also to rejuvenate. These conventions are good for the soul. And I think that sometimes when times get tough, people feel that they should invest more in the industry and rally."
And rally they did. Mr. Dempster said that the 2009 convention saw 405 exhibit spaces - nearly a 25 percent increase over the best year on record, the 2007 show in Montreal with its 325 exhibit spaces.
The enthusiasm for this year's convention may already be carrying over to next year, according to Mr. Dempster, who said that "[exhibit space] sales for Vancouver are already 75 percent sold. We normally see 50 percent sales at this point for the following year."
He said that may be attributed in part to the fact that next year's convention in Vancouver comes on the heels of the 2010 Winter Olympics in that city, "which may add some excitement." But he also commented that part of the reason the CPMA show is so popular is that it offers a good value.
"It's a great place to do business, to network and to have fun," Mr. Dempster said. "When you think about our registration fee and what it covers with food, beverage, education sessions and speakers, it's a pretty darned good deal."
The industry apparently agreed, with attendance eclipsing 2,700. That lofty number was a pleasant surprise, said Mr. Dempster, given that companies have been cutting back due to the economy. Additionally, "the recent H1N1 [swine flu] scare started getting a lot of media attention [the week before the convention]. I started getting a lot of calls from people asking if we were still having a convention," he said. "So there was some initial worry that attendance might be affected, which it obviously was not."
Mr. Dempster added, "Obviously, I'm very pleased with the numbers part of it, but the quality of the program and the business sessions and speakers were all excellent. Attendance was very good at the sessions, even for a Friday."
The business sessions touched on a number of important topics. On May 7, the issue of labeling was addressed by a panel that included representatives from the Canadian Food Inspection Agency, the CPMA and the retailer Loblaw Cos. A concurrent session explored the challenges of working with Generation Y employees. On May 8, the business sessions included one that offered tips for Canadian firms that do business in the United States and another designed for the foodservice sector that explored the challenges of food safety, traceability and the "buy local" movement.
Several industry awards were given during the three-day convention, highlighted by the Fresh Health Award, sponsored by The Produce News. This year's recipient was Holy Redeemer Catholic Elementary School in Kanata, ON, just outside Ottawa. Emily Goold, a third-grade teacher at the school, was honored for her "Freggie Fridays" program, which uses Freggie, the CPMA's 5 to 10 A Day program mascot, as its centerpiece to spark her students' interest in produce and increase their consumption of fruits and vegetables. The CPMA has utilized Ms. Goold's program for its Freggie Fridays In-School Program, which is available to teachers across Canada.
Another notable recognition at the convention was the CPMA Lifetime Achievement Award, bestowed upon Larry Kieswetter, senior director of produce procurement at Loblaw Cos. Ltd. and 2009 convention chairman, who was recognized for his many years of dedicated service to Canada's produce industry.
While the business sessions and awards were certainly highlights of the 84th annual convention, the exposition stood out among attendees as the star of the show.
"I think we had almost every major chain and foodservice company represented here, and it provided a good opportunity for our exhibitors to network with their buyers," Mr. Dempster said of the exposition portion of the trade show.
Dennis James of the Pear Bureau Northwest, said that the CPMA show is very important "because it allows us to come out and show our commitment to the industry, and it allows us to see what is happening in Canada. Canadians consume twice as much produce as [consumers do in the United States]. That is crucial, because Canada is increasingly being focused on by savvy marketers around the world."
Doug Ranno of Colorful Harvest said that the show "has been great. It continues to grow each year, and it's a good place to come and see friends."
Kurt Zuhlke, president of Kurt Zuhlke & Associates, added, "I always enjoy coming to Canada for this show."
Speaking on May 7 toward the end of the first day of the expo, Dawn Gray of The Oppenheimer Group said, "It's been a good first day. We have a lot of things to show" the trade, including samples from its new domestic citrus program, which include Valencias, Navels, lemons and clementines.
Mayda Sotomayor, chief executive officer of Seald Sweet Growers, said that the company increased the size of its booth this year in response to the growing importance of the Canadian marketplace to the Vero Beach, FL- based firm. "It's a great show," she said. "The people are friendly and laid- back, and it's an overall good feeling to be here."
Doug Hawkins of Litehouse Foods said that the company has been exhibiting at the CPMA show "for decades. It's a nice, small size, but you still see everyone you need to see."
Mr. Dempster said that next year's convention will be held May 12-14 in Vancouver, BC, but the 2011 convention in Montreal will be held about a month earlier, April 13-15.