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With the United States in the middle of a recession, the Fresh Produce & Floral Council Expo Committee expected booth sales for its Southern California Expo in mid-July to reflect that and had projected a slight decrease from last year's record numbers.

However, "We have sold 168 booths, which is exactly the same number as last year," said FPFC President Carissa Mace. "We lost a few but we also gained a few; it is a very pleasant surprise."

The FPFC executive surmised that regional events may be just the ticket for companies in these difficult economic times. They of course want to remain connected to their customers and suppliers, and regional events may well offer an economic benefit as well. "Our attendance and our sponsorships for all of our events have been up, defying both logic and expectations," she said.

Speaking two weeks before the July 14 event, Ms. Mace said that expo attendance may also surpass last year's numbers in terms of both raw numbers and companies represented. The FPFC expo is geared toward in- store personnel, and the FPFC Expo Committee made a special effort to attract the ever-growing list of independent retailers that supply Southern Californians with their fresh produce and groceries. In 2008, there were 48 different retailers represented and 700 individual retail attendees. The kickoff session, which will begin at 7 a.m., is designed to give these attendees from both the floral and produce retail communities some take-home ideas to increase sales.

"We recognize that there are limitations on what an individual produce or floral manager or clerk can do within the framework of their department," Ms. Mace said. "But we have designed a program to create some ideas and help with regard to how one can increase sales in these tough economic times. There are strategies that can be used in-store to boost sales."

The workshop will be presented by Tempkin International and Coast Produce Co.

Titled How to Drive Sales in Tough Economic Times, the seminar is being billed as a no-nonsense, "how-to" seminar for all who sell to consumers. Cindy Rapshus of Temkin will bring her experience on the floral side of the business, and Emily Fragoso and Kate Reeb of Coast Produce will offer expertise from the produce industry. From marketing ethnic and minor holidays to understanding a customer's needs and basic buying habits, attendees will hopefully walk away with the knowledge to increase their bottom line.

The format of this year's expo, which will again be held at the Disneyland Hotel in Anaheim, CA, is similar to the formula that has been employed the past several years. The opening general session will be followed by a three- and-a-half-hour exposition that will allow attendees to roam the aisles and see what is new in the world of fresh produce and fresh flowers. This show is typically the only opportunity these in-store retail salespeople -- mostly from Southern California -- have to interact with these suppliers.

During the first expo floor session, the council will conduct its popular floral design and Produce 101 contests. The floral-design contest pits dozens of mass-market floral designers against one another to build a floral centerpiece in a limited time period. Each contestant is given the same material, which they do not see until the contest begins.

The Produce 101 event allows all attendees to enter the contest area and test their produce knowledge by correctly identifying some familiar and not-so- familiar produce items.

The keynote awards luncheon, during which the winners of these contests as well as other annual FPFC awards will be announced, will feature Subway sandwich pitchman Jared Fogle. Mr. Fogle has parlayed a pound-busting diet of Subway sandwiches into a career as a spokesperson for the fast-food chain and a motivational speaker. He is sure to discuss the importance of a healthy diet as he tells his story.

Following the luncheon and the announcing of the prestigious FPFC floral and produce awards of the year, the expo will re-open for a final two-hour session.

The council is also using the expo to focus attention on its two big initiatives this year: a needs assessment and a redesign of its web site. "We are in the final draft of our needs assessment survey," said Ms. Mace. "When the expo is over, full attention will be devoted to the survey so that it can be completed by the time our board goes on its annual retreat in November."

She said that the survey, which will be given to both members and non- members, is very important, as it will help the council set a strategic focus for the future. Ms. Mace said that the council, which is in its fifth decade of existence, has never conducted an independent needs assessment to determine exactly how it can serve the wants of its produce and floral communities.

The council is also in the midst of a web site redesign, which is focusing on not only the look but also the functionality. When the redesign is complete, the council will conduct e-commerce through the site, allowing event and sponsorship signups through the Internet. "We thought it was going to be a six-month project, but anyone familiar with what has to be done warned us that it would stretch to a year, and they were right," said Ms. Mace. "Converting the database so that it is functional has been a monumental task. There have been glitches, but we believe we will be up and running by the end of the year."

If all goes as expected, attendees, exhibitors and sponsors will be able to sign up for the 2010 expo via the Internet.