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ANAHEIM, CA - More than 165 produce and floral exhibitors showed off their products and services at the annual Fresh Produce & Floral Council expo, held here July 14 at the Disneyland Hotel.

Despite the tough economy, nearly 1,300 produce professionals, including scores of retail produce, foodservice and floral buyers, attended the event. Store-level personnel, along with regional, store and department managers, meandered through the aisles to get an up-close glimpse of the latest trends in the produce and floral industry.

"We are very excited that so many produce and floral professionals took time out from their busy schedules to attend the expo," said FPFC President Carissa Mace.

Ms. Mace said that she and the council staff take great pride in how the expo has grown over the years and offered special praise to the council's expo committee "whose efforts helped make this such a fantastic event."

The opening general session examined how to drive sales during the current difficult economic times. Cindy Rapshus and Patty Knoll of Temkin International talked about how the floral industry can weather a down economy. Ms. Rapshus said that it is important to create value in the floral department. "Price, size, quality and service drive the customer's perception of value."

Ms. Knoll added that recognizing ethnic holidays like Persian New Year (Norouz) and Kwanzaa can help increase sales. She also noted that Valentine's Day and Chinese New Year fall on the same day in 2010, which should provide floral departments both challenges and opportunities to garner extra sales.

Emily Fragoso and Kate Reeb of Coast Produce Co. then took center stage to discuss ways produce can help drive sales. Ms. Fragoso said that it is very important to "bring authenticity to your store." She also noted that there is a new generation of consumers out there that does not know how to cook, and "teaching and engaging consumers with in-store cooking classes and demos would help educate that demographic."

Ms. Reeb said that cross-merchandising is another effective way to increase sales in the produce department.

"There are many resources available from commodity boards that enhance your displays and encourage impulse sales," she said.

Ms. Reeb also said that marketing to kids is a great way to not only increase sales, but to get a new customer for life. "Make it fun in your department," she said.

The Keynote Awards luncheon followed the morning portion of the expo. Michael Kent of Kent's Bromeliad Nursery was awarded the FPFC Floral Achievement Award, while Bill Laliberte of WJL Distributors received the Norman H. (Buz) Bolstad Produce Award.

The featured keynote speaker was Jared Fogle (aka the Subway Guy), who told the story of how his childhood obesity led him down a path of virtual destruction until he took matters into his own hands while in college.

Mr. Fogle decided to go on a strict regimen of lean Subway sandwiches, diet drinks and "a lot of fruits and vegetables." Within in one year, Mr. Fogle, who had weighed 425 pounds when he started his makeshift diet, lost 245 pounds. His story caught the attention of Subway, and he has been the company's primary spokesman now for nearly 11 years.

"It just shows that anything can happen in America," a grateful Mr. Fogle acknowledged.