DALLAS -- It is said that everything's bigger in Texas, and the saying was
apropos for the National Watermelon Association's 96th annual convention,
held here Feb. 17-21 at The Fairmont Dallas hotel.
The convention set several records, including the total number of attendees
(436), the total dollar amount ($533,261) that the association's watermelon
auction raised, and the total number (61) of tractor-trailer loads of
watermelons that were donated for the auction, NWA Executive Director Bob
Morrissey told The Produce News.
Mr. Morrissey said that sponsorships for the event totaled $94,000, the most
the association has ever received; the convention also had the largest exhibit
center with 37 display spaces, the largest stage and the largest ballroom.
Todd Staples, Texas commissioner of agriculture, addressed attendees at the
breakfast and opening general session Feb. 19, saying that he was "proud" of
the state's watermelon production. "We have to remind ourselves that it all
goes back to marketing and selling," he said. "We have to define who we are
to the consumers of America and the world, and let them know we are the
best stewards of the land because our livelihood depends on it."
Mr. Staples said that the Texas Department of Agriculture has a successful
"Go Texan" marketing campaign and would be promoting Texas watermelons
during the Memorial Day weekend. He also noted that the department would
soon release its new "Agriculture is Your Culture" campaign to expand
"We need to expand the minds of Americans so we can be as productive as we
can," he said. "Not everyone appreciates agriculture, and we must not become
dependent on foreign food. We have to leave it all out on the field."
Several members of the trade who were at the event for the first time told The
Produce News at the annual awards banquet Feb. 20 that they were
impressed with what they saw.
John Foley, a produce specialist for Metro Ontario Inc. in Toronto, was at the
convention to accept an award on behalf of the retailer, whose Arnprior, ON,
store won the first-ever national watermelon display contest last year. Mr.
Foley told The Produce News that during his 15-year career in produce, "I
have never experienced something like this before. I never knew the
organization was as big and proud as it is. The hospitality has been great; in
fact, this whole week has been great."
Mr. Foley noted that five Metro Ontario stores competed in the contest, and
"we have received full support from our company for [watermelon]
promotional events in the future and hope to have 25 stores participating this
Robert Guenther, senior vice president of public policy for the United Fresh
Produce Association, who served as one of five judges of the watermelon
queen competition, told The Produce News, "This is a wonderful event for the
watermelon industry. It showcases the important issues for the next year, and
while the pageant seems to be the focal point, a lot of business goes on here
as well. It's important for the industry to get together once a year and set
Publix Super Markets Inc. received the association's Marketing Excellence
Award at the banquet and released a statement saying, "At Publix, we strive
to meet our customers' needs 365 days a year. We're committed to exceeding
customer expectations in a sustainable and food-safe environment. On
behalf of our more than 141,000 associates in 1,011 stores across five
states, we appreciate being recognized as a retailer focused on customer
value, service and quality."
John Lapide of Brooklyn, NY-based Melon One and the association's outgoing
president, passed the ceremonial gavel to Brent Harrison of Nogales, AZ-
based Al Harrison Distributors Co., who will serve as the association's
president for 2010.
Mr. Lapide said, "I have enjoyed my time as president. What other commodity
group has as much fun as we do?"
Mr. Harrison looked forward to his year as president and told attendees, "I
love this business. The industry is my life, and I really appreciate the
opportunity and will serve you well."
Mr. Harrison will be assisted by Jim Schmidt of La Quinta, CA-based Sunterra
West LLC and Lee A. (Al) Wroten Jr. of Lakeland, FL-based Global Produce
Sales Inc., who will serve as the association's first and second vice presidents,
The banquet ended with the crowing of Jessica Southard, the 2009 Florida
Watermelon Queen, as the NWA 2010 National Watermelon Queen. Lindsey
Mann, the 2009 Georgia Watermelon Queen, and Melinda Gooch, the 2009
Alabama Watermelon Queen, were the first and second runners-up.