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Leaving Las Vegas: United Fresh to hold 2011 expo in New Orleans

by Rand Green | April 26, 2010
LAS VEGAS, NV -- The United Fresh Produce Association, based in Washington, DC, announced that it is ending its three-year run in Las Vegas, NV, and will relocate to New Orleans for next year's convention.

While this news came as a surprise to many attendees of this year's convention, most were unfazed as they looked to make the most of their experience at United Fresh 2010, which focused on school salad bars and produce traceability as two of its main themes.

United Fresh 2010, held here April 20-23 at the Sands Convention & Expo Center and Venetian Hotel, kicked off with a golf tournament the first day followed by an afternoon general session featuring former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush as keynote speaker.

At a breakfast general session Wednesday, April 21, featured speakers were Eric Goldstein, chief executive officer of the New York City Department of Education's office of nutrition and transportation, and Chef Jorge Collazo, executive chef of New York City SchoolFood, who spoke about the school system's efforts to increase fresh produce consumption in schools, including a commitment to put a salad bar in every school.

Replicating that program with a goal of getting a salad bar in every school across the country is a major objective of United Fresh and constituted one of the two major themes of the convention. The other major theme pertained to food-safety initiatives, in particular the Produce Traceability Initiative.

Food safety and how to get children eating more fruits and vegetables are two very different challenges but are "two sides of the same mission" and the two main things that are "keeping our attention," said Tom Stenzel, president of United Fresh. "We are not going to be successful increasing consumption of fresh fruits and vegetables if there are fears about food safety. We've got to have sound, practical, balanced food-safety rules in place to help restore consumer confidence."

Speaking at the Wednesday breakfast session, Steffanie Smith, chief executive officer of River Point Farms LLC in Hermiston, OR, and United's incoming chairman of the board, emphasized the need for the industry to work together "to harmonize the multitudinous food-safety audits facing each and every one of us" and also "to drive and expand fresh produce in schools." She asked convention attendees "to join me in personally supporting the Salad Bar in Every School campaign."

Research shows that "children significantly increase their consumption of fresh fruits and vegetables when given a variety of choices in a school fresh fruit and vegetable salad bar," Ms. Smith said.

Educational sessions throughout the convention covered a wide range of topics of interest and concern to the industry, and this year many of the educational programs were actually in learning centers and demo centers held on the trade show floor concurrent with the show.

Trade show visitors and exhibitors alike seemed generally pleased with the event.

"It was an excellent show," said Doug Ranno, chief operating officer of Salinas, CA-based Colorful Harvest. "Traffic was very active, and there were a lot of buyers and senior retail people as well as owner-level on the wholesale side."

"It was a very good show," Bill Schneider, director of marketing for Melissa's/World Variety Produce in Los Angeles, said toward the end of the second day of the two-day show. "We had very good attendance yesterday and today. Traffic was very strong the first couple of hours of the show and was pretty steady" for the rest of the show, he said. "We saw some key customers."

Bill Myers, marketing manager for Diagraph, which provides a line of ink jet coders, laser coders and automated labeling systems, and is a first-time exhibitor at United Fresh, said that the company was "very excited to be here. We see a real value in reaching the fruit and vegetable industry here."

"We are very pleased," said Jamey Higham, vice president of business development and foodservice for Potandon Produce in Idaho Falls, ID. "We were very happy with the quality of the people that are attending this show," both customers and potential customers.

"The show is good. We have had nice steady customers coming through," said Kenny Kusumoto, international sales manager for Driscoll Strawberry Associates in Watsonville, CA.

"I think this show has a lot of interesting new elements to it," said Mike Aiton, marketing manager for Prime time International in Coachella, CA. "The meeting rooms in the center and the concurrent workshops that are going on around the edges [of the exhibit area] make it very interesting. We are having a great time and getting a lot of good work done, so it has been a valuable show for us."

"We have had a steady flow of traffic," John Pandol, vice president of special projects for Pandol Bros. in Delano, CA, told The Produce News about midway through the second day. "We have had five fish, of which one, I would say, is a big fish, and for a two-day show, that is not a bad average."

"We have always gone to United, and we find it to be a great value," said Chris Ciruli, chief operating officer of Ciruli Bros. LLC in Nogales, AZ. "It is a very intimate feeling here," and because of the slow pace, "we find that we get a lot of quality time with vendors and customers."

Mr. Ciruli said he felt that Jeb Bush "had some on-point topics that he discussed" in his keynote address.

Chris Veillon, marketing manager for Mastronardi Produce in Kingsville, ON, said that he was pleased with the number of quality prospects that visited the booth. "We had steady traffic most of the time and made good use of our business suite."

Elizabeth Pivonka, president and CEO of the Produce for Better Health Foundation in Hockessin, DE, said that "hearing Jeb Bush" was a highlight of the event. "I thought his five-point plan was good." She also found it very interesting to hear the thoughts of speakers from New York regarding their salad bar program.

Ms. Pivonka added that she always enjoys the United Fresh show because "it is a chance to see leaders in the industry and have some time to talk to them."

Marc Nadel of Paterson Pickle Co. in Paterson, NJ, said, "The show was good. Hopefully we made some good connections."

"It is a different show," said Al Vangelos, president of Sun World International in Bakersfield, CA, who compared it to United shows years ago when they were "more like a mini-PMA." United has "redefined the show, and what they have is more user-friendly," he said. "I think they are on the right track."

The business suites on the show floor seem to be successful and increasing in acceptance, he added. "People are really using them."

Mr. Vangelos said that he was surprised that "there are a lot of retailers here. Every major retailer is represented."

Bob Lords, a salesman for The Garlic Co. in Bakersfield, CA, said, "This is our second attempt here at this show. We have seen a few good customers of ours, and we have talked to a couple of people that we might be able to do business with."

Next year, United Fresh will be held in New Orleans, and Mr. Lords said, "We are debating whether we are going to be able to make the trip. It is a great venue but a little far away from home and more costly to get to."

Driscoll's Mr. Kusumoto shared a similar concern about going to New Orleans. It is "a nice place," he said, "but for us coming from the West Coast, it is further out and not as easy to get to."

Except for its distance from the West Coast, however, no one spoke negatively about New Orleans as a venue for United Fresh 2011.

"I'm looking forward to it," said Mr. Schneider of Melissa's. "It should be a good venue for us. It will be an opportunity to bring some of those Southern customers over to New Orleans."

"I like New Orleans. We're excited to go there and expect to see a whole new group of visitors" in addition to the usual attendees, said Potandon's Mr. Higham.

"I think New Orleans will be well received, and it will probably get a lot of Eastern people who don't want to venture all the way out here," said Mr. Vangelos of Sun World.

"I think it is fantastic. It is something that our company will support. We are definitely going to be in New Orleans," said Mr. Ciruli of Ciruli Bros., who thinks having the convention in New Orleans is a great way to help support the city that is still recovering from Hurricane Katrina. "I think it is a shame that we haven't had more of our conventions down there in the last few years."

Furthermore, "I love eating there," he added. "They've got some great cuisine."

(John Groh contributed to this story.)