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VANCOUVER, BC -- Perhaps mirroring a rebounding economy that was touted throughout the gathering, the Canadian Produce Marketing Association's 85th annual convention and trade show set an attendance record when more than 3,300 produce professionals participated in the event, held here May 12-14.

The convention has expanded tremendously in recent years, and this year was no exception as the trade show registered a 25 percent increase in exhibitors over the last time Vancouver was the host city, which makes it the largest show ever. The event was peppered with general and business sessions as well as networking opportunities.

The convention got off to a rousing start as the keynote speaker at the opening general session Thursday, May 13, gave a very optimistic assessment of the economy and Canada's ability to emerge as a leader of the recovery in this changing economic climate.

Frank Feathers, who was billed as a global business expert and futurist, said that there are very strong signs that Canada is coming out of the recession faster than its closest neighbor (the United States) and well ahead of its European counterparts. He added that because of the country's conservative lending habits, Canada did not have to climb out of as big a hole as others, including the United States and the European Union.

He also said that Canada didn't have a housing crisis, largely because the banking industry took a conservative approach and did not make a lot of loans to people who had no visible means of paying those loans back. While Mr. Feathers bragged about Canada's recent economic performance, he did predict that the Canadian dollar would slide against the U.S. dollar heading back to a value of about 90 U.S cents.

The best-selling author believes that the United States will follow closely behind Canada down the road to recovery, "but the [European Union] and Japan will recover much more slowly."

He said that Japan has a long way to go and that it will probably be 2011 before that Asian nation shows signs of recovery. As far as Europe is concerned, Mr. Feathers said that recovery is totally dependent upon Germany, which has to be the economic engine fueling the EU's recovery.

Across the globe, Mr. Feathers said that China has nothing to worry about as it has huge cash reserves and is moving toward a consumer-driven economy rather than one dependent on exports. He scoffed at predictions that China is also headed toward economic ruin.

"There is no way China is going to collapse," he said, pointing to its high savings rate and its growth. "China is a huge economy on a giant run" with an economic growth rate of at least 8 percent annually over the next several years.

Having given his perspective of the global economy, Mr. Feathers turned his attention toward consumer trends, which he said bode very well for the fresh produce industry. Speaking mostly about Canadian consumers, he predicted that over the coming years baby boomers will develop a "depression era mindset" because of the difficult economic times that they have just had to face. He said that the deep economic slump in the United States and Canada has changed buying habits and that consumers will not go back to their pre- recession ways.

"There will continue to be a focus on value," he said. "They will spend less and save more."

He believes that one way this will manifest itself is families will stay home and cook more often. This, of course, is good news for the fresh food industry, which would then see a greater utilization of fresh fruits and vegetables. Mr. Feathers also predicted that people will strive for a better balance between life and work. He sees the trend toward being "green" continuing, which he said is also good news for the produce industry because people want a healthier planet and a healthier lifestyle.

He also believes that the current trend toward increasingly tech-savvy consumers will continue. He said that the use of the Internet will continue to explode into what he called a "webolution."

Mr. Feathers urged produce companies to take advantage of these trends by customizing, digitizing and innovating. He explained that consumers are looking for new and better ways to do everything, including eat. They also want information presented in a tech-friendly way.

The theme of recovery was also evident at several business sessions throughout the convention. In a session devoted to ethnic marketing, many speakers discussed the booming growth of the Asian community in Canada. Most estimated that the number of Asians in Canada will more than double over the next 20 years. The demographic is relatively affluent, and its members consume a very high percentage of fruits and vegetables in their diet.

Bernadette Hamel, vice president of procurement and merchandising for Metro Richelieu Inc., said that Asian consumers spend more time at the supermarket, take more trips and buy more fruits and vegetables. While some say Asian shoppers are looking for great deals and are focused on price, Ms. Hamel said that to appeal to these consumers, retailers may have to lower their margins on produce, but they should make them up with significantly more volume.

Another speaker -- Randy Friesen, director of marketing and communications at the British Columbia Institute of Technology -- said that the explosion in the Asian population has led to what he called "acculturation," which is both the immigrant Asian and the native Canadian populations learning from each other and adopting habits from each other. He said that one obvious example that plays out everyday in Canada is at local coffee shops, which are seeing Asians drinking coffee and Caucasians drinking green tea.


Fresh Health Award

Another highlight of the CPMA convention was the presentation of The Produce News 2010 Fresh Health Award to Peak of the Market, a grower- owned, not-for-profit organization headquartered in Manitoba. In presenting the award at the May 13 luncheon, John Groh, editor and publisher of The Produce News, recognized the firm for supporting Canada's healthy eating programs and for its penchant for innovative promotions.

At last year's CPMA convention, Peak of the Market held a raffle for a Smart Car that raised more than $30,000 to help launch CPMA's "Mix it up!" program, which is the successor to its "5 to 10 a Day" effort. Peak of the Market President and Chief Executive Officer Larry McIntosh accepted the prestigious award on behalf of the firm.

Other award winners were Carmina Halstead of Norfolk Organics, who received the Mary FitzGerald Award; and Rick Wallis of The Oppenheimer Group, Michael Mockler of Thrifty Foods, and Art Heppner of Overwaitea Food Group, who all received CPMA Lifetime Achievement Awards.

CPMA's new consumer marketing campaign, Fruits & Veggies -- Mix It Up!, which launched to the public March 1, received its official industry launch at this year's convention. Attendees were introduced to the full details of the campaign including media advertising pieces, sponsorship opportunities and the new web site (www.fruitsandveggies.ca).

Also new in 2010 was the Passion for Produce pilot program, designed by CPMA's education committee, to provide 11 rising stars in the produce industry the opportunity to expand their knowledge of the supply chain through mentorship and participation in various events.