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First Ohio Food Summit slated for June 23

by Tad Thompson | June 10, 2010
The first Ohio Food Summit will be held June 23. Heading the summit is Lori Panda, the Ohio Proud liaison in the division of markets of the Ohio Department of Agriculture.

On June 2, Ms. Panda told The Produce News that the summit involves a meeting in Columbus that will bring retail, restaurant and distributor buyers to meet with Ohio suppliers. The suppliers will have tabletop product displays and prescheduled one-on-one meetings with buyers.

"Once the summit is over in June and connections are made and sells are done, we will follow through with in-store demos in August, which is Ohio Proud Month."

The Ohio Department of Agriculture, which is based in Reynoldsburg, OH, has had successful international matchmaking events, but this is the first domestic effort. According to the website, Ohio exports $1.2 billion in food and agricultural products each year.

The domestic effort began over the winter with an Ohio buyer survey, which confirmed a great deal of interest in buying Ohio products. These products include not only fresh fruits and vegetables but jams, salsas, meat and many other products. The goal is to have participation by 50 buyers and 50 suppliers. The one-on-one sessions will run for 25 minutes.

Ms. Panda said that the first Ohio Food Summit will be held at the Ohio Exposition Center the state fair grounds, which is on Interstate 71, with good connections from the center of the state.

Created in 1993, Ohio Proud is the Ohio Department of Agriculture's marketing program that identifies and promotes food and agricultural products that are made in Ohio and grown in Ohio. Agriculture is Ohio’s number one industry, contributing more than $98 billion to the state’s economy, according to the department.

Early this spring, Ohio Proud worked in cooperation with a program created by the University of Kentucky and Ohio State University. This involved five sessions that trained Ohio suppliers on how to increase their sales to restaurants, retailers and distributors.

This year Ms. Panda’s program is continuing use of its Ohio Proud Kitchen. This is a 24-foot-long mobile unit that is pulled by a vehicle. One side of the unit opens to become a demonstration kitchen, complete with large-screen televisions to help consumers clearly see what the chef is doing.

“We have been taking it around to farm markets, fairs and festivals. And consumer trade shows. We feature local products, how to prepare items and the importance of buying local. We tie it together by giving them options” on using local production with recipes. Beyond suggestions, such as using Ohio- made salsa in stews and soups, “chefs shop the market for local items and do demos with that produce. It’s a great way to educate consumers on how to prepare … produce in different ways. People like local produce in restaurants. And we help them incorporate locally-grown into nice recipes for family meals.”

Ohio Proud will participate in the Nov. 12-14 Fabulous Food Show in Cleveland. This large consumer-oriented event is scheduled to include Food Network chefs giving demonstrations.

(For more on Ohio, see the June 14, 2010, issue of The Produce News.)