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This year’s New England Produce & Floral Council Expo, being held April 27 at the Boston Convention & Exhibition Center, is similar in format and schedule to previous expos, but a few new features have been added.

NEPC logo“The keynote breakfast will be held on Wednesday, April 27, in the Harbor Ballroom in the Weston Hotel, and the exhibition is at the convention and exhibition center,” NEPC Executive Director Laura Sullivan told The Produce News. “We felt that the hotel would provide a warm and intimate atmosphere for the breakfast.”

She continued, “We are thrilled to announce that Nomar Garciaparra, the retired baseball player, will be our keynote speaker this year. He played for the Boston Red Sox for about 10 years and was then traded to another team. Before he retired, he played for the Boston Red Sox again for one day so he could officially retire from that team. Nomar will also be on the exhibition floor to meet and greet attendees.”

Ms. Sullivan added that Mr. Garciaparra is known to be an outstanding speaker and that everyone, particularly local people, should enjoy his presentation.

The number of exhibitors this year — around 220 to 230 — is also about the same as the show presented last year.

“We’re right in the ballpark with our numbers,” said Ms. Sullivan. “In our outreach efforts, we have been able to draw some new attendees this year who are from outside of New England. Representatives from Wegmans will be at the show. The company is currently preparing to open a store in Massachusetts. In addition, we will have great support from New England retailers, including Price Chopper, Foodtown, Kings Super Market, Delhaize Supermarket, Stew Leonard’s and Whole Foods.”

She added that many retail professionals participate in the council by serving on the board, and they are involved in many of its committees that help to plan NEPC events. Their involvement also helps to promote the expo.

“The NEPC expo also draws a growing number of attendees from Canada each year,” said Ms. Sullivan. “We think this consistent increase has partly to do with word of mouth. We do lot of trade-outs with Canadian publications, and we get our advertisements out in various publications, which also helps to get the word out. But the Quebec Produce Growers Association also supports us. They take three booths at the expo, and word spreads through that group. Other industry professionals have caught onto the buzz. We love having them at the expo, and they enjoy participating.”

The council has approximately 500 members, some of which are attracted to different events that it holds throughout the year.

Besides the expo, the organization holds an annual golf tournament, a dinner-dance social gala and three dinner meetings each year. It was founded in 1996, and has progressively grown over the years.

The council is proud of the speakers it has managed to draw to its dinner meetings.

Produce Marketing Association President Bryan Silbermann spoke at its January meeting. In May, Tom Stenzel, president of the United Fresh Produce Association, will address the group. The presentation speeches are held prior to the dinner events.

This year’s expo cocktail party is being held from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. Tuesday, April 26, at the State Room Boston, which is Longwood Events’ flagship venue. The State Room Boston is an urban event space offering breathtaking views of the harbor and city.

Located atop Sixty State St., this chic and modern venue boasts that it offers a genuine sense of being on top of the world. It is the only independently owned special-event venue that accommodates more than 850 guests in downtown Boston. The event is held to thank the exhibitors for supporting the show.

For the first time this year, the council is holding an invitation-only VIP reception one hour before the cocktail party to honor all the high-profile sponsors that support the council throughout the year.

The PMA Foundation for Industry Talent and the New England Produce Council are partnering on the first of four Career Pathways events in 2010 at the NEPC expo. Bringing together students, produce industry advisors and speakers, the PMA FIT Career Pathways program at the NEPC event exposes new talent to the passion of the produce industry. Students and mentors of the program are also invited to the VIP reception.

Ms. Sullivan called the Career Pathways program a great tool for the produce industry to get exposure among students. Students from the University of Massachusetts, Amherst and the University of Maine will attend the expo thanks to the sponsorship of Coast to Coast Produce Inc.

“The students get to walk around the expo and meet industry professionals who are working in careers that they love,” said Ms. Sullivan. “On Tuesday afternoon, the students will participate in a panel discussion with produce professionals, and then have a break before the VIP reception.”