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NEW ORLEANS — The United Fresh Produce Association returned to The Big Easy for its 2011 convention after a three-year run in Las Vegas, and while attendance was down slightly compared to last year’s event, the association touted the quality of attendees and the program as highlights of this year’s show.

 

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At the River Point Farms booth at the United event were Stefan Matheny, product research and development manager; Steffanie Smith, chief executive officer; Carly Kwak, sales manager; and Tonya Giotta, director of sales. Ms. Smith was the outgoing United Fresh chairman, having served since 2010.
John Toner, vice president of convention and industry relations, said that feedback he had received from those in attendance indicated that “everyone is finding value” and that it was the “right size show” for both exhibitors and attendees.

 

“We had 150,000 square feet of exhibit space with 250 exhibitors, and while the 4,000 attendees here was down slightly from last year’s 4,200, the quality of attendees was very high,” said Mr. Toner.

Drilling down a bit into the numbers, Mr. Toner revealed that food-safety exhibitors were down from last year, but the number of produce marketers that exhibited was up. Additionally, business suites that the association introduced a couple of years back were up 35 percent.

“I don’t think you can measure the success of a convention purely by the number of attendees,” Mr. Toner said. “To me, it’s all about the quality of the contacts and conversations you have, and this show provided that to both exhibitors and attendees.”

He said that retail attendance was way up this year, with several national and local chains well represented at the show, including Associated Grocers, Rouse’s, Loblaw, Whole Foods and United Supermarkets.

New Orleans also was a draw for the foodservice sector, with members of the city’s abundant hotel and cruise ship operations turning out for the show.

Mr. Toner’s comments were echoed by a number of exhibitors and attendees polled on the trade show floor.

Kevin Brooks, chief marketing officer of FoodLink Online, said that people coming by the company’s booth were “hungry for information” and that the size of the show “allows us to spend time with people at our booth. It’s a good central location for us where we can meet with the people we normally just speak with on the phone.”

Leonard Batti, a partner at Mixtec, an executive placement firm in the produce industry, said, “Our business is all about networking, and this show gives us an opportunity to spend three days speaking with people in a nice city, so there is real value for us.”

Doug Ranno, managing partner and chief operating officer of Colorful Harvest, said, “There seemed to be less foot traffic this year, but the right people are here and we have been able to set up some great meetings.”

Nick Dulcich of Sunlight Sales said that United “is on the cutting edge of what is happening in produce, and it is a great place to come and see what is new.”

Mr. Toner said that the show will move to Dallas next year and co-locate with the Food Marketing Institute and the American Meat Institute, an occurrence that will happen every other year through 2020. On the off years, United will hold its own show.

“We are looking at this as having a big show with other store categories on the even years and our own private produce show on the odd years,” he said. “Co-locating [with the other categories] provides our members with a lot of opportunities and should draw even more retail buyers to the show.”

The industry might be thinking along the same lines, as a number of exhibitors have already booked larger booths, and island booths are already sold out for next year’s show in Dallas.

“When I return to the office next week, I will begin negotiating with FMI and AMI to get more exhibit space for produce,” he said. “Currently we have about 20 percent of the floor space, and I would like to get that up to about 25 percent.”