MONTEREY, CA -- Being three years into a recession has not dampened the momentum of the Produce Marketing Association's Foodservice Conference & Exposition, which celebrated its 30th anniversary at this year's show held July 29-31, here.
Just before the close of the exposition, PMA President Bryan Silbermann announced that attendance at the event was nearly 1,700 people -- a virtual tie with last year's record attendance. He said that it was also about 100 people more than what he was expecting.
Mary Wright-Rana, director of marketing for Pro*Act and co-chair of the PMA Foodservice Conference Planning Committee, told The Produce News at the end of the show, "I think the conference has gone great. The sessions have been awesome." The speakers "really focused on innovation, flavor and the future to get produce on half of the plate going forward. “It has been fabulous.
"In the expo today … the flavor sensations are wonderful with some of the new creations" being showcased and sampled. "I have never eaten as much in a trade show before," Ms. Wright-Rana continued.
In speaking to many of the new attendees and new exhibitors this year, she said, "I found out they really feel this is one of the best things that they have done to get to know the industry and the people and products that are out there."
The three-day event kicked off Friday, July 29 with the sixth annual Joe Nucci Memorial Golf Tournament, which benefits the PMA Foundation's Career Pathways Program.
Also that morning, field tours designed for foodservice distributors, operators, chefs and menu research and development personnel allowed participants to witness the abundance of the Salinas Valley with visits to Ocean Mist Farms, Taylor Farms and Steinbeck Country Produce.
An invitation-only reception for new members, first-time attendees and exhibitors was held that evening, followed by the 30th anniversary Opening Reception.
On the morning of July 30, prior to the opening general session, the PMA Foundation held a 5K "Race for Talent."
At the Saturday opening session, Joe Stubbs, former PMA board member, director of foodservice for Sunkist and managing director for foodservice at the Mixtec Group, was given a special recognition award for having the vision that led to the formation of the PMA Foodservice Conference & Expo three decades earlier.
In the opening session, Mr. Silbermann and Dawn Sweeney, president and chief executive officer of the National Restaurant Association, discussed progress that has been made toward the goal set two years ago to double produce consumption in foodservice within a decade. They agreed that flavor is the key to achieving that objective.
"Flavor and health really do go hand in hand," said Ms. Sweeney, who also spoke about what restaurants are doing to offer their patrons more healthy choices. She said that she has come to realize over the last couple of years how much the restaurant industry and the produce industry "have in common."
A panel of seven industry experts from various segments of the produce and foodservice industries discussed the challenges and opportunities they see for the industry. Educational workshops addressed food-safety issues and the buyer-seller relationship. A women's networking event was held Friday evening.
On Sunday morning, a chef's demo networking breakfast gave participants the opportunity to vote on the best new flavors. That was followed by a discussion on the meaning of flavor and the way in which fresh-cut produce can be used to enhance the flavor experience.
The Foodservice Flavor Exposition ran from 11:00 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Sunday.
"The show has been great," said Mark Munger of A&W Fresh Produce in San Diego. "We really like this show because it is so targeted to a specific audience -- the foodservice audience. The fact that it is quick and you kind of get in and get out, it keeps everybody really actively engaged.
"I also think that with everybody having a 10x10 exhibit, it becomes a great equalizer and forces us all to prioritize our message,” he added. “So the smallest company is just as important at this conference as a big company, and it really gives everybody an opportunity to be heard and be seen. It has been a fantastic show for us. We have been steady and busy all day long. So it is a really good opportunity.”
"The show has been excellent," said Louis Hymel of Spice World, based in Orlando, FL. "Every year we enjoy coming to it. The venue is great. I hope they never change the venue. And the group of people that come to this show it is good for business -- a lot of old customers and potential new business."
"The show is going exceptionally well," said Bruce Knobeloch with River Ranch Fresh Foods LLC in Salinas, CA. "Great attendance, great balance of buyers and sellers. It has been a great couple of days."
"PMA is always a very good show for us," said Cindy Wong of Fresherized Foods in Saginaw, TX. "You get to see all your produce friends and network and it is a very intimate conference. We are able to see all our customers and catch up and network."
"The foodservice conference is always a great show for us," said Mark Givens of HMC Farms in Kingsburg, CA. "We get to see a lot of customers and friends. To do business in the produce industry and foodservice, you've got to be here."
"The show is fantastic," said Javier Badillo of Santa Paula, CA-based Calavo Growers Inc. “What I see in this show and the new movement to half a plate is wonderful. What I really see trending -- which started years ago but [can be seen] now more than ever is creating that product for the end user that just takes more and more steps out. It is just amazing how you see cut and processed everything, giving the end user the ability to cut costs and use so many more of our products as real quick ingredients. That, I think, is fantastic."
The conference featured a number of first-time exhibitors, who saw first hand what others have come to appreciate during the three decades that the show has been in existence.
"This is our first time being here," said Bill Smittcamp of Wawona Frozen Foods in Clovis, CA. Wawona does fresh frozen fruits, and the show "really has been a good experience for us," he said. "We have met some new friends and we have also tied together with some of our existing customers from the fresh side."
Greengate Fresh LLP, an Arizona-based processor of fresh-cut salads that are marketed to the foodservice industry, has attended the show in the past but was exhibiting for the first time this year, said Travis Pendleton. “We have met some good people here and are hoping to make some good new business contacts,” he said.
While not a brand-new exhibitor, California Vegetable Specialties had not exhibited in about 18 years before returning to the expo floor for the 30th anniversary show, said Richard Collins, founder and president of the Rio Vista, CA-based producer of endive. “It’s a great way to connect and reconnect with people. We’re all about education, since [endive] is fairly unknown in the trade, and there are a lot of great people here. We are trying to build awareness for the many uses of endive.
John Carter of Limoneira Co., based in Santa Paula, CA, said that as a first-time exhibitor, “It was great to see our customers face-to-face and talk about new business opportunities.”
Kim Martin from Frais Farms in Australia was a first-time attendee at the foodservice conference, although he has been to PMA Fresh Summit a few times.
"We are growers and shippers of baby leaf salad in Australia, spring mix, baby spinach," he said. His customers in Australia are predominantly in the foodservice business. "So the pitch that these suppliers are making to their customers is very similar to what we do at home. Some interesting packaging formats are being used here. We are getting a few good ideas."