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IN THE TRENCHES: Exhibitor booths are backbone of Fresh Summit

by Ron Pelger | October 13, 2011

The aromas of sweet apple cider and pumpkin pie filling the air are certainly clues that the autumn season is once again upon us. The atmosphere is also filled with excitement for another annual Produce Marketing Association Fresh Summit convention. This means meetings, workshops, speakers, networking, fellowship and exhibitor booths.

I wrote several articles regarding retailers and wholesalers attending the PMA Fresh Summit. The intent was to pass along tips and suggestions to make the trip worthwhile by taking something of value back to a company.

It takes a lot of energy to dart around the Fresh Summit expo floor visiting the many exhibitor booths. Nevertheless, it is necessary if you want to accomplish something for your company. After all, the people behind setting up those booths put a lot of hard work and effort into them. Planning alone is done far in advance.

George Szczepanski, sponsorship-exhibit sales manager for the PMA in Newark, DE, explained, “Planning for Fresh Summit is a process that requires much work and advance preparation. In my position, I begin planning over two years in advance when I visit the site to get a feel for the physical expo space. We start about 16 months in advance when I receive the first applications from current exhibitors to participate in our early booth assignments, which take place on-site at Fresh Summit for the following year. The on-site booth assignments are one of the busiest and most crucial times of the process when I meet face to face with 350-400 exhibiting companies over a two-day period to select their space for the following year. This process accounts for the reservation of almost 90 percent of the show floor. There are over 650 booths and 900 exhibitors in all. In the end, it’s important to remember that the time and money exhibitors spend with PMA in preparation for the convention is only a fraction of what they spend in total. It’s our job to bring the value to make the trip worth their while. On the show floor, I’m confident that we do that through the quality of the exhibitors and attendees, the people and connections who make Fresh Summit worth the trip, year after year.”

Robert Schueller, director of public relations for Melissa’s/World Variety Produce in Los Angeles, added, “Our total booth size is 1,200 square feet. Our category displays consist of Asian, Latin, organic, vegetable, tropical fruit, citrus, soy product, new produce, potatoes, onions, dried items and a value-added line. We display over 600 varieties of produce during the show and typically 15 new items of packaging, product and innovation. We have a kitchen with six chefs sampling 30 different recipes of produce throughout the show to give visitors a culinary taste.”

It takes months and years for companies to plan their booths. There are special equipment needs to consider for displaying refrigerated and dry products. Much time goes into drawing schematic layouts for the booth. Hours of meetings take place to ensure all bases are covered. Finally, the day arrives for the physical setup to take place.

I personally have had experience in helping plan and set up a large display booth at one of the PMA conventions for Derrell Kelso, owner of Onions Etc. in Stockton, CA. I can attest that there is a lot of time and hard work that goes into preparing a booth.

Mr. Kelso said, “It took six to eight months of planning our booth for the PMA in Anaheim [CA] a few years ago. We sent photos and diagrams back and forth between Ron Pelger and his operating vice president, Dick DelGizzi, for reviewing and advice. As a team, we made a few adjustments and final tweaks, and then set it up together successfully. It was beautiful, and the results of the booth paid off immensely for our company.

“What does a booth vendor learn and take back with them to their company after the convention ends,” Mr. Schueller replied, “Melissa’s takes back five important points after the show: one: new changes within the retail environment in buying decisions and category management; two: new sale leads mainly at retail; three: connect with new and existing growers; four: retail trends from PMA educational seminars; and five: media leads of new product innovation and merchandising.”

Mike Aiton, director of marketing at Prime Time International in Coachella, CA, said, “When I return back to the office after attending a convention like PMA, I am a physical mess — feet hurt, back aches, lost my voice and badly in need of sleep. However, emotionally and mentally I am all fired up. I generally have so many things to follow up on, so much to do and ideas that need to be pursued.”

The action of setting up booths is very exciting and impressive. At many events, I saw vendors amass on the show floor, hastily moving about their areas putting together booth structures as though it were a huge assembly plant. It may take a considerable amount of time to plan, design and construct, but all the effort is well worth the results.

Most convention attendees are unaware of the work that is involved putting together exhibit booths. Their concern is mainly what the exhibitors deliver.


Ron Pelger is the owner of RonProCon, a consulting firm for the produce industry and a member of FreshXperts, a consortium of produce professionals. He can be reached at 775/853-7056, or through