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ATLANTA — At least eight grower-shippers headquartered in California’s Salinas Valley will combine their booths at the Produce Marketing Association convention in 2012 and create a location-specific space.

Lorri Koster, vice president of marketing and co-chairman of the board of Mann Packing Co. Inc. in Salinas, CA, is spearheading the effort.

“We did a pilot at [the United Fresh Produce Association convention in May], and it worked really well,” Ms. Koster said. “So in conjunction with the Grower-Shipper Association [which is based in Salinas, CA], we are going to try it out at [Fresh Summit] next year. PMA has been great about it. They are letting us combine our points, and if it doesn’t work out, every company will get their own points back.”

The prioritization of booth space at the Fresh Summit is awarded using a point system, with exhibitors earning points for various activities including the length of time exhibiting as well as sponsorship participation in PMA events.

Ms. Koster said that the PMA convention has become a global event with as many as 19,000 attendees, and it has become very difficult for a single firm to make an impact. “The pavilion concept is the trend,” she said. “It is what we see at other conferences that we attend around the world in both Europe and Asia.”

She added that business today is conducted much differently than it was in the past, and having a huge booth to negotiate a deal with an existing customer is no longer a necessity. “We all see our customers throughout the year,” she said. “If you are not making headquarter calls on a quarterly basis, you are missing the boat.”

She indicated that the advantage of booth space today is for introducing new people to your product, and the pavilion concept is the best way to accomplish that.

Ms. Koster said that most retail chains categorize their buyers by region, so it makes sense to have the “Western buyer” of a chain come to a pavilion that is full of grower-shippers of Western product.

The Mann Packing executive said that the pooling of resources will also enable each company to make a bigger splash while spending less money. She agreed that cost savings is a major driver of this effort and indicated that a smaller booth size will allow for a smaller Mann Packing contingent next year.

According to Ms. Koster, the firms that have agreed to be part of the cooperative effort include Church Bros. LLC, D’Arrigo Bros. Co. of California and The Nunes Co. Inc. She said that some others have committed and others are still considering it.

“I think we might be able to get a few smaller grower-shippers in Salinas who otherwise couldn’t afford to exhibit on their own,” she said.

Tom Nunes, president of The Nunes Co., said that it makes great economic sense and should also improve the visibility of his firm.

During an interview at his booth at the PMA Fresh Summit exposition, here, Mr. Nunes illustrated his point of reduced visibility by gesturing to the back wall of an adjacent gigantic booth that separated his booth from the view of most people strolling the center aisle of the exposition hall.

Paula Fouchek, marketing director for Edinburg Citrus Association in Edinburg, TX, was one of the architects of “Texas Town,” which has been a fixture at the PMA convention for many years and was one of the early pavilion-type exhibits at the PMA Fresh Summit. She said that the concept has been great for Texas producers since it gives them a premium spot to display their products and a destination for many produce buyers.

“Yes, we are selling next to our competitors,” she said. “But we all know what each other offers and most buyers buy from many of us anyway.”

Ms. Koster added that good booth location is getting harder to find as the pavilion idea spreads. She noted that at the 2011 convention, some large pavilions were well perched “on the 50-yard line,” and they continue to expand outward each year.

“We are being pushed further out every year,” she said.