FFVA convention sets record numbers for attendance and sponsorships

AMELIA ISLAND, FL — The 70th annual Florida Fruit & Vegetable Association convention, held Sept. 22-25 at the Ritz-Carlton, here, set new records in terms of attendance and sponsorships, which were both at least 20 percent more than 2012 numbers.

Well over 300 growers, shippers and industry affiliates heard and participated in three days of debate about the issues and opportunities facing and awaiting the Florida produce industry.

They also had some fun.

FFVA President Mike Stuart credited the increased attendance in part to the exclusive location, though he was quick to note a jam-packed agenda and perhaps an improving Florida economy played a role as well.

Keynote speaker Phil Lempert — a.k.a. the Supermarket Guru — provided insight into consumer thinking in the state-of-the-industry keynote luncheon Sept. 23.

Lempert said growers need to do a better job marketing their products. Many are reluctant to embrace long-range marketing and advertising campaigns, though junk food and soda manufacturers have made such campaigns their literal bread and butter.

“Some people don’t want to advertise because they know 50 percent of advertising works and 50 percent of advertising doesn’t work. How do you know which 50 percent to choose?” Lempert said. “Candy and soda companies are the greatest marketers in the world, [since] they’ve convinced us we need their products. If I was you, I would go to Coca-Cola or a big candy company, find out who their best marketing person is and hire that person.”

Breakout sessions on labor, the implementation of the Affordable Care Act, and new varieties coming from the research of the University of Florida’s Institute of Food & Agricultural Sciences drew large crowds.

FFVA presented its Merchandiser of the Year Award to Ahold USA.

In nominating the company, Quentin Roe of William G. Roe & Sons in Winter Haven, FL, said, “Ahold USA’s Florida citrus sales have increased more than 20 percent for two consecutive years. This is a shared success and a testament to the collaboration between the vendor partners in Florida and the team at Ahold USA.”

The award was accepted by Ahold Senior Procurement Manager Paul Francis and Chris Keetch, produce merchandiser.

Roe said Ahold works with its Florida supplier partners “from category planning to maintaining flexibility throughout the season to supporting promotional plans. They help create additional value propositions while filling opportunity gaps in the marketplace.”

Ahold USA’s four divisions operate about 770 supermarkets in 13 states and the District of Columbia, along with Peapod, an online grocery shopping and delivery service.

FFVA Legislator of the Year awards went to state Sen. Wilton Simpson (R-Trilby) and state Rep. Matt Caldwell (R-Lehigh Acres).

Simpson, the Senate Community Affairs Committee chairman, sponsored several bills that were important to agriculture during the 2013 legislative session, including the Greenbelt bill (SB 1200), the Everglades restoration bill (SB 768), and the Florida Fire Prevention Code bill (SB 1122).

“Senator Simpson was successful in passing all three of these bills, and he worked long and hard for agriculture on other issues during the 2013 legislative session,” said Butch Calhoun, FFVA government relations director.

Caldwell is chairman of the House Agriculture and Natural Resources Subcommittee and “worked hard to ensure that all of the bills that were important to agriculture moved quickly through the House of Representatives,” said Calhoun.

Caldwell was the House sponsor of the Everglades bill (HB 7065) and the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services’ bill (HB 7087).

Michael Rogers, associate professor of entomology at the Citrus Research & Education Center, and Jim Shine, vice president of agriculture operations at the Sugar Cane Growers Cooperative of Florida, were named FFVA Researchers of the Year.

And FFVA introduced its third class of up-and-coming industry leaders, inducted into its Emerging Leader Development Program.

The 2013-14 class members are Cathy Atchley of On Point Ag, Ryan Atwood of Keyplex, Elton Baldy of Bayer CropScience, Daniel Cavazos of Veg Pro International, Sam Glucksman of Glades Crop Care, Jeff Goodale of Duda Farm Fresh Foods, Jamie Lang of Farm Credit of Central Florida, Arby Lipman of Lipman Produce, Clayton Norman of DuPont Crop Protection, Geoff Roe of Wm. G. Roe & Sons, Matt Stacey of Crop Production Services and Jordan Theis of Prudential Ag Investments.

“We’re so pleased with how the program is evolving,” said Sonia Tighe, who heads the program as executive director of the Florida Specialty Crop Foundation. “Each class distinguishes itself with unique talents and interests. They are engaged from the very beginning and immerse themselves in each session.”

The yearlong program includes meetings with legislators in Tallahassee, seminars provided by FFVA staff members and other experts on current issues, tours of venues to study environmental issues and water management, and visits to specialty crop production areas in Florida and California.

Flor Rodriguez, a student at the University of South Florida, and Ashley Vernet, who attends the University of Florida, won the Florida Specialty Crop Foundation’s annual George F. Sorn Scholarships, named for the industry veteran who has dedicated himself to improving the lives of Florida farmworkers and their children.

The foundation established the scholarships in his name in 2007 to benefit deserving high school graduates who are children of farmworkers in Florida’s specialty crop industry.

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