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PMA Fresh Summit draws the right crowd

HOUSTON -- In the quality vs. quantity equation, the Produce Marketing Association's Fresh Summit International Convention and Exposition, held Oct. 12-15, appears to have won where it really counts: drawing the right people to Houston and the right foot traffic to the exhibition booths.

A random sampling of exhibitors indicated that the flow of foot traffic was down from last year and perhaps from some other recent years as well, but the quality of that traffic held up well.

"I'm less concerned with the number of heads than I am with the quality of faces," PMA President Bryan Silbermann told The Produce News, adding that he saw a number of buyers representing large retail chains on the exhibition room floor and that the ratio of buyers to suppliers was very favorable.

"In San Diego, the supply side of the business came there," Mr. Silbermann said. "You want to talk to retail chains."

Mr. Silbermann said that PMA's overall attendance goal was 15,845 and that attendance came in around 16,000. He said that PMA exceeded its projected revenues and that after expenses, the net result was "better than expected."

He typically waits for survey results to gauge attendee satisfaction with the workshops, but he said that people "really appreciated the consumer research" components that were sprinkled throughout the workshops.

Houston as a location had a very tough act to follow after last year's Fresh Summit in San Diego, which featured an ideal convention center area with abundant hotels, restaurants, entertainment and shopping opportunities, and near-perfect weather conditions. The Fresh Summit in San Diego set an attendance record of more than 18,600 and drew high praise from attendees. New Orleans was supposed to be the host city for Fresh Summit 2007. But in 2005, within several weeks of Hurricane Katrina and its devastating effects on New Orleans, PMA announced that it would move the 2007 show to Houston.

Mr. Silbermann said that once the determination was made not to hold the 2007 Fresh Summit in New Orleans, the only locations that held any real possibility were Houston and Las Vegas. Las Vegas presents operational challenges and Houston is superior for an event such as Fresh Summit, he said. A plus for Houston is its centralized location for air travel, though Mr. Silbermann conceded that hotel space provided some challenges.

"Houston doesn't have concentrated availability of hotels," Mr. Silbermann said. "They'll need more hotels next time," but he noted that Houston has at least one major hotel currently under construction.

This year, the exhibition floor was open on Saturday, Sunday and Monday, allowing attendees one fewer weekday at the show compared with last year's Sunday, Monday and Tuesday floor show hours.

PMA added 350 new members in 2007, the most in any year, and one-third of those members are from outside the United States and Canada, Mr. Silbermann said.

Joseph Sferrazza of Mahwah, NJ-based Supreme Cuts said that he was getting many visitors by the Supreme booth to learn about the company's new bagged fresh corn -- not on a cob -- that isn't frozen. The company cuts the corn as orders come in. "I've been doing shows since '94, and I've never received more business cards seeking information," he said.

Don Christopher of Gilroy, CA-based Christopher Ranch said that "all salespeople have seen the right people" and that the company had "the right meetings with the ones we want to meet."

Nichole Towel l of Duda Farm Fresh Foods Inc. in Wellington, FL, said that the company enjoyed the "right people and right amount," and that it looks at Fresh Summit as a "major opportunity to promote our business."

Bob Gray, chief executive officer of Duda Farm Fresh Foods Inc., said that he was impressed with the Fresh Summit workshop topics and that "all issues are top of mind."

Lorri Koster of Salinas, CA-based Mann Packing Co. said that the company "had a lot of quality" visitors to its booth. PMA awarded Mann Packing an International Packaging Impact Award.

Mike Agar of L&M Cos. Inc. in Raleigh, NC, said that the foot traffic by L&M's booth on Sunday had been "from a retail perspective," and that the company "had a prime location [on the floor]" this year.

Mr. Agar -- who once lived in Houston -- said that Houston "is a great restaurant city."

Dale Grooters of Encore Floral Marketing Inc. said that his booth gathered the right kind of traffic. "This is not an order-writing show -- it's a relationship show."

Rodi Groot of The Sun Valley Group in Oxnard, CA, said that Fresh Summit is good for floral because of "who talks to who." He said that Sun Valley likes that the show is in the fall because "spring is so busy."

Fresh Summit will be held in Orlando in 2008 and in Anaheim in 2009. The event is scheduled to return to Houston in 2012 and will be back in New Orleans in 2017. Booth space for Orlando next year is "over 90 percent sold" already, Mr. Silbermann said.