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United Fresh convention deemed successful

With an attendance figure that matched last year, a keynote address by one of the most recognizable names in the United States and an increase in exhibitors and booth space, executives at United Fresh Produce Association were calling this year’s show “very successful.”

Ray Gilmer, UFPA vice president for issues management and communications, said the staff and board members were very pleased by the event, which saw United Fresh once again co-locate its convention with the Food Marketing Institute. The two associations first collaborated on their trade shows a decade ago, and 2014 marked the first year in a three-year commitment to hold the show at McCormick’s Place in Chicago in early June.

“We think getting together with FMI again this year was very positive. Anecdotally, exhibitors were happy with the amount of traffic that was generated and it appeared to be a win-win for both associations,” Gilmer said. “The Hillary Clinton event was a great way to kick off the convention for both associations, and there were lots of other high points.”

Specifically, he pointed to keynote addresses by Ed Crenshaw, chief executive officer of Public Supermarkets, and Incoming United Fresh Chairman of the Board Ron Carkoski, president and CEO of the Four Seasons Family of Cos.

Crenshaw discussed the secret of success for Publix and noted that the most critical part of any company is the employees. "If you treat your associates right, they will treat the customers right and that will increase sales and profits," he said.

The Publix CEO, who has been with the Florida-based retailer for 40 years starting as a box boy in 1974, said the company is consistently rated as one of the top companies in the United States to work for and said “that is no accident.”

He also commented on the joint FMI/UFPA convention from the perspective of being on the FMI board for more than 15 years and the recent chairman of FMI’s strategic planning committee. He said the retail association has recommitted the organization to making the trade show a central focus of its work. In addition, Crenshaw said FMI wants to move toward “total store collaboration,” believing that if it can create a single forum that covers the entire industry, the association will have greater effect. He indicated there is no better way to do this than with the continuation of FMI/UFPA collaboration.

Carkoski touched on several themes during his address, including United Fresh’s new strategic plan. The association’s board of directors has approved a plan with five distinct mission areas:

  • Bringing members together to build relationships to help you grow your businesses
  • Shaping government policy that affects the fresh produce industry
  • Developing solutions and tools to help members address complex issues
  • Providing training and education to enhance your team’s skills, leadership
  • Growing fresh produce consumption for long-term success.

He said that through these five areas, United Fresh “is committed to changing the way America Eats,” and doubling the business of its members.

Underscoring that, Carkoski talked of the change in the United Fresh Foundation, which will now have the single focus of improving child nutrition.

Of course, United has been very successful over the past handful of years with its salad bar program. Earlier in the show United President Tom Stenzel discussed the current three-year project to add hundreds of salad bars in schools throughout the upper Midwest to coincide with the Chicago location of the convention through at least 2016. Stensel said in the first three months of that program 200 new salad bars have been funded by the industry. In total, more than 3,400 salad bars have been donated to schools by the produce industry through the program. Those popular school additions are feeding 2 million children a day.

In total, more than 4,500 industry members attended the convention, and the final exhibitor count was up about 25 percent, representing about 17 percent more floor space. Next year’s show promises to be even larger with the addition of the International Floral Expo, which announced several weeks ago that it would co-locate with United and FMI in 2015. Gilmer said next year’s show will be “noticeably bigger” because of that.