MONTEREY, Calif. — Chefs were everywhere at the Produce Marketing Association Foodservice Conference and Expo as the trade group pushed to deliver on its promised theme, Innovate the Plate.

Chefs, recipes hold sway at PMA FoodserviceThey were manning booths, roaming the show floor, featured as panel speakers and, as always, competing with each other.

“The food element of the show is really starting to percolate up, which is indicative of where the industry is going,” said Dennis Donohue, president of Salinas-based Royal Rose LLC. “You’ve got to move beyond fresh and get into the food business. There’s a lot of activity around flavor, new ideas and being innovative with fresh.”

“The Innovate the Plate theme was a great hit,” said Bryan Silbermann, president of the Produce Marketing Association. “We had great attendance by foodservice operators, especially on the menu development and procurement side. There was wonderful involvement from all of the distributor community, the broadline and produce specialty houses.”

Ashley Boucher, PMA public relations manager, estimated more than 1,700 people attended the 32nd annual trade show July 26-28 in Monterey, along with 163 booths. Final numbers were not immediately available.

“The crowds seem better,” said Ty Schurman, salesman and commodity manager at Ocean Mist Farms. “This show has a lot more draw than past years I’ve seen.”

“There will be a lot of new business as a result of this,” said Jeanette Hertzler, regional saleswoman for GreenGate Fresh.

Edward Gotterba, foodservice sales representative for The Produce Exchange, said he’d be happy to return to his spot near the entry to the expo floor.

“We get a big rush just before the show opens, then once they’re in the building we don’t really get people coming back out,” he said. “But we like the exposure here. People who don’t have badges can come by.”

Award winners at the conference included:

  • Best new product launch: Naturipe Farms, for plastic-conserving peel and reseal berry packaging;
  • Sensory experience: Mann Packing Co., for Arcadian Harvest Ruby blend steak salad;
  • Chef demos lunch: The Mushroom Council and chef Steve Solomon, for their mushroom and beef blended burger sliders; and
  • Best of show: Rocket Farms Herbs Inc., for its booth. Criteria include booth design, products and messaging.