Dole takes minimalist approach to Fresh SummitDole Food Co. won’t win any creativity awards for its booth at the Produce Marketing Association’s 2013 Fresh Summit expo in New Orleans, but it will make a statement.

In fact, one of the world’s leading marketers of fresh fruits and vegetables will only have a 20- by 20-foot area that will be walled off and separated into two meeting rooms, according to Bil Goldfield, communications director for Westlake Village, Calif.-based Dole.

The company won’t display product at the booth, he said.

“We are actually doing more of a meeting space this year similar to the business suite we have been doing at United Fresh for a couple of years,” Goldfield said, describing its booth as a “functional” space.

The minimalist approach comes at a time when Dole, with $4.2 billion in revenues last year in sales to more than 90 countries, is trying to rebalance its participation and support of United Fresh Produce Association and the Produce Marketing Association.

“We’ve been heavily PMA in terms of what we do at the show and very minimalist and functional at United,” he said. “It makes sense to be balanced then for both organizations.”

He said Dole was disappointed that a proposed merger between United Fresh and PMA failed in the 11th hour.

In July last year, the two boards ended 18 months of negotiations, and the ultimate sticking point was who would lead the combined organization.

“We just thought a strong unified body will give us a better presence in the industry, focus our lobbying activities and at some point eliminate potential conflict or confusion in the message by having a single body,” he said.

Goldfield said Dole’s spartan booth approach was not intended to “punish” the organizations.

“We are doing this to say, you know what, if we are going to have to continue to support two organizations, then maybe we just have to have a smarter way of doing it,” he said.

Dole believes a merger still makes sense, he said.

“We would love for them to go back to the table and see if they could work something out,” he said. “That would be fantastic if they reopened negotiations. That’s what the bodies of both organizations want.”

Goldfield said he hasn’t heard of any other marketers taking a similar approach at Fresh Summit. The company plans to evaluate how effective the smaller booth was.

“I don’t think we have any preconceived idea of what we are gong to do next year yet,” he said.

Bryan Silbermann, president of the Newark, Del.-based PMA, said he has not heard of any similar decisions by other exhibitors. Any booth decisions related to the failed merger would represent a very small minority, he said.

Fresh Summit 2013 is sold out and there are already 400 contracts in hand for next year’s expo, he said.

Silbermann said companies always need to evaluate how they present themselves at industry trade shows.

“If (Dole) wants to try something different, more power to them,” he said.

“Participation and engagement needs to be for the benefit of members, not the benefit of associations,” he said.

Silbermann said there is no talk of reopening merger discussions with United Fresh. He said Jan DeLyser, outgoing chairwoman of PMA and vice president of the California Avocado Commission, Irvine, will present an outline of PMA’s new strategic plan at Fresh Summit.

Silbermann said the new strategic plan reflects lessons learned from the merger discussions.