See related content: From the show floor: Fresno Food Expo booths
FRESNO, Calif. — Since the inaugural show in 2011, the number of buyers and exhibitors at the Fresno Food Expo has more than doubled.
But show organizers and exhibitors said they believe that moving it next year from mid-March to July 24, which coincides with peak production of many San Joaquin Valley fresh commodities, can only enhance the event’s draw.
“The July date would allow another side of the industry to participate more,” said Stephen Paul, sales category manager for Porterville, Calif.-based Homegrown Organic Farms and a founding member of the expo board. “It will expand the availability of items, and I think it will play well.”
Moving the date also will reduce conflicts with similar national and regional shows, he said.
The March 14 expo featured more than 100 exhibitors that showed off a blend of processed products, such as jams, cheeses and meats; minimally processed products, such as peeled baby carrots; fresh produce, such as citrus and grapes; and dried fruit and nuts.
All of the participating companies were from the eight-county San Joaquin Valley.
The expo was open to more than 600 wholesale and retail buyers and other business representatives during five hours mid-day to allow exhibitors time to conduct business. Then the doors were opened to the public in the evening for more of a food tasting event.
Paul said he envisioned the show helping to create a regional identity tied to agriculture, much like the Napa Valley has done with wine.
“We need to put a brand on what we do here, and it’s more difficult because we grow so many different things,” he said.
To help support one of the expo’s underlying goals — to enhance the local agricultural economy — event organizers had a one-day export seminar Jan. 15.
Representatives from China, Canada and Mexico discussed procedures for shipping produce into their countries.
Denver Schutz and Justin Nunes from Gerawan Farming Inc. attended the session, and both said they found it helpful, but for different reasons.
Schutz, technical services manager, said it was a good refresher of the export process.
Nunes, who recently joined Gerawan in sales, said the session was a great introduction.
“It gave me an opportunity to get a feel for what exporting produce is all about when it comes to rules, and regulations,” he said. “It was excellent learning how to deal with outside customers, how they are reshaping their programs and quality control. And also their distribution is getting up there with cold storage and reefers, so we can more efficiently transport commodities.”
This year also was the first time that buyers from China, Canada and Mexico attended the expo as well as toured some of the nearby packing facilities, said Candy Hansen-Gage, director of the Center for International Trade Development, Clovis.
Fowler-based National Raisin Co., which packs under the Champion label, hosted a tour stop through its processing facility, said David Miller, global accounts manager.
“They were surprised how sophisticated we were and the degree and attention we have for quality,” he said. “And all of the labs — the USDA, our own R&D and quality control — they didn’t realize there was so much sophistication to providing such a safe product.”
Hank Shen, fresh food general merchandising manager for Ole’ Supermarket who was one of 15 buyers from China, said he’s always looking for unusual or unique varieties of fresh, frozen or dried fruit.
What caught his eye were finger limes from Phillips Farms, Visalia, Calif., and dried fruit from BellaViva Orchards, Denair, Calif.
“Chinese shoppers prefer something high in moisture levels and also very sweet,” Shen said through translator Yan Zhang.