Panel gives glimpse of what consumers want at Midwest ExpoCHICAGO — The Packer's inaugural Midwest Produce Conference & Expo kicked off with consumers sharing their views — some of which likely surprised suppliers and buyers alike.

Moderated by Retail Editor Pamela Riemenschneider and Produce for Better Health Foundation president Elizabeth Pivonka, a 10-member panel of Chicago-area residents suggested issues such as seasonality of fruits and vegetables play a role in purchasing decisions — while country of origin was barely on the radar.

The good news for produce marketers is that all panelists — representing a cross-section of age, gender, economic and ethnic groups — said taste and nutrition of fresh produce are selling points.

Being in season and ripeness coupled with smell and taste were mentioned as top considerations affecting purchases.

While not as important and taste and freshness, convenience ranked highly among busy families and career-focused singles.

Perhaps not surprisingly, fruits' and vegetables' chief competition as a snacking option came from sweets and salty snacks, panelists said.

Branding — whether national or private-label — was not a selling point for most on the panel, but a couple said they put trust in the quality of branded produce, especially for prepackaged products such as fresh-cut fruit.

Less than half — four of the 10 — say they buy organic fruits and vegetables, but added that while they perceive it as more healthful cost is an obstacle.

On the promotional front, a majority said in-store efforts is where they are best reached, while Sunday newspaper inserts and comparative shopping on retailers' websites also merited mentions.

The Midwest Expo continues Aug. 14 with workshops on working with non-profit organizations and the locavore movement followed by an exhibit hall featuring around 150 suppliers.

Tours of urban markets and the Chicago International Produce Market are on the agenda for Aug. 15.

For more Midwest Expo coverage, go to