LAS VEGAS — The National Grocers Association’s exhibition had relatively few produce-related booths in the past, but that’s changing thanks to a partnership with the Produce Marketing Association.

This year’s NGA Show, Feb. 13-14 at the Mirage Hotel, included about 20 produce companies.

Retail show continues plans to include more produceKaren Voorhees, director of exhibition management for the National Grocers Association, said there were 200 exhibitors this year and the convention drew about 2,500 attendees, up about 600 from last year.

While the show typically doesn’t bring the same type of produce buyers that PMA Fresh Summit attracts, the attendees are decision-makers for their respective companies. These attendees were glad to see produce on the show floor, said Howard Nager, vice president of marketing for Yakima, Wash.-based Domex Superfresh Growers.

“What’s been great is the surprise and encouragement from the people we’re seeing,” he said.

Jody Okamoto, regional merchandiser for Los Angeles-based Melissa’s World Variety Produce, said the company plans to join the Produce Pavilion again next year.

“Some of the exhibitors we talked to said it was a so-so show for them but we had some great leads,” he said.

The traffic at the show included potential clients that would otherwise be difficult to connect with for a grower-shipper like B&W Quality Growers Inc., Fellsmere, Fla., said Todd Gosule, executive vice president of sales and marketing.

“It’s hard for us to call on independents,” he said.

Geoff Koontz, director of marketing for Sterilox Food Safety, Malvern, Pa., which exhibited at last year’s show, agreed.

“This show allows us to meet with people we normally wouldn’t be able to see,” he said. “They’re always interested in the latest and want to know what the big retailers are doing as well.”

Adam Acquistapace of Acquistapace’s Covington Supermarket said he thought the addition of produce to the show was beneficial to companies like his, a single-store operation in Covington, La.

The education component was particularly important, he said.

“When we order produce we don’t get to choose the brand,” he said. “But from an education perspective it’s important.”

Acquistapace said he typically doesn’t get to see promotional organizations like the Irvine, Calif.-based California Avocado Commission and wasn’t aware of a lot of the promotional materials they offer.

“I wouldn’t even have thought of it,” he said.

Anthony Barbieri, PMA’s vice president of sales and business development, said the pavilion was well-received.

“It’s been a tremendous value to all involved,” he said. “This is a unique opportunity for our members and our exhibitors here to show their products and interact with the retailers and wholesalers here. We’re getting some good feedback from our exhibitors about the conversations they’re having and the idea exchanges they’re having.”

PMA plans to expand the Produce Pavilion on the NGA show floor for next year’s convention, which is scheduled for February 9-13 at the Mirage again.