(July 18) MONTEREY, Calif. — Within days of the close of the 2002 Produce Marketing Association Foodservice Conference & Exposition, calls were coming into the office of Metz Fresh LLC from people looking for some of the spinach the 2-year-old company displayed at its booth this year.

The July 13-15 foodservice show was the first at which King City-based Metz Fresh had exhibited. Metz Fresh managing principal Andrew Cumming said he was happy with the results.

“We got a lot of traffic and a lot of leads,” he said.

And Metz Fresh wasn’t the only company happy with the turnout, leads, networking opportunities and educational workshops at the restructured show this year. Almost all the companies that exhibited said they were happy with the busy, five-hour show floor.
Greg Gattis, vice president of sales and marketing for Salinas-based Misionero Vegetables, said he liked both the show floor and the networking opportunities.

“This is a good show for us,” he said.

And PMA president Bryan Silbermann was delighted with the way this show —the 20th annual event — turned out.

The conference had 1,550 registrants, plus an additional 200 who attended only the opening dinner dance. An additional 50 nonregistrants played in the golf tournament, bringing the total number of golfers to 240. All told, more than 1,800 people attended one event or another, Silbermann said, including representatives of the six largest restaurant companies in the U.S. About 1,500 were on hand last year.

“Traffic in the hall was extremely good,” Silbermann said. “The show floor was very focused, very intense. A lot of people were doing a lot of business and a lot of networking.”

Silbermann credited some of the revamping of the show structure this year for its success.

For one thing, it finished a day earlier than it did last year, which allowed attendees to get back to their offices sooner. Another new feature was an alternative to the field and plant tours July 15 that allowed people who had already been on tours in previous years to take leadership classes.

Also new this year was increased free time for networking, which past participants had said would be valuable. And PMA worked hard to bring in more foodservice operators.

“A lot of effort was made this year to get more operators,” Silbermann said. “We worked with the purchasing manager group of the NRA (National Restaurant Association) to make sure to get the operators to the show.”

Silbermann said the new dinner/dance opening reception provided a high-energy launch to the show. That energy carried over into the general sessions, when speakers such as Herman Cain, former president of the NRA, and consultant James Hennig spoke about how to make business more successful and how to negotiate better.

In addition, the two-day Fresh Produce Academy conducted just before the foodservice conference was sold out, Silbermann said.