(March 6, 4:55 p.m.) PLEASANTON, Calif. — Exhibitors found great value in talking to people they don’t normally get a chance to meet, including merchandisers and managers, at the second-annual Fresh Produce & Floral Council 2008 Northern California Expo March 5 at the Alameda County Fairgrounds.

“They’re getting feedback on their products from the people who are on the frontlines, representing their products to the industry,” said Carissa Mace, president of the La Mirada-based FPFC. “We’re really seeing the enthusiasm for the industry. Retailers who compete every day for the dollar come into the room and take off that hat to look at the industry as a whole and how the FPFC can serve it better.”

New FPFC board member, Mike Casazza, executive vice president of sales and marketing for Apio Inc., Guadalupe, said it is important for the company to support FPFC’s regional programs and to meet with retailers in Northern California.

“We’re still growing our party tray business regionally,” he said. “We’re working our veg salads and that’s been working well for us as our distribution grows throughout Northern California and the rest of the United States.”

Ande Manos, sales and marketing for Babe Farms, Santa Maria, was busy talking up her new baby oak leaf clamshell salads and little gem red and green leaf lettuces to Chris Vasconcellos, senior category manager of produce for Modesto-based Lucky Supermarkets.

“This show is great this year and we’re seeing a lot more attendees,” she said. “We’re excited to be here to show more of our products in Northern California because we have a lot more product to offer now that we’re coming into the spring. We’re just seeing a lot more opportunities.”

Exhibitors numbering 134, including grower-shippers and brokers from throughout the state, represented about 200 companies at this year’s expo.

Mace said while there are larger trade shows that have more of a national and international outreach, the FPFC expos are specifically designed for the local marketplace.

“We’re a grassroots organization,” she said. “This show is very important up here because there is nothing else like it.”

“The Northern California guys are really into produce and understand it very well,” said Mike Angelo, director of sales for Calavo Growers Inc., Santa Paula. “You can tell by the attendance here it’s a terrific show. We expect to come back every year. It’s really well worth our time.”

FUTURE PLANS

Mace said since taking over as president in December, she and the board of directors, along with the executive committee, have been taking a strategic look at the organization.

“We’re trying to determine the needs of the industry, the value that FPFC can bring to meet those needs and then how to deliver them,” she said.

She said there could be a number of avenues for accomplishing this.

“It could be through additional events, through revamping our Web site, or partnering with some of the larger trade associations, like United (Fresh) or PMA (Produce Marketing Association), to help them reach the grassroots level of the industry,” she said. “That’s what my first 100 days on the job has been filled with.”

Mace said one of the first orders of business will be to revamp the organization’s Web site.