(April 1, 5:30 p.m.) BOSTON — Signs of a flagging produce economy weren’t evident in turnout for this year’s New England Produce Council exposition.

Hundreds of retail buyers and other produce purchasers packed the Boston Convention & Exhibition Center on April 1 to learn about new produce products offered by grower-shippers and distributors.

More than 700 produce industry people — similar to last year’s attendance — were on hand to visit 210 booths, said Laura Sullivan, the Burlington, Mass.-based council’s executive director. There were 230 booths at the expo last year, she said.

Council president Jack Salamon, senior category manager for Shaw's Supermarkets Inc., East Bridgewater, Mass., said membership continues to increase.

“The show is growing every year,” he said. “As travel budgets particularly for retail get tighter, the regional shows are becoming more important. Everyone loves to go.

“Everyone in the buying and procurement offices all get to come to this show,” Salamon said. “The retailers come in split shifts. This show is that popular.”

Despite its regional focus, the show attracted exhibitors from across the country.

“We made a lot of friends here and have gained many contacts,” said Tom Brown, vice president of retail sales for East Coast Fresh Cuts, the fresh-cut division of Savage, Md.-based Coastal Sunbelt Co. Inc. “We have talked to a lot of different retailers.”

Brown said a representative of Woburn, Mass.-based Market Basket, told him produce managers wrote reports to superiors on new products they discussed with vendors.

During the group’s traditional breakfast, Salamon welcomed college students considering produce careers through the Newark, Del.-based Produce Marketing Association’s Foundation for Industry Talent.

A group of students toured wholesale distribution facilities on the New England Produce Market, visited a distribution facility for Stop & Shop Supermarkets/Giant Foods LLC, and talked with produce companies on the expo show floor.

High attendance marks NEPC expo
Teams of retail produce managers, brokers and distributors compete in a Produce Family Feud game April 1 during this year’s New England Produce Council exposition at the Boston Convention & Exhibition Center. Despite a tougher economy, show organizers say the event attracted attendance numbers similar to last year.

Doug Ohlemeier