(March 26, 12:42 p.m.) NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Attendance for the Produce Marketing Association’s Produce Solutions Conference dropped from 225 in 2008 to 149 this year, partly due to retail consolidation, but organizers said that’s not necessarily a bad thing.

Julia Stewart, PMA public relations director, said attendees reported they like sessions that are more focused and intimate.

But this was the last year for the conference, which began as PMA Retail Solutions in June 2001 in Monterey, Calif., with about 400 attendees.

Retail solutions had replaced the PMA Annual Produce Conference, which had an 18-year run.

PMA plans to transition the solutions conference into a more regional format with Fresh Connections daylong events, in part because of the focus on smaller roundtable discussions, Stewart said.

PMA president Bryan Silbermann and staff members are touting Fresh Connections as a more effective format for dealing with fresh produce issues specific to regional and local areas.

Fresh Connections first allowed PMA to increase its international presence, but many of those meetings will take place in the U.S., said Eboni Wall, PMA event management director.

PMA sponsored one such event Jan. 13 in Monterey. Others have been in Australia, Chile, Mexico and Peru.

“Because it’s never been more important … to be an active part of this industry community, PMA will expand our Fresh Connections, country council and other outreach (efforts) — whether your backyard is in Seattle, Santiago or online,” Silbermann said.

Upcoming Fresh Connections are scheduled for Chile on April 28, Australia on May 24-26 and Mexico, May 28-29. For more information, go to www.pma.com/events/freshconnections/calendar.cfm .