(May 23) CHICAGO — The Windy City was the place for anyone who wanted to influence the foodservice in-dustry.

The National Restaurant Association Restaurant, Hotel and Motel Show drew 75,000 attendees to Chicago who wandered the trade show aisles in search of restaurant equipment, supplies and food May 17-20.

It’s the largest trade show in America and one of the best-kept secrets from the produce industry. Only 10 pro-duce companies were among the nearly 2,000 exhibitors.

That didn’t bother the 10, who felt they gained great exposure to their products — with no competition.

  • Calavo Growers Inc., Santa Ana, Calif., impressed attendees with its new FoodserviceFresh avocado and chunky pulp products. It uses a new high-pressure technology to inactivate microorganisms and enzymes, said Mark Schweihs, Midwest region sales manager.

    Therefore, the refrigerated product uses no additives and never is frozen. The company sampled its three new products in the line: chunky avocado pulp, pico de gallo guacamole (with avocado, tomato, onion, jalapeños, cilantro, salt and garlic) and caliente guacamole (same as pico de gallo with the addition of serrano peppers).

    “We had several people comment that this was the best new product they saw on the floor,” Schweihs said.

  • The Pear Bureau Northwest, Milwaukie, Ore., exhibited for the first time to launch its foodservice program, said public relations manager Laura Wieking. The commodity group has updated its Web site (www.usapears.com) and developed a foodservice promotional kit with recipes. Wieking noted that school food-service operators are looking for recipes and information on pear ripening.

  • Procacci Bros. Sales Corp., Philadelphia, also exhibited for the first time to gain foodservice exposure for its Santa Sweets grape tomatoes, which Dublin, Ohio-based Wendy’s International Inc. uses in its Garden Sensations salads, said Richard Berkheimer, director of sales and merchandising for foodservice. The company also pushed its Ugly Ripes full-size tomatoes.

  • Gills Onions, Oxnard, Calif., aimed to make a hit with its fresh-cut line of onions among foodservice op-erators as a first-time exhibitor, said Jeff Nichol, manager of foodservice sales. The company already does 40% of its business with foodservice, but wants to grow the category.

    “Our competition is regional processors,” Nichol said. He pointed out the food safety and product traceability advantage the firm has as both the grower and processor.

  • The North Carolina SweetPotato Commission Inc., Smithfield, had a contest to name its new processed sweet potato snack — a crunchy, baked sweet potato pillow filled with peanut butter and honey.

    “It’s the first of several fillings if it is accepted,” said executive director Sue Johnson-Langdon. Show response was favorable, she added. The commission also is having sweet potato au gratin and sweet potato snack bars manufactured for foodservice. Both should be available to foodservice within the year.,/li>

  • New York Bold, an Oswego, N.Y.-based consortium of 14 Oswego County onion growers, startled expo at-tendees in the aisles with shouts of, “Get some onions with attitude!”

    The company handed out samples of caramelized New York Bold onions and touted the onions’ high pun-gency and high sugar content, which makes them sweet, but gives them a bite, said brand manager Judith Queale-Dunsmoor.

    While the grower consortium generally distributes its products in the Northeast, it’s trying to gain national ex-posure. Last year it exhibited at the NRA show for the first time and picked up the Houston-based Sysco Corp. account, where the product soon will be available to Sysco customers on the distributor’s Web site, she said.