Fresh Summit 2012 is packing one of the industry’s top trade shows into a new three-day schedule as it returns to the West Coast.

The Produce Market Association’s convention and expo is coming to California’s Anaheim Convention Center on Oct. 26-28. This year’s theme is “Say Hello to the Future,” reflecting the aim to affect fresh produce trends and prepare members for them.

“It’s about the disruptors and game-changers we’ll see in this industry over the next 10 years, and being able to change your business model,” said Meg Miller, director of public relations for Newark, Del.-based PMA.

The trade association even goes so far as to describe the future as one of “pure chaos,” where customers increase their power and rules and competitive barriers lose sway.

Trends and challenges

In his state of the industry address, PMA president Bryan Silbermann plans to address trends and future challenges in four broad areas: the global market; technological advances affecting food safety, marketing, labor and input management; government affairs; and talent.

“We’re focused on looking at talent in a different way,” said Lorna Christie, PMA executive vice president and chief operating officer. “It’s about really seeing the people in your company who know the new global consumer, who have the technological expertise.”

PMA’s marquee event last took place in Anaheim in 2009. Attendance was 19,010, representing 58 nations. This year’s overall numbers are expected to be similar, while international participation could reach about 70 countries.

“We are probably going to be at about 18,000 to 20,000,” said Christie. “California is always a good place for the event. There are so many growers in the region as well as a lot of opportunities for international members to reach us as well.”

PMA expects to exceed its goal of 3,000 buyers by the time the expo starts, Miller said. They’ll roam 247,000 net square feet of show floor with more than 1,000 exhibiting companies.

“In the past we had international members coming in, just individual companies,” Christie said. “We’re seeing an increase of buyer groups coming in. We feel excited about connecting our domestic members with opportunities around the world.”

Trimmed schedule

Though the traditional four-day event is shortened to three — eliminating Monday — Fresh Summit is trimming just 90 minutes of expo-floor time, Miller said.

“Ninety percent of attendees and exhibitors asked for a shortened schedule,” she said. “A number said ‘Thanks for listening,’ and were thrilled to find they’d lost so little show-floor time.”

The complete Fresh Summit schedule is online at

The three-day schedule was reached in part by concentrating workshops and educational events on Friday — dubbed Future-Focused Friday.

While topics like food safety and the global supply chain are addressed there, the focus is on business implications.

“We have sessions on leadership, managing in an innovative business environment, looking at our talent issues and at what marketing and sales look like in this new world,” Christie said.

More than 40 university students from the U.S. and five other nations will be introduced to career opportunities at Fresh Summit through the PMA Foundation for Industry Talent.

PMA has also promises greater member involvement in offering education this year.

“For the first time, we made a much more coordinated effort to engage our members in asking them to prepare proposals for speaking at Fresh Summit,” Christie said. “We want to bring in their views and case studies to help attendees. This year the members helped us design the education environment.”

Eighteen companies will participate in the Just 4 Kids showcase. A section of the new product showcase is set aside for children’s products. A sensory experience contest on the show floor Oct. 28 will have children serve as judges.

Recognition events include a new one for Fresh Summit, the Bob Carey Leadership Award, in honor of the past PMA president.

As the expo closes, exhibitors will offer their fresh produce donations for food banks. In the last five years, they’ve contributed nearly 1.4 million pounds of fruits and vegetables. The closing party will have a tropical theme — perhaps with Jimmy Buffett music.