From April 13-15, Montreal is the place to be for the 86th annual Canadian Produce Marketing Association convention.

“Everyone loves Montreal, with its European flair,” said retiring CPMA president Danny Dempster.

“If you’re interested in doing business in Canada, this is a tremendous opportunity.”

To meet the demand for rooms, CPMA was forced to add three hotels to the original two hotels booked close to the Palais des Congrès convention center, he said.

And 15% more exhibit space for the trade show has already been sold compared to last year’s record-setting Vancouver convention, which attracted just over 3,300 delegates.

Hot topics in this year’s business program include how to market the health benefits of fresh produce, food safety, local produce, traceability, dispute resolution and border issues.

Another highlight will be a talk on sustainability by Eric La Flèche, president and chief executive officer of Montreal-based Metro Inc., Canada’s second largest supermarket chain.

“A lot of people talk about sustainability, but what does it really mean and how do you make your business sustainable?” Dempster asked.

“These sessions are an opportunity to understand the issues better and find out how they affect your business,” he said.

“They also give you a heads-up on issues that may affect you in the future, and you’ll know who to go to for more information.”

Along with Canadian companies, including the first-time booth from major Montreal wholesaler Courchesne Larose Ltd., a number of U.S. companies will be represented on the trade show floor.

That’s not surprising considering the amount of imported produce Canadians consume, Dempster said.

Mexico will have a strong presence, he said, and exhibitors from Panama, Nicaragua and the Dominican Republic have also reserved space.

“With our ethnic diversity, Canadians have been exposed to new and different products,” he said, “so you’ll tend to see more of those at our shows.”

The convention’s small size compared to behemoths such as the Produce Marketing Association’s Fresh Summit makes it ideal for networking and longer, more relaxed discussions, he said.

“Within our business program and the trade show is a pretty healthy mix of food and beverage where everybody can be in the same room together to hear the speakers and also have some fun,” he said.

The fun begins with a street party in a 400-year-old alley in Old Montreal where the wall surrounding the city once stood, now covered by a soaring glass roof.

All the entertainment during the three-day convention will be Montreal-based, said Carole Brault, CPMA’s senior manager for convention and trade shows, from the electronic music at the welcome reception to the ’80s-style music at the always-popular Variety Night and the big band slated for the formal closing banquet.

“The events provide great networking opportunities,” said Brault.

“It’s a chance to meet a lot of Quebec-based retailers and wholesalers, even some growers.”

“There will be plenty of business opportunities,” Dempster said. “That’s what it’s all about.”