(May 9, 2:07 p.m.) LAS VEGAS — In the end, Las Vegas was a winning bet for 2008, and the United Fresh Produce Association is “doubling down” on the town for 2009.

With the exception of typical complaints about last-day show floor traffic and the logistics of having workshops in one venue and the exhibition hall two miles away, both exhibitors and organizers of the May 4-7 United Fresh’s combined Fresh Marketplace and FreshTech show said they were pleased with the results of the 2008 show.

“If you look at the retail attendance, it is better than ever,” said Tom Stenzel, president of United Fresh, Washington, D.C. “Every major chain is here in numbers.”

On the United FreshTech side, Stenzel said more fresh-cut processors were represented than at last year’s International Fresh-cut Produce Association exposition.

More than 1,000 people attended the retail and foodservice awards banquet May 6, he noted, and total show attendance at this year’s combined United Fresh Marketplace and United FreshTech show is estimated at 4,500 this year. That compares with 3,500 who attended last year’s United Fresh exposition and 1,900 who attended last year’s International Fresh-cut Produce Association exposition, Stenzel said.

United Fresh tallied 285 combined exhibitors between the two shows, and 100 new exhibiting companies that did not participate with either the United Fresh expo or the FreshTech convention last year in Palm Springs, Calif.

“We had 60 more companies than the combined total of the two shows last year,” he said.

Jerry Welcome, executive vice president of business development for United Fresh, said exhibitors benefited from a merging of the shows.

“Exhibitors who had been at IFPA are seeing people they normally wouldn’t have seen,” he said. “A lot of people are doubling their booth size for 2009, and that’s a positive sign.”

Stenzel said the 2009 show — also in Las Vegas but not connected with the Food Marketing Institute exhibition — will be bigger and easier to navigate.

“We will be in one space at the Venetian hotel, where you can ride the elevator to the show floor and workshops,” Stenzel said. “Almost everybody who is here is signing up for next year.”

What’s more, he said United Fresh looks to capture about 100 produce industry-related exhibitors from the FMI exposition. The FMI will not have an exposition next year.

Losing the FMI as a tie-in to the United Fresh Marketplace show shouldn’t damage the quality of next year’s April 22-24 show, Stenzel said.

Foodservice will be a strong focus of the 2009 show, and for that reason the link to FMI — a supermarket-oriented organization — may have worked against foodservice participation, he said.

Stenzel said next year’s show is booked in a location with 25% more space than the convention hall at the Mandalay Bay Convention Center.

For exhibitors at the 2009 show, United Fresh plans to offer an online exhibit showcase. Stenzel said the “virtual marketplace” allows exhibitors to describe their products and services.

EXHIBITOR REACTION

Most exhibitors said they were happy with the show, and particularly pleased about traffic the first day-and-a-half of the event.

“It’s a good opportunity to interface with customers,” said Howard Nager, vice president of marketing for Domex Superfresh Growers, Yakima, Wash.

Nager said the company has reserved a booth for 2009. Next year’s show should determine if the United Fresh convention can stand on its own, apart from FMI, he said.

Mark Munger, vice president of marketing for Andrew & Williamson Fresh Produce, Watsonville, Calif., said company officials were optimistic coming into the show and weren’t disappointed.

“We have been happy with the quality of attendance,” he said. “We’ve had some great meetings and good participation from retailers.”

Munger agreed United Fresh Marketplace and FreshTech will be tested next year when it separates from the FMI show, but he said the event has earned trust.

“We are definitely going to come back,” he said. “I think United is building a level of credibility, with the tech portion of United coming together, so there’s been a lot of unique technology of interest to retailers, and when you combine that with the fresh portion of the show, it’s pretty powerful.”

Karen Lynn-Townsend, market development director for the Prince Edward Island Potato Board, Charlottetown, said separation might be good for the United Fresh Marketplace show. She said the Prince Edward Island Potato Board will exhibit at United Fresh in 2009.

She said it is important that United Fresh keep pursuing buyers to attend in greater numbers.

“Buyers are the only reason we exhibit — not because it is in Las Vegas,” she said. “They somehow need to come up with a real incentive to get the buyers.”

The distractions of Las Vegas didn’t seem to be all that much of a problem for people, Munger said.

Even with the exhibition hall two miles from the hotel where the workshops were held, Munger said attendance has held strong. Next year, when the hotel and conventional center will be side by side, results should be even more favorable, he said.

Denise Yockey, executive director of the Michigan Apple Committee, DeWitt, said May 6 that she was still evaluating the show.

“Our jury is out,” she said, noting that none of the committee’s peers — representatives of the New York Apple Association or the Washington Apple Commission or California pears, for example — were represented at the show with exhibits. She said being in Las Vegas again next year may make their marketing efforts too heavily weighted to the West Coast.

“We feel we are heavily represented to the West Coast buyers, and that’s not our people,” she said, referring to the fact that most Michigan apples are distributed to midwestern and eastern markets.

However, she said the show has provided some good contacts.

The timing of the United Fresh show is also favorable for California tree fruits, said Dan Spain, vice president of sales and marketing for Kingsburg Orchards, Kingsburg, Calif.

“It’s a good time of year to show off early season fruit,” he said. “We will absolutely be back.”

Leonard Batti, senior partner with the Mixtec Group, Monterey, Calif., said United Fresh Marketplace has a good chance to find a niche.

“There is an intimacy with this show you don’t get elsewhere,” he said. “I think there is a real opportunity for the show because it’s not such a whirlwind.”

Batti believes the format and venue for the show will be great for 2009, and he doesn’t see a drop off without the link in to FMI.