(May 22, 12:26 p.m.) CHICAGO — Any of the 70,000 restaurant and hospitality industry professionals walking around the National Restaurant Association’s expo floor during the Restaurant, Hotel-Motel Show May 17-20 could easily find something new. Among them, there were twice as many produce booths as last year.

There were 24 produce booths among the show’s 2,200 exhibits, and seven of them were there for the first time.

“After walking the show last year, we saw the lack of produce companies here, and we thought we’d come and be one of the few,” said Raymond Lech in sales and plant operations for Aunt Mid’s, Detroit.

He was showing off the company’s fresh-cut fruits and vegetables.

Although new products and food safety continue to make for interesting booth conversation with buyers, so do issues surrounding locally grown and organics. In fact, those top the list of trends noted by chefs in a joint survey between the National Restaurant Association and the American Culinary Federation.

As a platform for small growers to promote their produce, FromTheFarm.com was formed in Stockton, Calif., two years ago and exhibited at the show for the first time.

It’s an online store where growers, consumers and foodservice operators can do business together.

“We’re building a nationwide farmers market,” said general manager Dean Davis. The company represents 27 growers with more being added all the time. Onions Etc. Inc. is the parent company.

Another partnership/conglomerate new to the show: Fresh Connect, a four-year-old fresh produce sales team that gets the products of its 10 member companies into the major distributors, said president Andrew Siegel.

The Fresh Connect booth housed four of the companies: Gills Onions LLC, Oxnard, Calif.; The Herbal Garden, Chicago; Los Angeles Salad Co., Los Angeles; and Prima Bella Produce Inc., Tracy, Calif., with its GloriAnn fresh-cut sweet corn.

By putting the four companies together in one booth, a chef was able to combine ingredients of each into a sampling recipe.

“We’re also able to do our mission of connecting growers with end-users,” Siegel said.

With the flavor of heirlooms always a foodservice favorite, Procacci Brothers Sales Corp., Philadephia, was back at the show after taking a break for several years. It was showing its Ugli Ripe heirloom tomato at the first restaurant/foodservice show since the Ugli Ripe has been allowed out of Florida, said Rita Neczypor, director of marketing.

Oxnard-based Boskovich Farms Inc. showed off its Cebollitas (little onion) at the show. The company bills it as a barbecuing onion. The small bulbs, with the green tops attached, are available in small vacuum-sealed packages or in bunches for foodservice, said Lindsay Martinez, director of marketing.

Other company news from the NRA show:

Northern Plains Potatoes

The Northern Plains Potato Growers Association, East Grand Forks, Minn., exhibited for the first time at the show to highlight the area’s vast array of red potatoes, which are becoming more popular in restaurants all the time, said Ted Kreis, marketing director.

PrimaBella Produce

PrimaBella Produce Inc., Tracy, Calif., now has year-round availability of its fresh-cut corn since company president Mark Bacchetti has contracted with growers in other regions, said Jeanette Maurer, director of sales and marketing for foodservice. She is new to the company.

Sid Wainer & Son

Sid Wainer & Son, New Bedford, Mass., displayed a poster listing nine commitments the company has made to save energy and the environment to show its efforts toward sustainability, said president Henry Wainer.

Stemilt

Stemilt Growers Inc., Wenatchee, Wash., was a first-time exhibitor featuring its AppleSweets sliced apples in sweet, tart and county fair caramel flavors, said Christine Aguiar Lott, merchandising manager.

Supreme Cuts

Supreme Cuts LLC, Mahwah, N.J., exhibited for the first time at the show, playing up its fresh green beans and its newer corn off the cob. The fresh kernels have a 10-day shelf life, “and caterers and restaurants want fresh corn,” said Joseph Sferrazza, regional sales manager.

NRA expo floor doubles produce presence
The National Restaurant Association’s Restaurant, Hotel-Motel Show, held May 17-20, featured 24 produce booths among the show’s 2,200 exhibits, and seven of them were there for the first time.