CHICAGO — Fresh produce company officials manning booths and retailers walking the show floor agreed June 17-18 that less isn’t necessarily worse for the annual All Things Organic Conference and Trade Show at McCormick Place.

While show officials and others admitted show traffic wasn’t all they had hoped for, the show offered many opportunities.

“I come here every year, and I always come back with five new ideas I’d like to pursue,” said Ruth Ferree, produce manager for Bloomingfoods Cooperative Services Inc., Bloomington, Ind. “I have noticed the show is scaled back more and more, which is a little discouraging. I was also a little disappointed there weren’t more local-grown items here, and it was a little bit more difficult to get away during the middle of the week.”

Always on the lookout for new organic products and merchandising tips, Ferree said the show provided plenty of that. Among others, she talked with Mastronardi Produce Ltd.’s marketing manager Chris Veillon about the Kingsville, Ontario company’s new package offerings.

Todd Smith, salesman for Jacobs Farm/Del Cabo Inc., Santa Cruz, Calif., who was exhibiting at the show, said dwindling show traffic didn’t upset him.

Participants stress value of organic conference
                                                                            Dan Galbraith

Chef Domenica Catelli (right), author and 2008 spokeswoman for Go Organic! Earth Day, showed Wilma Phend, owner of Wilma’s Health Care & Food Shop, Churnbusco, Ind., the proper way to chop Swiss chard while creating a recipe using fresh produce June 17 at the All Things Organic show in Chicago.

“The size of the show was a little smaller than expected, but it was nice having the fresh produce companies consolidated into one area, which draws the right kind of people we want at our booth,” he said. “It’s a good opportunity for us to extend our customer service beyond our sales office.”

All Things Organic was scheduled in conjunction with the Expo Comida Latina and All Asia Food shows.

“You can’t really compare attendance and booth numbers for this year to previous years because this is a whole different configuration and we’re working with different partners this years, said Barbara Haumann, press secretary of the Organic Trade Association.

Also at the show, fresh produce retailers and producers were reminded they need to make sure they’re commited to case-level traceability — both in concept and in making suring their systems and procedures can shoulder the load.

Kathy Means, vice president of government relations and public affairs for the Produce Marketing Association, Newark, Del., on June 17 stressed the need to adopt traceability protocols, but also have the right attitude about it.

While some may view case-level traceability as a burden and a paper trail nightmare, Means said it’s important in avoiding food safety problems and it also builds consumer confidence and can lead to more fresh produce sales.

Means said growers and retailers should not think of traceability and food safety as simply cost liabilities, but as a means of brand-building, reducing shrink and gaining consumer loyalty.

More specifics on the Produce Traceability Initiative will come in October, Means said, but she emphasized all fresh produce companies need to make sure they are satisfying minimum traceability elements such as maintaining accurate records on case identification numbers, lot and batch numbers and dates of packing, harvest, etc., and properly labeling products with such information.