(March 6, 12:55 p.m.) GUADALAJARA, Mexico — U.S. fruit and vegetable marketers are finding wide acceptance in Mexico, and the show floor March 5-7 at ANTAD, Mexico’s largest retail show, proved that interest isn’t waning.

“A lot of the companies in the U.S. are going to international markets,” said Frank Cruz, president and general manager of Taylor Farms Mexico, San Miguel de Allende, Guanajuato, which ships 90% of its product to the U.S. “Because of that growth here in Mexico, we’re able to grow along with it.”

Carlos Zertuche, senior agricultural specialist for the U.S. Agricultural Trade Office, said there were 44 booths, including about a dozen produce booths, in the U.S. pavilion, which is about average for the exposition.

The demand was higher, however. By mid-December, all slots for the U.S. pavilion were filled and there were more than half a dozen companies that missed the deadline.

About 25,000 visitors attended this year’s expo, close to the same amount last year, although exhibitor booths dropped slightly from 1,300 last year to 1,100, fewer than 50 of which were produce-related.

Some grower-shippers commented that although the number of exhibitors went down, there seemed to be more quality rather than quantity.

“There are less people than last year’s expo, but we see more quality of people and products,” said Miguel Angel Usabiaga, general manager for Guanajuato-based Mr. Lucky, Comercializadora GAB SA de CV.

“We see more products with an added value here, especially in the consistency of the products as far as the shelf life is concerned,” Usabiaga said.

“This time we see a more consolidated market, more orderly and matured,” Usabiaga said.

Dozens of stalls in the Central de Abastos, the terminal market in Guadalajara, just blocks away from the convention center, prominently feature apples and pears grown in Washington state.

“Mexico is a prime market for the smaller sizes,” said Juan Carlos Moreira Martin, representative for the Washington Apple Commission in Mexico. “They (small apples) find an acceptance here that they don’t see in the U.S.”

Seth Pemsler, vice president of retail marketing for the Eagle-based Idaho Potato Commission, said the acceptance of russets throughout Mexico only underscores the importance of opening the Mexican market more.

Currently, U.S. potatoes are allowed only 26 kilometers into Mexico.

“We sell to all the major retailers in that 26-kilometer zone,” Pemsler said.

“I’ve met with a lot of those retailers, and we ask if they want to bring Idaho potatoes into their stores south of that zone, and they say, ‘absolutely.’”

Gloria Vasquez, saleswoman for Driscoll Strawberry Associates Inc., Watsonville, Calif., arrived in Mexico before the show to meet with some retail clients.

The show floor provides more opportunities, she said.

“I have a couple of leads that I can go back to the states and follow up on,” she said March 5. “We’re here to increase our market presence, and we do get leads, to make something happen.”

Kenny Kusumoto, international sales manager for Driscoll’s, said that even though the company’s berries have been marketed in Mexico for a number of years, ANTAD continues to open doors.

“The more you become familiar with the market, the more you can do here,” Kusumoto said. “Mexico is such an important market, so there are opportunities here.”

Among the U.S. representatives were:

  • Denver based-U.S. Potato Board;

  • Nogales, Ariz.-based Del Campo Supreme;

  • Watsonville-based California Strawberry Commission; and

  • the Produce Marketing Association, Newark, Del.