FRESNO, Calif. — As the regional local product forager for Whole Foods, Harv Singh likes to attend the Fresno Food Expo, keeping his eyes and ears open for new trends.
“I’m looking at opportunities, I’m looking at what’s hot,” said Singh, who’s based in Emeryville, Calif. “I’m looking at obviously the growth of organics and non-GMO products. I’m looking at small business entrepreneurs, and I’m really looking at marketing and incubating small businesses.”
This year, Singh was able to take in about 25% more fresh produce displays as the event moved from its regular late-March date to July 24 — right when many of the San Joaquin Valley’s fruits and vegetables are at their peak.
The show, now in its fourth year, showcases fresh and processed food items produced in a seven-county region surrounding Fresno. About 35% of the roughly 125 exhibitors this year were from the fresh side compared with 20%-25% in the past.
Because of the date change, the show also offered buyers three tours of nearby packers and processors the day before.
Denver Schutz, technical services manager for Fresno-based Gerawan Farming, hosted one of the tours. He credited the new schedule for allowing the company to show off its Kerman packinghouse in full swing.
“We could never do this before the date was changed to July,” Schutz said.
For Doug Phillips Farms, the new date allowed him to display hybrid cherry-plums, pluots, sugar plums and peacotum, a peach-apricot-plum hybrid.
And it was some of the unusual fruit that caught the eye of Xiang “Shawn” Liu, a buyer for Shanghai-based Shanghai Yiguo E-commerce Co.
In the past, Liu said he purchased through a produce broker. But the e-commerce site, which sells directly to consumers, has grown to the point where he now wants to source directly from growers.
“We’d like to try different varieties,” Liu said, pointing to the pluots that he said are nicknamed dinosaur eggs in China. “Those things are getting more popular, especially in Shanghai."
Laura Bullene Jacobo, nutritional services director for the Woodlake Unified School District, came to the show to get ideas for school lunches that will not only meet the new U.S. Department of Agriculture guidelines but also that will appeal to kids’ tastes.
“I came with colleagues (last year) and we were able to incorporate some of the whole fruits that are local — in my case right in my back yard,” she said as she sampled one of the new seasoned squash sautes from Fresno-based Baloian Farms.
Squash is one of the subgroups included in the USDA guidelines, Jacobo said. She also liked that the kits are colorful and contain both yellow and green summer squash “because you eat with your eyes first, so this is perfect.”
Jeff Earl, vice president of operations and supply chain for Fresno-based Saladino’s Foodservice Distribution, said he attended the expo because of the networking and business opportunities it provided.
“I’m always looking for different products to grow our customer base of fresh salad bar business, so I’m always looking for fresh produce items,” Earl said.