Midsummer move pays off for Fresno Food ExpoThe decision to move the Fresno Food Expo from its historic March timeframe to late July, when produce is peaking, appears to be paying dividends with increased exhibitor registrations and stronger buyer response.

“When we started this effort, I think our focus was on food manufacturing,” said Amy Fuentes, director of the food expo on behalf of the city of Fresno. “But we realized there was a huge piece of the industry that wasn’t being represented” and that was fresh produce.

The move was made after survey responses from buyers, exhibitors and potential exhibitors indicated more interest if the show were moved to the peak of the San Joaquin Valley’s produce season.

As part of the new July 24 date, the show also added two buyer tours the day before — one will visit two fruit packinghouses and a fruit freezer; the other three food manufacturers. Both tours are nearly full, she said.

“It’s going to be a huge added value for our show because the buyers actually get to see the facilities and get to see some of the innovative things they’re doing,” Fuentes said.

This year, show organizers also increased their efforts to have produce buying decision makers and senior category managers attend. And it seems to be paying off, based on the buyers who have already confirmed attendance, she said.

The expo, founded in 2011, is designed to showcase fresh and value-added food produced in an eight-county region within California’s Central Valley. It’s also a key part of the city of Fresno’s economic development strategy to connect local food businesses with buyers, thereby boosting sales and exports while enhancing business and job growth, Fuentes said.

The inaugural show featured 65 local food companies and 175 grocery retail and foodservice buyers.

This year, event organizers have confirmed 123 exhibitors, nearly double the number at the inaugural show. Buyers are able to register until the day of the show.

Produce exhibitors also have grown and are expected to near 35% of the show compared with 20%-25% in the past, she said.

Stephen Paul, category manager with four-year exhibitor Homegrown Organic Farms, Porterville, said the new timeframe should open up opportunities for grower-packers to offer tours to buyers.

“(The show’s) growing, so I think it’s on the right track,” said Paul, who also was on the original event steering committee. “I think it will be interesting to see how the response is when we’re in full production in the valley. It becomes more dynamic. We don’t want to showcase things in the spring because there isn’t anything going on.”

Not only has he seen a growth in fresh produce exhibitors, but Paul said he’s also noticed more interest from marketers of value-added items.

“We want to grow jobs and the economy, and production ag is the stepping stone to do that,” he said. “Hopefully, there will be more value-added enterprises coming on board. That’s a significant part of the economy that the show is trying to promote.”

Fresno-based Baloian Farms, also a four-time exhibitor, likes to support initiatives designed to bolster the local economy, said Jeremy Lane, sales manager. The show also has cultivated new business leads.

“We’ve actually gained national and regional accounts from this show,” he said.

Lane pointed out that it’s one of the few trade shows he’s attended that incorporates the general public, who are the end consumer.

“It’s fun to have the general public coming in,” Lane said. “This local produce is being celebrated and there’s that direct connection with the customers who are supporting your way of life. There’s a food culture in Fresno that I don’t think really gets exposed for what it is.”

The public portion of the show also allows exhibitors to have almost instant feedback on the different items being sampled, he said.

The buyer portion of the show runs from 9 a.m. to about 3 p.m. at the Fresno Convention Center. After a couple-hour break, doors open to the public from 5-8 p.m.

For more information, visit www.fresnofoodexpo.com.