NEW YORK — Regional produce shows are becoming increasingly popular in the produce business.
Shows like the Southeast Produce Council’s Southern Exposure (scheduled for March 1-3 in Tampa, Fla.) have become bigger draws for suppliers and, more important, for buyers.
So it’s no surprise the New York Produce Show and Conference, which ran Nov. 7-9, drew plenty of praise from attendees and exhibitors on the show floor Nov. 8.
In its second year, expo attendance built strongly on its inaugural turnout of around 2,000 a year ago, pulling in more than 3,000.
The exhibitor side mirrored that, growing from 212 in 2010 to more than 300 this year.
Of course size matters, but quality bests quantity, and in this respect the New York show delivered too.
Speaking to dozens of people during my seven hours on the expo floor, praise from attendees was unanimous.
In particular, exhibiting suppliers were pleased with the buyer presence.
“It’s the right customers for us,” Michael Muzyk, president of Baldor Specialty Foods Inc., said.
Maggie Bezart, marketing director with the Aptos, Calif.-based Chilean Avocado Importers Association, echoed his sentiments.
“Retailers are very committed,” she said regarding buyers at the show.
The only complaint I heard was that the expo was testing the limits of the Hilton New York venue.
The show’s growth required it to be split into three separate expo floors, and a number of attendees mentioned they preferred a single exhibition space where they could troll the show floor aisle by aisle.
Coming so soon on the heels of the Produce Marketing Association’s Fresh Summit expo in Atlanta Oct. 14-17, it was surprising how many companies were debuting products in New York.
Industry heavyweights including Sunkist, Tanimura & Antle and Mission Produce used the venue to roll out their latest.
Considering the size of the marketplace in the New York area (not to mention the greater Northeast market), it’s understandable why suppliers put so much effort into the show — and why so many buyers were in the house.
As Lucky Lee, vice president of sales for Lucky’s Real Tomatoes, said, it’s a little surprising a trade show for the region wasn’t started a long time ago.
Having a one-day expo meant time in the exhibit hall was well spent.
A criticism about Fresh Summit (particularly this year in Atlanta, which unlike other PMA cities such as Orlando doesn’t boast the extracurricular entertainment to entice attendees to stick around) is buyer drop-off in the event’s second and third days.
The gist is that on the opening day of the Fresh Summit expo floor buyer traffic is good, on the second day they’re scarce and by the third day they’re gone.
Another comment I’ve heard in recent years is that while Fresh Summit remains the industry’s big dance, it’s more about face-time with existing clients/customers (which is certainly a high-value activity) than closing new deals.
Although the economy is stronger than it was two or three years ago, companies are still looking to save money where they can and maximize their promotional dollars.
Attending trade shows isn’t cheap, even more so for exhibitors than other attendees, considering the expense of travel; hotels; renting exhibit space; and shipping in, setting up and tearing down booth displays.
Here at The Packer we’ve been watching regional expos rise in value to the industry, and we used the occasion of Fresh Summit 2011 to announce our plans for the Midwest Produce Conference & Expo, set for Aug. 13-15 at the Sheraton Chicago Hotel in downtown Chicago.
Midwest Produce will have a one-day expo with all booths the same size and aimed to maximize buyer-seller interaction.
The three-day event also plans to offer a golf outing and tours of Chicago’s terminal market, and attendees will get a preview of The Packer’s Fresh Trends consumer research.
Workshops will be heavy on consumer trends. Midwest Produce preceeds the annual U.S. Apple meeting in Chicago later in the week.
Check out www.midwestproduceexpo.com for details as they emerge, and I hope to see you all in Chicago.