Attendees of CPMA's 2017 convention and trade show May 10-11 in Toronto sit in on an education session in the event's "learning lounge." ( Courtesy Canadian Produce Marketing Association )

The Canadian Produce Marketing Association’s annual trade show and convention is on track to be the biggest Vancouver show ever.

CPMA president Ron Lemaire expects more than 3,500 attendees from across North America and around the world to attend this year’s convention, scheduled for April 24-26 at the Vancouver Convention Centre.

Space on the trade floor is maxed out, Lemaire said, with good representation from Atlantic Canada, Quebec, Ontario and the Prairies. The B.C. pavilion will focus on local products, he said, and representation from international companies is strong.

While East Coast companies once complained Vancouver was too far to come, Lemaire said more and more companies are realizing that produce is part of the global village, and it’s important to take part in the show wherever it’s held.

“This show is the industry’s opportunity to change the way the market grows and develops,” he said.

“The Canadian consumer is looking for the new and next, whether it’s exotic or produce they’ve never seen or tasted before.”

Supporting and driving innovation in a global market will be a major theme this year, Lemaire said, starting with the guest speakers.

Agrologist and “realist” Rob Saik, who has worked with farmers from Canada to Uganda, will discuss the importance of understanding terms such as genetically modified organisms and bio-technology rather than dismissing them out of fear.

“It’s not an argument between conventional or organic or GMO,” Lemaire said.

“It’s a realistic discussion around how are we going to get from today to tomorrow to feed nine billion people and how technology is going to take us there.”

Lunch speaker Terry Stuart, Deloitte Canada’s chief innovation officer, with more than 25 years’ experience in business consulting, will talk about the disruptive technologies that could drive the produce market.

“Terry brings innovative views around what he’s seen, not only in our sector, but across multi-sectors that could influence how we operate,” Lemaire said. 

Thursday’s business sessions will include the importance of branding led by Ben Hughes, general manager of the Americas for Zespri International Ltd.

Hughes will share how Zespri developed a global brand around its kiwifruit and how the company drives it in local consumer markets.

Roland Fumasi, vice president, senior analyst and manager at Rabobank, banker for the produce industry, will discuss marketplace trends that represent a challenge to the fruit and vegetable sector but could also bring opportunities for those who understand the forces in play, Lemaire said, from sustainability to labor challenges in Canada and around the world.

Learning lounges on both days of the conference will look at nuts-and-bolts issues ranging from trade and transportation to new food safety regulations, finding and developing new employees, electronic logging devices and the need to improve efficiencies in how the industry moves product.

In response to demand from members, Lemaire said there will also be a talk on fresh trends in the floral industry.

“It’s a dynamic program,” he said, “and I’m really happy how it’s all coming together.”

On the lighter side, CPMA members will face off at the annual hockey game, featuring a three-on-three format this year, and anyone can join the 5-kilometer fun run or 2-kilometer walk along Vancouver’s famous seawall.

The grand finale, for all ages, will be a performance by long-time Canadian rock legend Randy Bachman, best known as lead guitarist, songwriter and founding member of The Guess Who and Bachman-Turner Overdrive in the 1960s and ’70s.

“The final night represents what the whole event is about, celebrating the industry by bringing together the produce industry from across Canada and around the world,” Lemaire said.