Washington Apple Commission President Todd Fryhover, (center), visits Feb. 6 with Bill Dodd, president of EverCrisp, Oberlin, Ohio, at the Fruit Logistica expo. ( Tom Karst )

BERLIN – With close to 80,000 visitors, Fruit Logistica is a nightmare when it comes to finding a taxi at the end of the day.

But beyond the unavoidable inconveniences that come with bringing that amount of people together, North American produce leaders say the Feb. 6-8 global produce expo is a valuable place to be.

Even though Europe is not the biggest export destination for U.S. produce exports, it is still is an important buyer of some commodities.

“About half of our crop goes to Europe,” said Annette Starling, representative with sweet potato marketer Mill Stream Farms, Dunn, N.C. This year is the company’s fourth year at Fruit Logistica, she said.

“The demand is really up this year because we have a shortage of (sweet potatoes) because of the hurricane,” she said. “Usually we are out in the aisles and trying to sell but now people are coming to us.”

“There are many different reasons to be at the show,” said Todd Fryhover, president of the Washington Apple Commission, Wenatchee. The top reason, he said, is meeting with traders from Europe, India, the Middle East and Asia.

According to show organizers, the event has 3,239 exhibitors spread out in more than 25 expo halls, representing all the largest global produce operators and a considerable number of small- and medium-sized players.

“It's always about meeting those customers, those importers, but it's also providing a venue for our shippers to come in and use our facilities as a platform to talk with their customers,” Fryhover said. “And that's probably the biggest point that we really focus on is providing that venue for them to conduct business and improve their export sales.”

Fryhover said the apple commission was sampling Cosmic Crisps at the expo, preparing the global apple community for increasing volumes of the variety over the next few years. The commission also brought samples of Cosmic Crisps last year.

“2019 is the first crop when we are actually having production we can sell, and as an industry we're expecting to have somewhere around 200,000 boxes,” Fryhover said.

Even with the modest volume this year, Fryhover said Cosmic Crisp volume is coming on at such a fast pace that it will be in the export arena almost immediately.

Todd Sanders, executive director of the California Apple Commission and representing the U.S. Apple Export Council, said a person can spend three days walking the Fruit Logistica show floor and not see everything. The massive scale and attendance bring value, he said.

“The show enables us to educate as many consumers as possible in one area, so we don't have to spend time in India, spend time in Southeast Asia — everybody’s here, so it gives us that opportunity to get our word out to everybody,” he said.

The show also allows Tomra/Compac to meet customers from many countries and show them new technology, in addition to seeing new prospects, said Chris Komatas, New Zealand-based vice president of product management for Tomra.

The United Fresh Produce Association and the Produce Marketing Association were represented at the show and both had receptions.

John Toner, vice president of convention and industry collaboration for United Fresh, said he has attended Fruit Logistica for 15 years.

“I remember my first time coming and you could still be able to smoke in the hall,” he said. The show was much smaller then, as well, with perhaps only 800 companies exhibiting in six halls.

There were far fewer American companies on hand 15 years ago. Toner estimated perhaps 250 United Fresh members attended, with 100 exhibiting, including large multinationals and also “tools and technology” providers.

“It’s about building new relationships, helping our members look at new opportunities,” he said. “This allows us to explore new opportunities together with our most loyal members and allows them to have a place (on the show floor) to call home,” he said.