Pharr, Texas-based Bebo Distributing Inc.'s Raymond Labus (from left) , Jose Luis Licea and Joacim Hernandez represented the company at the 2017 Viva Fresh expo. ( Pamela Riemenschneider )

Buyer speed meetings, innovation, enhanced networking opportunities and a little exercise added to the program help keep the 2018 Viva Fresh Expo from becoming “just another trade show” in a busy season of events.

The show, scheduled for April 5-7 at the JW Marriott Hill Country in San Antonio, expects to offer almost 170 booths with a targeted focus on Texas, Mexico and the surrounding Southwestern states, with more than 2,000 attendees expected, said Dante Galeazzi, president and CEO of the Mission-based Texas International Produce Association.

It opens April 5 with the annual golf tournament at the hotel course, followed by educational seminars and an opening reception April 6, and then buyer speed meetings and the expo from 11:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. on April 7.

“We try and keep the show fresh by constantly engaging with our attendees and working on ensuring Viva Fresh fulfills their show expectations,” Galeazzi said.

For example, Galeazzi said, show-goers said they want more networking time. Viva Fresh is delivering a Meet & Greet Breakfast before education sessions April 6 with gourmet and specialty coffee stations, full breakfast, and ample opportunity for buyers and attendees to mingle.

After piloting “buyer speed meetings,” that opportunity has been expanded to a session just before the expo floor opening on Saturday, April 7, as well.

Buyer attendance, up 140% last year, is also targeted to attendees who specifically source the commodities from the region.

“Our goal here is to really make sure that everyone walks away from the show with new contacts, and the right connections, to take their business to the next level,” Galeazzi said.

Viva Fresh also wants to make sure its core values are reflected in all areas of the show.

From the Viva Fresh Open’s selection of Brighter Bites as this year’s beneficiary, to the attention to detail in menus, healthy food and lifestyles are forefront.

“But it’s also been about flavor, and access, and bringing the wide diversity of products from our region to consumers across North America,” Galeazzi said. “Every year, the Viva Fresh Steering Committee spends an inordinate amount of time reviewing the most miniscule of details.”

And that, Galeazzi said, helps keep it “fresh.”

“Although we live in the digital age, our business and our industry is still very much about the face-to-face interactions, and Viva Fresh is a show all about providing those interactions — education, networking, fun, exercise, food ... we want Viva Fresh to not just be another trade show,” he said.

“We want Viva Fresh to be a true Tex-Mex experience.”