PMA's 2018 Foodservice Conference & Expo will have a new schedule, a new format and a new layout in the newly renovated exhibit space. ( Courtesy PMA )

This may be the 37th edition of the Produce Marketing Association’s Foodservice Conference and Expo, but one thing those involved in the foodservice industry have learned over the years is that the conference is never a same-old same-old event.

This year’s conference, scheduled for July 28-29, will have a new schedule, a new format and a new layout in the newly renovated exhibit space at the Monterey Conference Center and Portola Hotel & Spa in Monterey, Calif.

Programming, content and activities have been designed around the theme “Growing Appetites.”

The core events, offering networking, information and insights to help businesses grow, have been consolidated into a two-day program on Saturday and Sunday.

A keynote education session will highlight each day.

“A primary reason for consolidating our core offerings this year is to maximize participants’ time in Monterey and the value we provide,” said Brent Scattini, vice president of sales and marketing for Mission Produce Inc., Oxnard, Calif., and co-chairman of PMA’s Foodservice Conference Committee.

“We wanted to allow time for individual business meetings and grower visits in advance of our official kickoff,” he added.

This year’s keynote speaker on Saturday, July 28, is Danny Meyer, CEO of Union Square Hospitality Group and founder of Shake Shack, the New York-based fast-casual burger chain.

He will address strategic risk-taking, embracing change and welcoming disruption in a talk called “Whoever Wrote the Rule.”

Also on Saturday will be an all-new, Hands-on Fruit and Vegetable Training session set for 2-6 p.m.

“Our Hands-on Fruit and Vegetable Training session this year is designed to shake the culinary snow globe, so to speak, by showcasing new products and unique flavor pairings,” said Jill Overdorf, director of business development for Salinas, Calif.-based Naturipe Farms’s value-added fresh division and PMA’s Foodservice Conference Committee co-chairwoman.

The session will cater to menu influencers, produce buyers, category managers and entry- to midlevel foodservice professionals. (Separate registration is required, and seating is limited.)

An expanded Buyer Roundtables program is scheduled for Saturday afternoon.

The roundtables, available for a separate fee, offer an opportunity similar to speed dating where foodservice suppliers can connect face-to-face with operators and distributors.

Selected suppliers will meet for 10 minutes with at least six buyer companies.

A strolling brunch, networking reception and Center for Growing Talent’s Women’s Fresh Perspectives Reception also are scheduled for Saturday.

Sunday’s expo will feature more than 185 exhibitors spread over two levels.

There will be lounges where participants can connect with peers and see and experience the latest innovations and foodservice trends.

Also on Sunday, chef and Food Network star Jet Tila will moderate a panel conversation on “The Rapid Pace of Change” in foodservice.

Panelists are Tim York, CEO of Markon Cooperative Inc.; Tamra Scroggins, director of food culture at Sizzler USA Inc.; and Charlie Lousignont, senior vice president of supply chain management at Brinker International Inc.

Best-of-Show, second-place Best-of-Show, and Best Product Promo awards also will be announced on Sunday.

A number of fundraising events to support Center for Growing Talent initiatives are on tap earlier in the week.

  • The Bocce for Talent Tournament is scheduled for July 25;
  • The Joe Nucci Memorial Golf Tournament is set for July 27; and
  • A 5K Race for Talent will start at 7 a.m. July 28.

“As a chef, I believe the opportunities (the conference) provides for foodservice professionals to collaborate and think outside the box on uses of fresh produce in menu development is unmatched,” Overdorf said.

“The schedule, format and layout are all designed with needs of exhibitors and attendees in mind,” Scattini added.