GOPEX Conversation with Chris Veillon
Chris Veillon, chief marketing officer of Pure Hothouse Foods, which markets under the Pure Flavor brand, discusses his experience at the show with Ashley Nickle, retail editor of The Packer. ( The Packer )

HOLLYWOOD, Fla. — While travel complications from the polar vortex in northern states prevented some registered attendees from making the trip to The Packer’s 2019 Global Organic Produce Expo, those who were able to come were pleased with south Florida weather and the show.

The second-year show, Jan. 31-Feb. 2, saw close to 500 in attendance and a 17% increase in the number of booths, according to event organizers.

“It is nice to see the attendance start to increase, you have got some key people coming in, looking for organic items,” said Chris Veillon, chief marketing officer for Leamington, Ontario-based Pure Flavor.

“As an integrated vegetable grower like we are, with greenhouse product, it really gives us an opportunity to connect with those people who are very specifically looking for organics,” Veillon said. “Our programs are year-round, so it gives us an opportunity to have a good conversation.”

The 2019 edition of GOPEX was very good, said Kim Fellom, sales and marketing representative with Pacific International Marketing, Salinas, Calif.

“It is nice and intimate, so you are able to have conversations with some of the people that last longer than 10 seconds, and they actually come back and so you get to see him at least twice, which is nice,” she said.

Another exhibitor said buyer attendees had more energy and time for conversations than at some of the larger produce shows.

“We are not getting bulldozed, (and) I’ve had some good contacts,” said Robert Hernandez, sales representative for Fresh Farms, Rio Rico, Ariz.

Oceanside networking receptions on Jan. 31 and Feb. 1 were well-attended.

“We get more meaningful conversations here at a smaller show, at GOPEX,” said Michele Youngquist, with Bay Baby Produce, Mount Vernon, Wash. “It is the second time we have been here and I think it is just getting better and better, so I am very, very happy to be here.”

Both the show location and the show itself were great, said Mike Preacher, director of marketing for Yakima, Wash.-based Domex Superfresh Growers.

“We’ve seen people that we need to see and it’s kind of fun,” he said, noting a camaraderie among attendees. “I think everybody’s really passionate about the product and there is a bright future for it.”

The Feb. 1 educational track featured an opening keynote presentation from Shannon Allen, ,creator of Grown, a 100% certified organic restaurant with several south Florida locations. Allen’s energy wowed the crowd, and the balance of the day featured eight more presentations with topics ranging from organic merchandising tips to a responsible supply chain and the limits to organic growth.

“The education sessions are important,” Veillon said. “I think that it adds more life to the show itself, and those types of topics are thought provoking.”

Reaffirming the good standing of hydroponic organic operations, Jennifer Tucker, deputy administrator for the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Organic Program, also made comments on upcoming organic enforcement regulations and took multiple questions from the audience.

Steve Lutz, vice president of U.S. and Canada West for the Produce Marketing Association, made a strong case to attendees that future growth in the category will come from current light- to moderate-buyers of organic produce. Keynote speakers Todd Dewett and Eduardo Garcia, sponsored by Stemilt Growers, also drew strong reviews from attendees.

The 2020 Global Organic Produce Expo is set for Jan. 9-11 at Miami’s Fontainebleau resort, said Shannon Shuman, publisher of The Packer. He said the show has gained momentum.

“I think last year we delivered on a top-quality, high-end event and those that were here last year and experienced it came back, and we grew on top of those who came back another 30%; we are on the right trajectory,” he said.