The Produce Marketing Association’s 36th annual Foodservice Conference and Expo will return to the waterfront July 28-30 after relocating to another venue last year because of facility renovations.

The opening reception, Hands-on Fruit & Vegetable Training, networking breakfast and strolling lunch and conference education sessions will be in the Monterey Marriott in Monterey, Calif., said Lisa McVey, PMA’s public relations manager.

The expo will be July 30 at the Portola Hotel & Spa and the Custom House Plaza Tent, an outdoor area adjacent to the Portola, which will be fully carpeted and equipped with overhead lighting and air-conditioning, she said.

Some renovation work still is going on at the Monterey Conference Center, so that site will not be available, she said.

“We’re excited to be back on the waterfront for our premier event focused on fresh produce in foodservice,” said Astrid Schrier, event manager.

“We are making creative use of space and maximizing opportunities for participants to network, learn, collaborate and co-create.”

Once again, the theme of the conference will be Innovate the Plate.

“It’s about innovation, new ideas, new products and new ways of using existing products,” said co-chairman Brent Scattini, vice president of sales and marketing for Mission Produce Inc., Oxnard, Calif.

Education, including hands-on training, will be a primary focus.

“It’s a really good educational opportunity, whether it’s for neophytes in the business or people who have been around a long time to really understand what to do with the products we sell, how to handle them and how to bring the best experience to the consumer possible,” Scattini said.

Chef demos, menu tastings, insights on new culinary trends and flavors and plenty of opportunities to network will be other highlights of the conference and expo.

More than 170 exhibitors will be on hand, and 1,800 attendees are expected, including about 600 buyers.

The Fresh Ideas Showcase will return, with products such as cone cabbage, veggie hash, citrus “caviar,” ginger herb crystals, chef-ready bell peppers and quick-cook Brussels sprout halves.

And there will be educational sessions, including:

  • “Let’s Talk About Trends, Baby” — Joseph Pawlak, managing principal of Technomic, a foodservice research and management consulting company, will discuss trending topics such as “What do college diners crave? Are meal kits worth the hype? And is clean eating finally becoming affordable?”
  • “No, You Are Not the Smartest Person in the Room” — David Nour, CEO of The Nour Group Inc., will talk about “the quantifiable value of business relationships” and help participants learn actionable processes they can apply on the job with supply chain partners.
  • “Innovate the Plate? Why Stop There?” — Event organizers will facilitate a panel discussion with supply chain peers and food experts who will address “disruptors in the industry and what attendees can do to address such dynamics.”

New this year will be Buyer Roundtables that will provide suppliers with an opportunity to meet face to face with buyers for restaurant chains to discuss their products and their programs, Scattini said.

Participants who have signed up for the roundtables will spend 10 minutes with at least six buyers from restaurants and buying organizations.

Some new faces are expected this year, Schrier said.

“We are looking forward to participation from a wide range of buyers, suppliers and influencers, including some amazing chefs and a number of retailers,” she said.