Attendees take advantage of networking opportunities at the Produce Marketing Association’s Foodservice Conference and Expo in Monterey, Calif., last year. This year’s event, set for July 25-27, will be Thursday through Saturday rather than Friday through Sunday, and will have more exhibitors, say co-chairwomen Jill Overdorf, director of business development for foodservice for Naturipe Farms LLC, and Nichole Towell, senior director of marketing for Duda Farm Fresh Foods Inc. ( Photo courtesy Produce Marketing Association )

A different schedule, a mobile app to match buyers and sellers and a series of a la carte education sessions are just a few of the new features that should appeal to anyone thinking about visiting the Produce Marketing Association’s Foodservice Conference and Expo in Monterey, Calif.

This year, the conference will be held from Thursday, July 25, through Saturday, July 27, rather than Friday through Sunday, as in the past, said Jill Overdorf, director of business development for foodservice for Estero, Fla.-based Naturipe Farms LLC and co-chairwoman for the foodservice conference.

The change was made at the request of employers to enable their employees to return home on Sunday and spend part of the weekend with their families before returning to work on Monday morning, she said.

“There are a lot of new things that are reinvigorating the conference this year,” added co-chairwoman Nichole Towell, senior director of marketing for Salinas, Calif.-based Duda Farm Fresh Foods Inc.

“This is the only conference that is dedicated specifically to fresh produce from a foodservice side,” she said.

Another addition will be the a la carte sessions, which Overdorf referred to as “short microbursts of education and information.”

Sessions are titled Sustainability Corner, Taste the Trends, Top Technology of Tomorrow, Talks on Talent and Protecting Your Business: The Next Generation of Produce Safety Education.

We’re hoping to make it much easier and more convenient for attendees to be able to meet with whom they’d like to.

“It’s a brand new concept and way to be learning,” she said.

Some “great new speakers” also are slated for this year’s event, Towell said.

Ted Allen, host of Food Network’s “Chopped” and “All-Star Academy” will conduct an interactive talk called Changing the Way Americans View and Taste Food at 11 a.m. Friday.

Saturday at 9 a.m., Dan Buettner, National Geographic writer, renowned explorer and author of “Blue Zones” will speak on Blue Zones: Secrets of a Long Life, and provide attendees with “an actionable plan to live a healthier life,” PMA says.

Other events include a sold-out buyer roundtable, described as an opportunity similar to speed dating that allows foodservice suppliers to connect face-to-face with operators and distributors; an invitation-only chef’s brunch for chefs attending the conference; and advanced-registration events like Members Helping Members: One-on-One Strategic Marketing Consults, where PMA marketing agency members volunteer their time and expertise in free, confidential consulting services to conference attendees.

Networking opportunities include the networking reception at The Barns at Cooper Molera, three blocks away from the Monterey Conference Center, and the Center for Growing Talent Women’s Fresh Perspectives Reception (separate registration required), both set for Friday.

The PMA Foodservice Produce Expo will take place from 10:30 a.m. until 4:30 p.m. Saturday.

Other events, all of which require separate registration, include the Center for Growing Talent Bocce for Talent Tournament on Wednesday, the Center for Growing Talent Joe Nucci Memorial Golf Tournament on Thursday and the Center for Growing Talent 5K Race for Talent on Friday.

A new mobile app this year is “kind of a matchmaking for buyers and attendees,” Overdorf said.

There are a lot of new things that are reinvigorating the conference this year.

“We’re hoping to make it much easier and more convenient for attendees to be able to meet with whom they’d like to.”

About 1,800 attendees are expected at the 38th annual show. 

Exhibit space was sold out once again, even with 200 booths, up from 190 last year. 

Twenty-eight first-time exhibitors will be on hand.

There will be “a diversity of buyers,” Towell said, including foodservice operators, wholesalers, distributors, influencers, supermarket executive chefs and menu developers.
 
“That brings a lot of opportunities,” she said.

Overdorf, who is serving as co-chairwoman for the fourth time, said the conference and expo are a “can’t-miss opportunity not only for networking, but for seeing everything that we do as foodservice providers under one roof.”

 
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