Packer United Overview June 29
Tom Stenzel, president and CEO of United Fresh shares a laugh with Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue after Perdue's remarks at the United Fresh Produce Association Expo on June 26. ( The Packer )

CHICAGO — Despite a storm June 26 that canceled hundreds of flights and created disruptions for travelers, attendees and organizers of the United Fresh Produce Association’s annual event were mostly happy with the outcome.

Even with the air travel disruptions, United Fresh vice president of convention and industry relations John Toner said more than 7,000 attendees came to the show, which was year two of a rebranded show that included FreshTEC and FreshMKT and the new SmartFood Expo. Last year’s attendance for the combined show was 7,500, United Fresh reported earlier.

Toner said the SmartFood Expo had about 30 exhibitors in its first year.

“What a perfect complement to the fresh food industry that we’re creating,” Toner said. “We’re now the fresh healthy food industry.”

Other expo partners were the International Floriculture Expo and the Global Cold Chain Expo.

At the show, the United Fresh Start Foundation announced the launch of a three-year fundraising campaign that aims to secure $5 million in commitments to support the foundation’s mission of increasing children’s access to fresh fruits and vegetables. United Fresh board chairwoman Cindy Jewell, vice president of marketing for Watsonville-based California Giant Berry Farms, announced the campaign during the opening session June 26. 

Jewell also was honored June 26 at the annual Reception Honoring Women in Produce.

On June 26, Mayda Sotomayor, CEO of Vero Beach, Fla.-based Seald Sweet, and an executive in parent company Greenyard Group, was named The Packer’s 2018 Produce Woman of the Year by The Packer’s editor Greg Johnson.

Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue spoke June 26 at the expo and defended Trump administration efforts to help fruit and vegetable growers deal with labor and trade issues.

United Fresh also announced members of the 2018-19 United Fresh Produce Industry Leadership Program Leadership Class 24.

Toner said United Fresh serves as a great vehicle for produce professionals to advance their careers, noting the role of the leadership program and also the several award programs at the show. 

“We had 70 school foodservice directors on site learning about fresh produce opportunities, and we had 25 award-winning produce managers here seeing the latest and greatest fresh produce items,” he said. The event’s new culinary showcase was also a highlight, he said. 

“It was a great week in Chicago,” Toner said. Next year’s event is back in Chicago from June 10 to June 12.

Toner had said earlier that FreshMKT 2018 had 165 exhibitors, and 15 buying groups had business suites at the expo, including Sam’s Club, Kroger, Amazon Fresh, Costco and US Foods.


Hot topics

In another sense, Toner said the United Show was a “perfect storm” in the sense it came at a timely time for the industry to talk about high profile issues.

“You look at the issues coming into the convention — a couple of (food safety) outbreaks, the trade issues, the Kroger 90-day payment policy,” he said. “Quite a few issues came to the forefront and came to life here at the United convention, which is what United is all about — dealing with the industry issues bringing the industry together to advance the industry forward.”

Learning center sessions on the show floor highlighted critical issues including food safety, immigration and retail and foodservice trends.

While some exhibitors said they were disappointed with foot traffic at times during the show, many were pleased with the show and the quality and number of buyers they saw.

“I love United Fresh because of all the quality time I get to spend with my customers when they come by and the new clients that I get as well,” said Michelle Youngquist, owner of Bay Baby Produce, Burlington, Wash.

“We had a great show,” said Roger Pepperl, marketing director for Stemilt Growers, Wenatchee, Wash., noting stronger traffic on June 26 compared with the last day.

Speaking June 27, Jewell said the show had a lot of interaction between exhibitors.

“I think this has been a great show for Cal Giant and hopefully has been a great show for others by bringing all these different portions of the supply chain together for the first time and having five different shows all on the same floor,” she said, noting conversations with exhibitors in the FutureTec Zone and strong interest in the SmartFood expo.

“There’s just so much innovation and creativity going on and it’s a great way to bring people together to come up with some new ideas and ultimately bring a better product to the consumer,” she said.