File photo ( Randy Riley (left), director of produce for The Kroger Co., was entertained by magician David Harris at the Stemilt Growers booth at United Fresh’s 2018 expo as Harris tried to make a cherry appear and disappear. )

Change is almost here.

The June 10-12 United Fresh 2019 Convention & Expo in Chicago is having one more fling with the Windy City before moving to San Diego next year for a June 17-18 show.

United Fresh engaged a number of industry professionals on the convention committee, and the group effort helped deliver an exciting show that the broader industry should want to take part in, said Mary Coppola, vice president of marketing and communications for the Washington, D.C.-based United Fresh Produce Association.

“One of our biggest goals this year was to make sure that we were really delivering on the value that every different individual in our industry sees in attending a show,” she said. 

Education sessions are always a strong suit of the United show, and that was a focus again this year. Networking opportunities have grown with more activities. 

“Of course, the trade show has to be strong, and we believe we’re delivering that with over 250 exhibitors,” she said.

United Fresh focused on delivering the “want to” element of attending a show, said John Toner, vice president of convention and industry collaboration. 

While 30 years ago there were only a handful of national produce events, the number of national and regional events has expanded significantly, which creates more of a competitive environment.

“People want to go to a convention first before they need to go,” he said. “They want to have to go and they want to have to come back.”

Entertainment is part of equation. For example, Toner said United Fresh has booked seven bands this year, compared with one or two bands in recent years.

“We are in an experience economy,” Toner said, noting that every show must bring both a business return and also enjoyment to the participants. This year’s show delivers on all of that, he said.

Toner said the United Fresh event also will highlight innovation. 

“What excites me is that we have 48 produce innovations in the Innovation Awards competition,” he said. 

That number is up more than 10 compared with the past couple of years. The competition features products like sliced pears from Crunch Pak and also robotic tools for the industry, he said.

“We’ve been talking about robots coming into produce for the last four or five conventions, but the fact that people are displaying them — wow, that’s really cool.”

The United Fresh show will also feature what it calls a new partner exchange, a pilot program that is a type of “speed dating” featuring 25 retail partners and 25 suppliers. Set for June 10 at 2-5 p.m., the program could be a great tool in helping the trade develop more productive relationships, he said.

“We really see that as a template for future conventions,” Toner said. 

The format could perhaps answer the question of how trade shows can contribute to the organized pairing of business partners, he said.

The expo will be held in the North Hall of McCormick Place and will be a powerful blend of fun, expo destinations, networking and education, Coppola said.

On Monday, June 10, the Produce Outlook Round-table Luncheon will be moderated by United Fresh president and CEO Tom Stenzel and will feature six industry leaders sharing their forecasts for the future:

  • Paul Lightfoot, CEO, BrightFarms; 
  • Mary Thompson, CEO, Bonduelle Fresh Americas/Ready Pac Foods; 
  • James Rogers, CEO, Apeel Sciences; 
  • Jose Antonio Gomez, CEO, Camposol Fresh USA Inc.; 
  • Melissa Melshenker Ackerman, president Produce Alliance; and
  • Rich Gonzales, vice president of global produce sourcing, Walmart Inc.

The afternoon will include educational workshops geared to marketing, technology, business management and food safety. The June 10 agenda concludes with an opening party, this year hosted at Navy Pier’s Crystal Gardens.

On June 11, Morten Hansen, management consultant and author of “Great at Work,”
will give the keynote address at the Breakfast Keynote General Session. 

All attendees at the session will receive a copy of Hansen’s book.

The United Fresh 2019 expo will open its doors at 10 a.m. June 11. A new media center has been added to the show floor, providing trade and national media a spot to schedule and host interviews. 

In addition, Coppola said the show floor will feature a podcast station, which several podcasters will be using during the course of the expo. Coppola said United Fresh has elevated traditional show floor education with the introduction of Main Stage and Stage Next. 

“We’ve taken our learning centers, and we’ve really kind of blown them up and elevated them to (the) Main stage and Stage Next,” she said. 

“There (are) higher caliber speakers and presentations happening on Main Stage, and then over at Stage Next, we’re really looking at innovation technology, and some of the case studies of what’s happening in the produce industry that the rest of us could kind of grab onto the coattails and implement ourselves.”

Other show floor destinations include: 

  • The new International Trade Center, where attendees can meet with representatives from embassies and consulates around the globe to learn ways to partner with the produce industry in these countries.
  • United Fresh EATS, the new food hall on the trade show floor where attendees and exhibitors alike will have the opportunity to grab lunch from five different food concepts, all of which feature a fresh produce item. The food hall is included for anyone with an all-access package and others also can buy a ticket for the food hall.
  • The Marketing Solutions Zone will feature leading agencies focused on produce and product marketing solutions.
  • The FutureTEC Zone returns for its third year with more than 25 start-up companies showcasing the next generation of tech for the fresh foods industry.

On the evening of June 11, United Fresh will gather for the new United Fresh Late Night!, which will be held at Chicago’s famed House of Blues for an exclusive concert featuring local talent Talk of the Town. 

United Fresh hinted there may be a surprise at the event for those who stay late.
‘This is a big thing for us to do — a late night concert — but we really learned through the process of gathering a convention committee that this is going to be an opportunity to attract some new younger talent in our industry to town and network and really celebrate what we’re trying to accomplish,” Coppola said. 

“We are over-the-moon excited about it.”

Women in Produce

Coppola said one change this year is that the traditional Women in Produce reception has been moved to a general session on the morning of June 12.

Jan Berk, chief operating officer for San Miguel Produce Inc., is the honoree and featured speaker for the Women in Produce Breakfast General Session, which starts at 8:30 a.m.

“We elevated it to the general session, and we think more folks are going to be able to attend because of that,” she said.

This year’s Fresh Festival for School Foodservice will take place June 12 at 3-4:30 p.m. right off of the show floor, according to Coppola. Connecting the produce industry with leading K-12 school foodservice buyers, this event also will appeal to retail and foodservice decision makers seeking solutions for providing healthy, fresh produce options to kids.

“We’re opening the doors up to the entire convention to see what is going on with school food, so everyone will be able to experience it,” Toner said.

At 2 p.m., the Main Stage will be the site for revealing this year’s Innovation Award Winners.

United Fresh 2019 will conclude with the Retail-Foodservice Celebration where 25 Retail Produce Manager Award Winners and 8 Produce Excellence in Foodservice Award Winners will be honored. 

Toner said the open-bar event should bring a big turnout to close out the convention. 

“It should be an exciting event,” he said.

Registration for United Fresh 2019 is available at