Alfonso Delgado (from left) and Erick Coronado of Avocados from Mexico talk with Juan Estrella, produce merchandiser for Fiesta Mart Inc., during last year’s Viva Fresh event. ( File photo )

For many, the April 25-27 Viva Fresh Expo feels like a long-anticipated family reunion.

“For me personally I feel like Viva Fresh has become a family gathering. It’s really dialed in on the Tex-Mex corridor getting together and promoting the consumption of fresh produce which is grown in and or moves through our region and then getting those fruits and veggies on the family dinner table,” said Jimmy Bassetti, executive committee chairman of the Texas International Produce Association and president and owner of Edinburg, Texas-based J&D Produce Inc. 

“What I look forward to the most is the camaraderie and family feel of the event.”

Bassetti said the Viva Fresh organizing committee has focused on maintaining an intimate show, delivering effective networking for all.

The event began in 2015 as a small regional trade show. It has become one of the most important trade shows in the industry, supporters say.

In just three years, the Viva Fresh Expo has catered to sold-out crowds and increased buyer attendance by over 140%, according to organizers.

Hosted by TIPA, Viva Fresh focuses on networking, education and building relationships in a relaxed and intimate setting, said Dante Galeazzi, TIPA president and CEO.

Attendance should reach 2,200 people in 2019, and there will be 168 exhibitors. 

“(Exhibitors) are going to be Tex-Mex focused — people that are operating in Texas or the states touching Texas (New Mexico, Oklahoma, Arkansas, Louisiana), also those companies which have operations in Mexico, but are crossing through New Mexico or Texas,” he said.

Secret of success

The show has enjoyed managed growth, he said.

“As we grow, we’re strategic in the growth,” he said. 

“So we always try to keep the show intimate and we try not to grow too much to the point that we want to make sure there’s still plenty of opportunities for people to network, to enjoy themselves, to get business done, and to do so at a pace that they can actually feel like they’re getting business accomplished.”

Craig Slate, vice chairman of TIPA and general manger for Texas at SunFed Produce, said he is looking to reconnect at Viva Fresh with friends and business contacts, Golf, the event’s speakers and the gorgeous property make the event remarkable, he said.

First-time attendees will be wowed by the size of the event, Slate said. The efficient use of expo hall space creates numerous opportunities to connect, he said.

Bassetti said another pleasant surprise for first-time attendees will be the quality of attendees.

“Our Viva Fresh steering committee has worked really hard to craft a top-notch expo floor,” he said. 

“People would be surprised how much work we do to vet and qualify supplier attendees to make sure they genuinely represent the Texas/Mexico corridor and that they are ready to do business with U.S and Canadian buyers,” Bassetti said. 

“We strive to fill the show floor with the best and brightest suppliers from Texas, Mexico and the surrounding region to make it a very efficient and very valuable experience for the retail and foodservice buyers.”

Bassetti said one of the most satisfying comments he hears about the show is how well executed Viva Fresh is with respect to quality of attendees balanced with good education, great food, and a perfect location where there is plenty of time for networking outside of the show floor.

“People don’t often associate great food with conventions or expos. We wanted to be different there; the attention to detail and level of quality of the food speaks (of) the detail and hard work we put into every aspect of the Viva Fresh,” Bassetti said. 

“Breaking bread with your customers, colleagues and friends is a special occasion. We have really upped the game for food and beverage.”
Organizers said buyers will love the great diversity in the range of suppliers exhibiting at the show.

For exhibitors, the show offers the ability for buyers to easily get around to all the booths.

Galeazzi said Viva Fresh attracted 330 buyers in 2018 and organizers plan to increase that number this year.

“We want to give (buyers) the opportunity to meet new vendors, to make new connections, new suppliers and really expand their supplier network,” he said.