— Produce Marketing Association’s 36th annual Foodservice Conference & Expo, July 28-30 in Monterey, Calif., featured engaging education sessions; menu tastings that pleased all manner of foodies; plus, top-notch networking between suppliers and a diverse group of over 500 buyers. Monterey, Calif.
Best of Show 1st place winner: Driscoll's
The three-day event was capped by an all-sensory expo and product samplings that wowed the palate and showed influencers and end users ways to innovate the plate using fresh produce and value-added ingredients.
Held back in its home location in downtown Monterey, the event attracted more than 1,800 attendees. Suppliers made note of the number and variety of buyers in attendance, including foodservice distributors, retailers, wholesalers, brokers, and more than 150 end-use operators.
From cruise lines, hotel supply management, and airline catering operators, to leaders in the meal-kit, online grocery and grocerant categories, the event appealed to a wide variety of purchasers.
Buyers included Gate Gourmet, Norwegian Cruise Lines, Edible Arrangements, Disneyland Resort, The Cheesecake Factory, Wendy’s, Whataburger Restaurants LLC, PF Chang’s China Bistro, International Dairy Queen, Chipotle Mexican Grill, Panda Express, Produce Alliance, Produce GPO, Fresh Direct, Hello Fresh and more.
Buyer Roundtables were new at PMA Foodservice this year. Prior to the start of the expo, a total of 27 suppliers each met with six or so carefully matched buyers in a speed-dating style format designed to provide face time for business networking and potentially open doors for deeper follow-up conversations. Sixteen retailers/foodservice operators participated.
At the expo, suppliers and service providers went all out to showcase their produce, new and value-added products and solutions. Many exhibitors offered tastings and recipes, and several used chef demos and other creative ways to attract booth visitors, engage and inspire buyers and influencers. The sold-out expo featured 176 exhibitors, including seven first-timers. The Fresh Ideas Showcase featured 24 new products.
Driscoll’s won Best of Show, 1st place, for its exhibit which featured a cold storage display case, a backdrop with large images of berries, and several product samples. In addition, one of Driscoll’s growers staffed the exhibit alongside company personnel.
Owyhee Produce won Best of Show, 2nd place, for its exhibit and product display which featured a large barnwood-style frame structure and a barn floor strewn with onion skins.
Best Product Promo went to Babé Farms for its Honey Cone Cabbage promotion.
“The energy and enthusiasm was super strong throughout the event. We’re still hearing comments from participants — suppliers and buyers alike — about the value of the show, networking, and education sessions,” said Brent Scattini, vice president of sales and marketing at Mission Produce, Inc. and co-chair of PMA’s Foodservice Conference Committee. “Suppliers wowed us with menu inspiration and value-added product innovation. The diversity of buyers was exciting. We’re already looking forward to next year.”
In addition to the annual Foodservice Conference & Expo, PMA provides content year-round to help foodservice professionals and suppliers grow their business. Online content includes primary and secondary research as well as articles on timely topics and trends. Recent topics include the expansion of foodservice in retail, personalized nutrition, trends influencing menu choices, and college foodservice trends for Gen Z consumers.
Some of these topics were explored during the foodservice conference education sessions, including a panel discussion on college students’ food likes and wants and innovative ways to shape menu choices and eating habits on campuses, such as using pop-up food stations. Gleaning, reducing food waste, increasing fresh produce consumption, and innovative ways to serve plant-focused meals were also discussed.
PMA Foodservice Conference & Expo also includes three annual fundraisers hosted by the Center for Growing Talent by PMA (CGTbyPMA), a charitable organization. Industry members turned out in force to network, team build, and have fun, all in support of programs designed to attract, develop and retain talent in the fresh produce and floral industries.
The CGTbyPMA Bocce for Talent Tournament, Joe Nucci Memorial Golf Tournament, and 5K Race for Talent each featured fun contests and friendly competition. Bocce, golf and race champions and contest winners are posted on GrowingTalentbyPMA.org under the respective event pages.
A total of 15 CGTbyPMA Career Pathways students from four universities participated in all facets of the conference and expo, including CGTbyPMA’s Women’s Fresh Perspectives Reception. Career Ambassadors and faculty representatives escorted the students from University of California, Merced; San Jose State University; California State University, Chico; and Hartnell College. Students wore “I Am the Future” buttons, which encouraged conversations with attendees. This is one of 11 such programs at PMA events each year designed to attract new talent to the industry.
PMA’s Hands-on Fruit & Vegetable Training July 28 was also well attended. Foodservice operators and distributors learned some of the latest menu trends, as well as tips on care, handling and usage of fresh fruits and vegetables that can help restaurants innovate the plate with global flavors.
Attendees also enjoyed CGTbyPMA’s Women’s Fresh Perspectives Reception and the Opening Reception for more networking, food and fun.
Other highlights included the annual Chef Talks: A Strolling Lunch event held during a break in Saturday’s education session. Three chefs prepared dishes showcasing value-added, sponsored products. Guests were given the opportunity to vote for their favorite dish. The 2017 contest winner — by a record slim margin of two votes — was Zespri. Chef Domenica Catelli, of Catelli’s restaurant in the heart of Sonoma County, prepared pulled pork sliders with SunGold kiwifruit slaw, kiwi barbeque sauce, and topped with a sliced kiwi.
Following the expo, exhibitors donated 18,150 pounds of fresh produce from the show to the Food Bank for Monterey County, a nonprofit organization that collects, stores and distributes donated food to one in five residents in Monterey County.
Next year's PMA Foodservice Conference & Expo will be July 27-29, mark your calendars!