I had a chance to visit Product Marketing Association’s Fresh Summit which took place the last weekend of October in Anaheim, California. It was the biggest fresh produce expo in history with about 21,000 attendees from more than 60 countries sharing the imposing 247,000 square feet of the exhibit hall. Food industry professionals gathered here to present their best accomplishments, to network, and learn about newest trends in ever-changing world of fresh food.
It was exciting to see so many people enthusiastic about food in one place. Many booths were designed with utmost care to attract the attention in the interminable sea of colors, with soft carpets installed on top of hard floors, cushy chairs, amazing backdrops, neatly stacked products, or piles of picture-perfect produce in all its glory.
We walked through the elaborate labyrinth talking to the representatives of various products and services that make the world of fresh produce: small, organic vendors, big and established farms, distributing, packaging, and transportation companies, and they all eagerly shared their passion and expertise with us.
As the public is getting more concerned and vocal about healthier choices in food, food safety, sustainability, and food advocacy, the fresh produce industry is under pressure to constantly improve and not only follow, but set new trends. It was obvious from the general feel at the expo that the vast majority of the companies represented here listen to the consumers and try to predict and satisfy their needs.
With kids being the main focus of this year’s exposition, we encountered many products reared towards children, with healthier foods packaged in fun and colorful ways to appeal to the youngest and their parents. To emphasize the growing awareness of this issue, eleven professional chefs competed at a live Chef Demo Challenge to come up with healthy, but still tasty kids’ menu options that would meet U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Half the Plate guidelines. The adult, industry judges picked Chilean Fresh Fruit Pizza from the Chilean Fresh Fruit Association as the winner, and the kid-judges chose the Date Shake by the California Date Administrative Committee.
While most of the producers of familiar fruits and vegetables strive to expand their assortment by offering a number of different types, including heirloom varieties, we noticed an abundance of unusual and exotic produce rarely found at most big grocery chains in the U.S. With globalization and Internet, the world is getting smaller and the consumers more and more curious and educated. To answer their demands, the growers and suppliers of fresh produce have to offer a wide array of products.
Vendors chose many approaches to promoting their brands, from games, to sweepstakes, to giving out samples, to passing out shopping bags and kitchen items bearing the logo of the company, to having your picture taken with the Ocean Spray bog guys! Many opted for appealing to the taste and smell of visitors, as some of the most distinguished local, national, and international chefs prepared flavorful small plates featuring fresh produce in most imaginative ways.
Patricia Jinich, whose TV show Pati’s Mexican Table airs on Create TV, celebrated bold flavors of Mexico with her Classic Avocado Soup and Tomato and Mozarella Salad with Ancho Chile Pickled Vinaigrette.
New York food writer and recipe developer David Bonom served an Asian wrap and sliders, representing fresh flavors of Coastline Produce, a grower-shipper company of produce farmed in California, Arizona, and Mexico.
LA’s celebrity chefs Susan Feniger and Mary Sue Milliken, Food Network’s “Too Hot Tamales” and owners of Border Grill restaurants in Santa Monica, Las Vegas and Downtown LA, set up a south-of-the-border party for California Avocado Commission in front of their Border Grill truck, passing out Cilantro Chicken with Avocado and Pickled Tomato Salsa, Cumin Glazed Rib Tacos with Avocado Pineapple Salsa and Grilled Corn Esquite, and Guacamole with Roasted Tomato and Bacon.
Idaho Potato Commission had a great buffet line set up at their cozy, centrally located space, featuring Creamy and Comforting Mashed Potatoes and Potato Donuts. Thank you, Don Odiorne, for letting us see that there is a much bigger picture hidden in a homely spud! I am just a little sorry I missed the Big Potato Truck.
At the Korean Pavilion we were greeted by Sauteed Assorted Korean Mushrooms, Seaweed Snacks in various flavors, and Korean Kimchi featuring some of the best Korean produce.
Melissa’s Produce’s chefs had a long line in front of their counters where they served Lentil Tacos with several different great tasting salsas, and extremely popular Vegetable Sushi and Asian Fruit Salad featuring stunning magenta-colored dragon fruit. It did not surprise us that they won People’s Choice Award for best display at Fresh Summit, as their pavilion was like a colorful farmers’ market in a faraway country.
At closing, my feet were tired, my shoulders in pain, my belly full, and my mind reeling from all the sights and smells of the day. But I felt excited as I processed all the information I received, feeling grateful to play a small part in this amazing world of food. Thank you, Meg Miller of PMA for this educational experience!
Thanks, Robert Schueller for the red-carpet treatment – you were the most gracious and knowledgeable host!
Some of my friends shared their experiences and impressions of PMA’s Fresh Summit on their blog
Fresh Summit – The Jolly Tomato
The World of Produce: My Visit to the PMA Fresh Food Summit – Family Spice
Everything but Produce: Attending the Fresh Summit PMA Show in Anaheim, Part 1 – California Greek Girl
P.S. It makes me even happier to be associated with this industry when I know that the companies who exhibited at PMA’s Fresh Summit donated 231,165 pounds of fresh fruits and vegetables – about 24 truckloads – to the Second Harvest Food Bank of Orange County on Oct. 28.