Three ring food circus

With three of the largest grocery retail shows under one roof, retailers, department managers and buyers have ample opportunity to learn.

The entire food industry will be flocking to Dallas this month. The co-location of the Food Marketing Institute’s (FMI) FMI2012 Food Retail Show, the American Meat Institute’s (AMI) Convention and Expo and the United Fresh Produce Association’s (UFPA) Produce Show will be attracting supermarket chain CEOs, independent grocers, produce buyers and meat department managers.

While their industries and roles may vary, everyone has the same objective: check out new sales-boosting trends and innovations, confront industry obstacles, discuss the never-ending concern over food safety and sustainability and, perhaps most importantly, learn from one another.

“Having our four food and agricultural industry groups converge in Dallas for a co-located event will ensure we’re dedicated to all aspects of food processing, manufacturing and retail sales,” says Leslie G. Sarasin, president and CEO of FMI. “Together, with the offerings of the AMI, UFPA and National Associations of State Departments of Agriculture (NASDA), the overall exposition will cover approximately 600,000 total square feet—double the size of FMI2010 in Las Vegas.”

Each show will focus on the key issues and concerns for its industry, yet much of it overlaps, say industry observers. For instance, food safety and sustainability are both items each organization plans to cover. Exhibitors and experts at United Fresh will be addressing attendees’ concerns at the Food Safety Pavilion and Traceability and Logistics Pavilion, as well as offering educational updates on Produce Traceability Initiatives (PTIs) and poster sessions in the FreshTech Learning Center.

John J. Toner, vice president of convention and industry relations for the UFPA, says they have seen an increase in interest from attendees and the number of exhibitors focusing on product traceability and food safety. He attributes the added interest to being co-located with AMI.

“There is a lot of synergy among agricultural companies—whether you grow, pack or harvest and whether it is meat, eggs or produce—for producing nutritious fresh product,” he says. “The processes are often the same among agriculture companies and the meat industry is always addressing food safety issues. It’s something they have been dealing with for 20-plus years.”

AMI will continue to address these issues with educational sessions covering specific food borne bacteria, sanitation processes and meeting consumers’ demands for health attributes, as well as addressing the public outcry over lean finely textured beef (pink slime).

With regards to produce, UFPA expands on these shared concerns to include quality control. As is the nature of the industry, seasonality and weather often cause companies to fall short of the quality they aim to achieve. “We like to deliver ‘delight in every bite’ but sometimes we fail to deliver on that promise, so we need to strive to do better,” says Toner. “We need to examine what the next generation of consumer is looking for to help us deliver that ‘delight in every bite.’”

It seems as if officials at produce companies are in agreement. One look at the products being featured and it is clear they are striving to deliver “delight.” There will be more than 50 new exhibitors at the 2012 United Fresh show, many of which are returning because of the excitement created by the co-location format. Chelan Fresh, for example, will be exhibiting again, highlighting its new “nutritious and delicious” bins for apples, pears and cherries. The new design features a white background—contrary to the previous black—and will have apples and pears on them so they can be used interchangeably.

Well-Pict Berries will also be there exhibiting its patented proprietary berries, specifically its new strawberry and raspberry varieties. Officials at Well-Pict are looking forward to the co-location. The inclusion of the other shows should attract more retailers for networking opportunities that would not be available at a produce-only show, they say.

One of the highlights of the United Fresh show is the awards announcement. The organization will be presenting product awards in five categories: Best New Packaging, Best New Food Safety Solution, Best New Packing/Processing Equipment, Best New Fruit Product and Best New Vegetable Product, to be voted on by attendees from FMI, AMI and United Fresh.

Dole is one of the finalists for its Yonanas product, the frozen treat maker that transforms frozen bananas and other fruit into an ice cream-like dessert. “United Fresh gives us the opportunity for early introductions to a number of new Dole Bananas initiatives at a crucial time in the calendar, including 366 Ways to Go Bananas in 2012 and our Yonanas partnership,” says Bil Goldfield, communications manager for the Westlake Village, Calif.-based company. “It has always been a good show for Dole Fresh Fruit. It’s smaller, more intimate size allows us to have more in-depth conversations with existing customers and future prospects that are not always possible during larger shows.”

The products are not the only area receiving attention. Retailers will be recognized for their hard work as well. The Retail Produce Manager Awards Program is one of the trademark events of the United Fresh show. The program will honor 25 produce managers representing 21 different supermarket chains, commissaries and independent retail stores, complete with a banquet. It is a big deal for many of them, says Toner. “For some of these produce managers, it’s a once in a lifetime achievement and it makes their year.”

The show is offering innumerable networking opportunities, providing the chance to learn from some of the most experienced hands and wise minds in all of food retail, says FMI’s Sarasin. “I challenge our attendees to map their unique paths for the show floor and take advantage of every opportunity to become far savvier about this industry.”

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