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Dispatch From Berlin:
Lessons From Fruit Logistica

Visiting Fruit Logistica in Berlin is an eye-opener. With 1,867 exhibitors from 74 countries and attendance expected to exceed 40,000 people, it is significantly larger than PMA, the largest produce show in America.

Yet even the comparison does an injustice to PMA. For PMA is not just a trade show, it is a convention, an annual meeting of an industry.

Here the very diversity makes the show almost random. An exporter from Sri Lanka selling to India has virtually nothing to do with an exporter from Australia selling to Sweden, yet both are here.

There are some seminars but they either conflict with the show or require staying additional days — and still they are sparse and their quality is lacking.

There are no real networking events, no meal functions. PMA advertises itself as the “Heart and Soul” of the produce industry, and this giant show in Berlin feels cold by comparison.

One also questions how many of these 1,867 exhibitors paid their own way to exhibit. Many of the products promoted are obscure, the places they come from out of the mainstream, and the size of the booths — especially the national pavilions, so disproportionate to the amount of produce trade these countries actually do — one strongly suspects that various government entities are picking up the bill.

Still, most of the American trade would benefit from a visit to Fruit Logistica. Here are eight reasons:

  1. We could do with a little humility. We are all players at PMA, even if only in our space. The smallest wholesaler on the smallest market in the United States has his shippers and is important to them at PMA. Here, you could be the biggest wholesaler on the biggest market in the U.S., and unless your last name is Dole, Chiquita or Del Monte, it’s probable that 99 percent-plus of attendees never heard of you.

    The produce industry is very fragmented and even big grower/shippers in the U.S. account for an insignificant share of worldwide produce production. It is easy to forget that at PMA. It is impossible to forget that at Fruit Logistica.

  2. There are innovations in packaging, transportation, logistics and other aspects of the business that can be picked up here and put to good use.
  3. It is convenient to use this venue for meetings with people who are already coming here. So if you are importing citrus to the East Coast of North America and are dealing with South African citrus, Moroccan citrus, Spanish citrus and Israeli citrus, many of these suppliers will come to Fruit Logistica because Europe is such a crucial market to them. Thus you have the makings of a great meeting place.
  4. You can expand your contacts to noncompetitors. The very fact that so many people here at Fruit Logistica have nothing to do with the U.S. can make them excellent business friends. Who else will really share their techniques for overcoming adversities such as you experience in your business?
  5. The show provides an opportunity to see European retail operations. Whatever the merits of the show, visiting European retailers is always a plus. Tie it in with the show and get a double benefit.
  6. It’s a chance to interrupt normal thought patterns. Climbing outside the box helps you to think outside the box. Interrupting normal modes of thought can lead to unexpected creativity.
  7. You can solicit specialty products. There are many products here that will never be big business in the U.S., but that doesn’t mean they can’t be successful at filling or creating niche markets.
  8. The show gives you an opportunity to discern trends. Many of the larger booths here feature a strong emphasis on values and public service. The Del Monte booth, for example, focuses on the fact that the company is good for employees, good for the world, etc. Many booths focus on sustainability, fair trade, labor conditions, etc. Is this a European specialty or a trend soon to jump the pond?

Seeing the world is important and Fruit Logistica helps us Americans see it in a new light. It also helps us to appreciate what we have.

And after visiting Fruit Logistica, we can also be clear that there is nothing in the world like PMA’s Fresh Summit.

The learning, the networking, the gathering of an industry as a unit — these are simply unique attributes.

Lately PMA has been taking on heavy expenses to help with industry food safety problems, having pledged a total of $2.75 million to assist with produce safety efforts.

Under the circumstances, this makes perfect sense, but let us hope the PMA board remembers that much of this money came originally from the success of the annual PMA convention.

An event such as this is a major business and requires constant reinvestment to keep it fresh. It would be a shame if the board, in its zeal to solve food safety problems, got so busy spending golden eggs that it neglected to feed the goose.

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