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Is PMA’s Foodservice-Conference Success A Sign Of The Economy Turning Around Or A Sign Of Shippers Looking For Alternatives From Their Primary Channels?

PMA sent out information highlighting a true triumph at its largest-ever PMA Foodservice Conference:

Foodservice conference features many firsts, notables

Newark, Del. — Produce Marketing Association’s (PMA) 2010 Foodservice Conference & Exposition held July 30-Aug. 1 in Monterey, California, USA, featured many notable milestones, including:

Record attendance: This year’s conference in Monterey, California, USA, attracted 1,745 attendees, an all-time record for this 29-year-old event. Contributing to this record were foodservice distributors who brought large groups of buyer customers to this year’s event.

First meeting of PMA’s Foodservice 2020 Initiative Steering Committee: Tasked with guiding the Foodservice 2020 Initiative’s efforts to increase fresh produce use in foodservice, this group is the first PMA volunteer leadership committee to include representatives of other organizations. Chaired by Sysco’s Vice President of Produce Rich Dachman, the steering committee includes volunteer leaders of the National Restaurant Association and International Foodservice Distributors Association, which are partnering with PMA on the initiative. The committee’s members who hail from across the produce foodservice supply chain. The 15-member group met July 29 to begin planning the initiative’s next steps.

Best expo in produce: This year’s sold-out exposition, dubbed “the best five hours in foodservice”, featured 153 exhibitors showcasing the produce industry’s best companies, products and services. The expo’s “Best of Show” awards went to first-place winner EarthFresh, Toronto, Ontario, Canada, while Duda Farm Fresh Foods, Wellington, Florida, USA, took second-place honors.

Unprecedented volunteer leadership: This year’s event was supported by PMA’s new Foodservice Conference Committee, chaired by Pro*Act Director of Marketing Mary Wright-Rana and Sysco Senior Director Mike Hansen. These two competitors partnered to lead the volunteer group’s work, whose efforts included attracting record attendance.

In other leadership news, Sysco’s Dachman, who was recently nominated chairman-elect of PMA’s Board of Directors, received The Packer newspaper’s Foodservice Achievement Award at the convention.

Women’s networking, and philanthropy: PMA Foundation for Industry Talent’s (FIT) Fresh Perspective: Women’s Networking Event held was attended by more than 100 women leaders in produce and their supporters. Attendees donated 550 pairs of shoes to Soles4Souls, a charity that distributes shoes free of charge to people in need all over the world.

Future talent attraction: FIT’s Nucci Scholarship for Culinary Innovation sponsored attendance of 10 culinary students, to expose them to career opportunities in produce. The students hailed from Johnson & Wales University, and Culinary Institute of America.

Industry support: Golfers raised more than $36,000 to support FIT’s work to attract, develop, and retain produce industry talent. The first-place foursome was led by Santa Sweets’ Micheal Lacey, and included L&M Companies’ Juan Torres and Peter Kimcczak, and Top Soil USA’s Ernie Baltierra.

One hundred fifty runners and walkers participated in FIT’s first “Live FIT” 5K at the foodservice conference; proceeds will support FIT’s activities.

“We are all so pleased with the success of this year’s event, from the top-notch educational programming to the networking events to the expo,” said Pro*Act’s Wright-Rana. “It’s clear from the record attendance that this event is meeting the needs of the produce and foodservice industries alike, to help grow our businesses together.”

“Seeing the record participation and hearing from many of the attendees my takeaway is that the foodservice industry realizes that reaching our goal of doubling fresh produce consumption by 2020 will require the collective efforts of the entire supply chain,” said Sysco’s Hansen. “The roundtable sessions provided provocative and insightful viewpoints of strategies to make it happen. The bar continues to be raised!”

PMA’s 2011 Foodservice Conference & Exposition will be held July 29-31, in Monterey.

Of course, kudos to PMA for putting on such an attractive event. We wonder, though, what to make of such high registration numbers.

After all, with the economy as it is, there was concern that attendance might slump this year. So does the record turnout speak to previously unrecognized buoyancy in the economy or in the produce industry?

Perhaps. We wonder whether it is just the opposite.

Most shippers prefer to sell to retail, as they see a chance to develop their brands and because foodservice operators as an industry have a reputation for focusing on price since consumers typically see the product after it has been cooked or cut up. Maybe when times are tough, producers can’t move what they want through their primary channels and so try to hustle business in channels they normally deem secondary?

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