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United’s Organic Pavilion

Organic produce marketing will change next year when the United show moves with FMI to Las Vegas while the All Things Organic show stays in Chicago with the Fancy Food Show.

As we wrote in Organic Show Has Most To Lose By Breakup, the concept of an organic show is unlikely to be a success in the long term:

The basic dilemma of a show such as All Things Organic is captured in its name — the “all things” part, not the “organic” part. You wind up with a show selling everything from soap and baby clothes to baby food and beef, canned goods, frozen foods and fresh produce, to name just a fraction of the items sold at the show.

Yet retail is not generally organized this way. A Wal-Mart produce buyer has nothing to do with buying baby clothes, nor does the Wal-Mart baby food buyer have anything to do with deli meat, nor does the Wal-Mart poultry buyer get involved in frozen foods, and the guy who buys soap for Wal-Mart is a different person entirely. Obviously, if you are talking about chain stores, you would need dozens of buyers, merchandisers and category managers to attend one show.

Now United, anxious to capture booth sales to companies looking to promote organic produce and attendees especially from the buying end, focused on solving their organic procurement needs, has announced that its trade show in 2008 will feature an organic produce pavilion:

Washington, D.C. — With the shift of the United Fresh Marketplace and FMI shows to Las Vegas, May 4-7, 2008, a new Organic Produce Pavilion will be added to the Marketplace show floor for the convenience of produce buyers to visit with companies offering organic produce.

“We have enjoyed our partnership with the All Things Organic show the past four years, and wish them well with their continued location in Chicago,” said United Fresh President Tom Stenzel. “But, it is clear that supermarket retail management and produce buyers will be looking for organic produce in Las Vegas at our produce marketing and merchandising event.”

“Organic produce is bought by produce buyers and merchandised by produce teams, not generic organic buyers of meats, packaged goods and clothing,” said United Fresh Executive Vice President Jerry Welcome. “Our new Organic Pavilion in the middle of the produce show floor in Las Vegas will make it easy for produce buyers to see the best of organic produce conveniently located in one event,” he said.

produce exhibitors in the 2007 All Things Organic show in Chicago will be offered a priority waiting list for the new Organic Pavilion at United Fresh Marketplace in Las Vegas, with space assignments beginning June 15. In addition, in recognition of their support of the past Power of Five shows, ATO exhibitors will be offered a discounted rate similar to returning exhibitors in United Fresh Marketplace.

Though it surely won’t please the All Things Organic folks, there is nothing wrong with United Fresh trying to capture some more of the organic business, and offering discounts and priority status to All Things Organic produce exhibitors is a reasonable way to start.

It is worth noting, though, that only 21 companies listed themselves as selling produce in the most recent All Things Organic show. Despite listing themselves at the show, three of those companies don’t actually sell produce. So that leaves 18 companies. Of those, five companies are major vendors of conventional product or have sister companies that are major vendors of conventional product, and they elected to exhibit at the organic show, presumably to promote their organic lines and highlight that they now are in this arena.

That leaves a grand total of 13 dedicated organic produce companies that all the fuss is about.

The quote from Jerry Welcome, United Fresh Executive Vice President, states the case exactly for the inclusion of organic product in produce shows: “Organic produce is bought by produce buyers and merchandised by produce teams, not generic organic buyers of meats, packaged goods and clothing.”

Yet the same point makes us question whether an organic pavilion is really the key to serving this market. After all, if the buyers and merchandisers of organic produce are the same as the buyers and merchandisers of conventional produce, shouldn’t the presence of organic produce be integrated throughout the show?

Typically pavilions make sense when there is a dedicated buyer who won’t want to walk a whole show but wants an easy way to see the items of interest to him. So, at FMI, for example, it might make sense to have, say, a health and beauty aids pavilion because there are dedicated buyers of health and beauty aids. In fact, before United Fresh did its deal with FMI, FMI had a produce pavilion for the same reason: To have a compact area that enabled produce executives to cover their area of interest in a day, rather than having to walk the whole FMI show.

Yet, of course, United Fresh wants those buyers to walk the whole show.

There is no question that having an organic pavilion will help booth sales because the implied promise of a dedicated organic area is that there will be lots of buyers looking for organic product.

Which brings us to the dirty little secret of producing trade shows: it is much easier to sell the booths than to get the quality attendees.

Organic is hot and perhaps some sizeable number of exhibitors will give United’s new organic pavilion a try. We hope it is a success for both United and the exhibitors.

Long term, however, success depends on attracting produce-specific retail buyers and merchandisers, and if United Fresh does that, the excitement of organics, specialty items, fresh-cuts, proprietary varieties, etc., are probably best spread through the show, making every aisle interesting, enlightening and filled with excitement.

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