(UPDATED COVERAGE, April 25) TORONTO — When it comes to showcasing product at the Canadian Produce Marketing Association’s annual convention and expo, it’s clearly not U.S. customers and consumers exhibitors are trying to reach — and it’s not just the French language on packaging.

“I think the palate is a little more adventurous here with the Canadian consumers,” said Ernst Van Eeghen, director of marketing and product development for Salinas, Calif.-based Church Bros. LLC.

U.S. firms find tastes differ in CanadaThe company showcased foodservice packs of Italian Greens under the Tuscan label, featuring black and scarlet baby kale and wild arugula, a product available for the first time in Canada.

“It’s not very easy for companies like us to talk to independent restaurants and smaller chains (in Canada),” Van Eeghen said. “So (the CPMA expo) is an opportunity where we can talk not just our customers and distributors, but also their customers and sales people. We need to help them sell.”

Jeff Schwartz, of Maurice A. Auerbach Inc., Secaucus, N.J., said elephant garlic, sold as singles in mesh bags, sparked interest.

“You never know what’s known in one market as opposed to another,” Schwartz said. “People are picking (the garlic) up and asking questions.”

Ande Manos, in sales and marketing at Babe Farms, said one-pound baby fennel bags and baby purple artichokes were getting interest.

“It’s all about the demographics,” she said on April 19, the second day of the expo.

Manos and several other exhibitors said traffic was slower on the show floor that day, but it didn’t take away from their overall goal: meeting key customers.

CPMA reported attendance of 3,933, a 43% increase compared to the 2009 convention, the last time it was in Toronto.

CPMA brought 250 area produce managers for a one-day program, which included walking the trade show floor. Produce managers are the front-line personnel, interacting most with consumers, said Ron Lemaire CPMA president, so it’s important to help educate that group.

Toward that effort, CPMA is launching a Certified Produce Professional program.

New Event

Lemaire said the association focused on children with its outreach programs, creating a kindergarten through grade 6 curriculum for educators to help boost consumption among school children

“Since October, we’ve had more than 3,000 unique downloads for that program,” Lemaire said.

This year, the association is focusing on health.

CPMA has a new summit this summer, which will include a cross-section of health and industry professionals. The summit is planned for Ottawa June 12-13.

CPMA also is launching a community platform as part of its website, which is not only for the produce industry, but also for health professionals, so the two groups can share information.

“As we being to work more in the health community, we’ll be leveraging that platform,” Lemaire said.

Walt Breeden, who officially became CPMA chairman during the conference, said the board in the next year plans to focus on some key areas:

  • Training for members;
  • Expanding work with allied partners, including regional association partners;
  • Developing national/regional councils with regional produce groups; and
  • Encouraging healthy food options for Canadians.

“One of my core messages, and the theme of the 2014 convention and trade show, will be eat healthy! Live healthy!” said Breeden, director of sales and citrus category manager for Canada for Vancouver-based The Oppenheimer Group, during the association’s annual banquet on April 19.

“In driving this simple message, I will be supporting CPMA’s primary collective goal, established in 2011, to increase produce consumption and improve consumer health and industry prosperity,” he said.

Retail Editor Pamela Reimenschneider contributed to this article.