NEW ORLEANS — Fresh Summit 2013 brought change to the industry that converged in a host city that’s also been transformed as produce industry leaders learned how they can thrive in the future.

High attendance buoys Big Easy’s PMA Fresh Summit 2013In near-record East Coast attendance, produce industry leaders packed the Ernest N. Morial Convention Center Oct. 18-20.

The attendance of 18,113 was slightly less than the record of 18,284 at Fresh Summit 2010 in Orlando, Fla., Produce Marketing Association president and chief executive officer Bryan Silbermann said, and more than 3,000 retail, foodservice and wholesale buyers were at the show.

“This show’s going very well,” said Mark Stevenson, director of produce merchandising for Meijer Inc., Grand Rapids, Mich. “This is a great show to see a lot of people and work on relationships.”

New exhibitors, including King Fresh Produce LLC in Dinuba, Calif., found strong buyer interest.

“We have had a lot of traffic and lots of retailers showing interest in our late-season grapes,” said Keith Wilson, president.

The show’s general sessions and workshops encouraged attendees rethink their roles in the industry.

High attendance buoys Big Easy’s PMA Fresh Summit 2013“You may be thinking of yourself as a food producer, but it’s really the desired outcome that’s important,” said consultant Mat Shore, who on Oct. 20 discussed the mistakes many make when trying to introduce innovative products. “We need to turn this around and think of the consumer first. Sell the benefits, not the technology.”

In her Oct. 19 general session speech, outgoing chairwoman Jan DeLyser released details of the organization’s strategic plan, which focuses on global connections, science and technology, industry talent and issues leadership.

DeLyser, vice president of the Irvine-based California Avocado Commission, said the plan is a blueprint to provide members worldwide a support community for better connectivity.

She also noted Fresh Summit’s changing role.

High attendance buoys Big Easy’s PMA Fresh Summit 2013“There was a time when Fresh Summit defined PMA,” DeLyser said. “But given the speed of and complexity of today’s global business environment, I can’t imagine a company in this industry keeping up, let alone preparing for the future, finally checking in with PMA every October.

“The power of consumers worldwide affects every aspect of our industry,” she said. “We face a future of science and technology that will be used to increase production with fewer resources.”

After the show, Silbermann said the industry has the opportunity to grow demand like never before.

“We are finally turning the corner and understanding that creating demand is even more important than fulfilling demand,” he said Oct. 23.

Exhibitors reported high foot traffic on Oct. 19, the expo’s first day, but cited fewer floor visitors on the final day on Oct. 20.

“This show is very good and we’re meeting a lot of people and seeing some new things as well as some innovations,” said Joseph Bunting, produce category manager for United Supermarkets in Lubbock, Texas. “The food in this city is outstanding. It’s a fun atmosphere.

The show marked the first decade of PMA’s Foundation for Industry Talent Pack Family Career Pathways program, which helps recruit young people into the produce industry.

“I am impressed to see more young people than I’ve seen in the past attending workshops and walking the show floor,” said Maureen Torrey, vice president of Torrey Farms Inc., Elba, N.Y. “The programs show young people the opportunities at all levels in the industry. This show is upbeat and this is a great city.”