NEW ORLEANS — There was no big rush in the Big Easy.

United Fresh 2011 featured high-quality traffic and generally strong reviews for the comfortable environment the show offered to build business relationships.

“The quality of interactions with this show has been very good,” said Phil Adrian, vice president and owner of Coastline, Salinas, Calif. “These guys have time to sit down and talk about exciting things. It gives us a chance to get to know them better.”

“I think the show has been fabulous,” said Mike Dziak, director of marketing for Produce Overload, Clackamas, Ore.-based company. “It has been very positive for us.”

Rhona Baron, brand manager for Crunch Pak, Cashmere, Wash., said the layout of the show floor was well done.

Exhibitors were pleased with the energy of the show, said Steffanie Smith, chief executive officer of River Point Farms, Hermiston, Ore., and outgoing association chairwoman. Food safety and traceability/logistics demo centers and market segment learning sessions featured on the show floor were well received, Smith said.

The 150,000-square-foot show floor allowed participants to spend 10 to 30 minutes in discussions with potential business partners, said John Toner, vice president of convention and industry relations for United Fresh.

“It’s not about collecting 1,000 business cards, it’s about 20 quality conversations,” he said. “If you have 20 quality conversations, you win.”

With strong representation from equipment manufacturers, Toner said the number of exhibitors at the show was about 250, similar to last year. The number of business suites at the show jumped from 18 to 25 this year. United Fresh 2011 attendees totaled more than 4,000, slightly off from 4,300 in Las Vegas last year, he said.

“I think the industry is finally starting to realize that impressions matter, but a trade show is more about face-to-face contact than public relations value,” Toner said.

Not all were as pleased with New Orleans as they were with Sin City.

“It was a big hit in Vegas,” Eric Nadel, salesman for Paterson Pickle Co., Paterson, N.J. “People were afraid everyone was going to be partying but that wasn’t the case. I recommend the show in Vegas, that was the most booming that it has been.”

Wayne Mininger, executive vice president of the Greeley, Colo.-based National Onion Association, said the location of the show is not why he comes.

“I’m here to see the people and discuss the issues not to decide whether the town is my favorite town or not.”

Looking ahead

United Fresh officials were pleased with New Orleans as a convention city but also excited about co-locating the show next year in Dallas with the Food Marketing Institute and the American Meat Institute.

“That could bring a dinner plate discussion in which produce plays a big role,” said Reggie Griffin, vice president of produce and floral merchandising and procurement for Cincinnati-based The Kroger Co. and United Fresh’s incoming chairman. “For a lot of Americans, both protein and fruits and vegetables are on the plate,” he said. “To me, that’s a natural extension and I’m kind of excited about how all that will come together.”

Big Easy's pace helps attendees better connect