(March 30) GUADALAJARA, Mexico — Drawing brisk floor traffic, Expo ANTAD 2006 lived up to its billing as Mexico’s dominant retail food show.

About 19,000 attendees were expected for the 23rd annual show, which ran March 28-31, said Angelica Medel, chief of communications for Associacion Nacional de Tiendas de Autoservicia y Departamentales, or ANTAD. Of the 850 exhibitors, only about 60 were dedicated to fruits and vegetables, illustrating that the show and organization retain their center-store mentality.

Still, a number of U.S. potato organizations were on hand, including representatives from Washington, Colorado and Idaho.

U.S. fruit exporters also make a point to be there.

Chuck Yow, vice president of the Northeast division for Yakima, Wash.-based Sage Fruit Co., said he gets value from the event by meeting with brokers and distributors.

“The key to this thing is to set up appointments,” Yow said. “It’s all about contacts.”

The Produce Marketing Association had an expanded booth, with the goal of increasing Mexican membership substantially from the 34 Mexican firms that are already members of the Newark, Del., group, said Nancy Tucker, vice president of global business development.

Despite ANTAD being a national show, some Mexican produce firms noted their export capabilities.

Fruticola Velo, which markets avocados and other fruit under its Purapeche brand, is focusing its growth on export opportunities, said Ricardo Vega, general manager of the Uruapan firm.

While avocados remain the major item, Vega said he has been diversifying into carambola and grapefruit and plans to add blackberries and raspberries by year’s end.

Fox Packaging, McAllen, Texas, had a booth for the first time, and vice president Craig Fox noted he is starting to see traction in Mexico for bagged product, including the pricier poly/mesh combo bags.

“It’s always been the perception that you get inferior product in a bag, in Mexico even more so than in the U.S., so it’s been a challenge to turn around that way of thinking,” Fox said.