(May 3) BALTIMORE — Only about a dozen produce companies or commodity boards were among the 140 exhibitors at the International Association of Culinary Professionals’ 26th Annual International Conference April 21-24, but those who exhibited felt the opportunity was a gold mine.

The expo was only five hours of the four-day event otherwise filled with workshop sessions.

But the shoulder-rubbing opportunity among the 1,100 food writers, stylists, cookbook authors, cooking school instructors and chefs who attended was immense.

Produce industry representatives showed and sampled unique items to stir the creativity of those they felt were in a position to pass along what they saw and tasted.

Here’s what a few exhibitors had to say:

  • “No other organization has this audience. It’s impossible to reach freelance writers, food stylists and recipe developers, plus chefs and cooking teachers. This gets them all together in one place and is phenomenal.” — James Howard, vice president, California Table Grape Commission, Fresno

  • “We are striving to get in front of cooking school instructors and authors. We want them to keep potatoes top of mind. It’s an incredible group.” — Kris Caputo Hurley, representing the U.S. Potato Board, Denver.

  • “There’s lots of media contact and networking with food writers. It’s one of the few food shows we exhibit at.” — Tanya Fell, director of public and industry relations, National Onion Association, Greeley, Colo.

  • “Editors, writers and talkers are here. The quality is immense. They are learned or want to be.” — Richard Collins, president, California Vegetable Specialties, Rio Vista, Calif.

  • “The conference is a crossover of consumer and foodservice. We’re talking to movers, shakers, trendsetters and food writers. The chefs here are active in cooking schools, their communities and in their peer groups.” — Susan Hughes, representing the California Asparagus Commission, Stockton.

  • “These people are tough critics. If they like it, it’s a good gauge.” — Tristan Millar, director of marketing and business development, Frieda’s Inc., Los Alamitos, Calif.

Other industry exhibitors were the California Avocado Commission, Irvine; Driscoll Strawberry Associates Inc., Watsonville, Calif.; Melissa’s/World Variety Produce Inc., Los Angeles; Natural Selection Foods LLC, San Juan Bautista, Calif.; and the North Carolina SweetPotato Commission Inc., Smithfield.