(July 16, 5:18 p.m.) ANAHEIM, Calif. — Southern California produce and floral distributors and retailers have learned that there’s probably no better place to get together, exchange information and hone networking skills than the annual La Mirada-based Fresh Produce & Floral Council’s Southern California Expo at the Disneyland Hotel.

This year’s event, July 15, attracted 170 exhibitors representing more than 200 companies, including some of the biggest names in the industry. And more than 1,000 attendees from retail chains likes Ralphs, Vons and Stater Bros. turned out, said Carissa Mace, council president.

“There also were a lot of independent markets and some foodservice companies,” she said.

Motivational speaker Harold Lloyd kicked off this year’s event. Lloyd’s presentation was a hit at the council’s Northern California expo earlier this year.

Once again, attendees had a chance to test their industry expertise by participating in Produce 101 — a contest to determine who could identify the most “mystery” produce items.

Ron Inatumi, produce manager at the Newport Beach, Calif., Gelson’s/Mayfair store earned the first place prize.

In a break from tradition, the council presented an honorary Norman H. “Buz” Bolstad Produce Achievement Award to the Produce Merchandising Association Education Foundation.

Since it was first presented in 2004, the produce achievement award has gone to an individual who has made significant contributions to the industry.

The foundation deserved the honor this year because it is “actively seeking and helping to develop today’s promising young talent into tomorrow’s industry leaders,” Mace said as she presented the award to Cindy Seel, executive director of the foundation.

“Not only does the PMA Education Foundation administer such programs as the Pack Family Fund Scholarship at PMA’s annual trade show, Fresh Summit, for students interested in a career in produce, they work closely with colleges and universities throughout the year to ensure that tomorrow’s leaders aren’t all going to Microsoft or Motorola but looking seriously at produce and floral companies as a career path,” she said.

Seel attended the expo along with several students involved in the first-ever mentor program hosted by PMA in conjunction with a regional organization — the Fresh Produce & Floral Council.

The industry will be in dire need of new faces as the baby boom generation retires, Seel said.

She described the participants as “bright, talented young students,” and said, “that’s what we need to make sure we have a good future for our industry.”

Chairwoman of this year’s expo committee was Debi Duffin, regional sales manager for Litehouse Foods Inc., Sandpoint, Idaho, a company that has exhibited for more than a dozen years.

“It’s turning out to be great show for us,” Duffin said, adding that a large number of corporate as well as store-level personnel turned out.

The expo “gives (exhibitors) an opportunity to show what they can do for their customers,” she said.

Chris Bell, produce manager for the Bristol Farms store in Long Beach, Calif., said he has attended the expo annually for about 12 years to discover new products and visit with vendors he deals with.

George McKiernan, director of merchandising for produce and floral for Stater Bros. Markets, San Bernardino, Calif., agreed.

“Where else can you see so much?” he asked. “Everything that is new in the industry is here.”

Stater Bros. sends produce managers, buyers, merchandisers and members of its floral staff to the expo, he said. McKiernan sometimes conducts discussions about new products with buyers on the spot, and he also gets a chance to renew old acquaintances.

“I’ve spent 40 years in produce,” he said. “I get to see a lot of friends.”

Familiar faces, new names gather at FPFC expo
Cindy Seel (left), executive director of the Produce Marketing Association Education Foundation, accepts an honorary Norman H. “Buz” Bolstad Produce Achievement Award from Carissa Mace, president of the La Mirada, Calif.-based Fresh Produce & Floral Council, during FPFC's Southern California Expo at the Disneyland Hotel, Anaheim, Calif., July 15.