Once foodservice suppliers exhibit at the Produce Marketing Association’s Foodservice Conference & Exposition in Monterey, Calif., they tend to make a habit of it.

Hollandia Produce LLC, Carpinteria, Calif., has had a booth at the event for at least a dozen years, said Vince Choate, director of marketing.

“It’s always a great show for us,” he said.

“We always glean a new customer or two from it.”

For the past two years, Limoneira Co., Santa Paula, Calif., has exhibited at the show.

“It’s an efficient way of meeting people and meeting your customers,” said John Chamberlain, director of marketing.

“We’re constantly getting new customers in foodservice and in retail.”

With a theme of “Innovate the Plate,” this year’s conference will explore three aspects of innovation: the customer experience, menu design and digital branding, said Bryan Silbermann, the Newark, Del.-based PMA’s president and chief executive officer.

The show, July 26-28, will combine “cutting-edge education topics” with a chance to network with the foodservice industry’s trendsetters.

The conference is important because it’s “the only specific event in the industry that caters to increasing produce consumption in foodservice,” said Jill Overdorf, vice chairwoman of PMA’s foodservice planning committee and director of business and culinary development for Coosemans L.A. Shipping Inc.

Mark Allison, senior manager of produce and fresh seafood procurement for The Cheesecake Factory, Calabasas Hills, Calif., is chairman.

“I absolutely believe in the collaboration of buyers, growers and chefs,” said Overdorf, who has a culinary background as a chef.

Attendance at the event is limited.

“It’s an incredibly intimate environment to create relationships,” Overdorf said.

She said four educational seminars are scheduled over two days.

Highlights of this year’s conference include:

u The Corporate Chef Panel, led by Amy Myrdal Miller of the Culinary Institute of America, which will discuss prep skills that innovative chefs are implementing as 94% of the foodservice industry sets out to use more produce, according to CIA research;

u Opening session with Josh Linkner, a tech entrepreneur, venture capitalist and author of “Disciplined Dreaming — A Proven System to Drive Breakthrough Creativity”;

u Author Chip Bell, who will talk about customer relationships;

u Maeve Webster, senior director at Datassential, who will explore menu trends and innovation; and

u Carisa Miklusak, who will discuss her no-nonsense step approach to digital branding.

More than 1,700 industry experts are expected to be on hand for this year’s event, which also will include a Behind the Scenes: Field & Plant Tour especially designed for foodservice distributors, operators, chefs and menu developers.

The tour will be hosted by three Salinas Valley grower-shippers: Ocean Mist Farms, Royal Rose LLC and River Ranch Fresh Foods.

Other activities

For those who appreciate the outdoors, there’s the Joe Nucci Memorial Golf Tournament that benefits the PMA Foundation’s Career Pathways program, and the 5K Race for Talent that benefit the development and execution of the PMA Foundation’s mission to attract, develop and retain talent for the global produce industry.

Choate said the show is unique in that all booths are the same size — 10-feet by 10-feet — no matter the size of the exhibiting company.

“I call it the great equalizer show,” he said.

He said he also appreciates the venue, the Monterey Conference Center.

“It’s one convenient place where everybody comes,” Chamberlain said.

“It’s a great opportunity to (meet) people face to face,” he added, and to visit with many customers and potential customers at one time.

For more information, visit fsc.pma.com.