ORLANDO, Fla. — As Epcot Theme Park’s annual Epcot International Food & Wine Festival grows, so does the creative use of produce and the involvement of produce suppliers.

Produce shines at Epcot Food & Wine

Ashley Bentley

In its fourth year working with Epcot Theme Park on its annual International Food and Wine Festival, World Variety Produce sponsored the weekly Party of the Senses.

Now in its 15th year, the theme park’s annual festival lasts 45 days each autumn and solicits support from produce companies for supplies, decorations, speakers and special events. During the festival guests can sample food from six of the world’s seven continents, as well as wine and specialty drinks also meant to reflect global cuisine.

For four years, Los Angeles-based World Variety Produce has sponsored the festival’s Party of the Senses, a weekly event that treats ticketed guests to global cuisine, wine and entertainment away from the main theme park. This year, World Variety Produce supplied produce for decor and atmosphere at the event.

“We were looking for a produce company to embellish the Party of the Senses,” said Marianne Hunnel, area manager event content development for Walt Disney World Parks and Resorts. “The products we get from Melissa’s take care of the displays, and if guests have questions about produce we can give them suggestions.”

World Variety’s sponsorship earned the company recognition for its Melissa’s brand in brochures, programs and signage throughout the event.

“This is great exposure at such a highly acclaimed annual food event — Disney style,” said Robert Schueller, public relations director for World Variety Produce.

Produce shines at Epcot Food & Wine

Ashley Bentley

Produce was used as decorations at Epcot's Party of the Senses, a weekly event during the six-week International Food & Wine Festival.

Cathy Thomas, author of “Melissa’s Everyday Cooking with Organic Produce,” also hosted demonstrations and book signings Oct. 15-17 as part of the Authors without Borders series. Schueller said Thomas’ demonstrations filled the 75-seat stage each time, and that she signed two cases of books at each.

“It was great having Cathy there,” Hunnel said. “She was able to talk to guests about the produce from a chef’s perspective. The feedback I received was very positive.”

Odessa-based Cahaba Club Herbal Outpost, a hydroponic grower of micro- and exotic greens, lettuces, herbs and microvegetables, was also a sponsor of Party of the Senses. The company’s products were used in many of the dishes served during the six parties, Hunnel said.

Westlake, Calif.-based Dole Food Co. Inc. was a sponsor of the festival as a whole, and supported culinary demonstrations and some other elements involved with the festival, Hunnel said.

Thomas said the theme park goes through hundreds, maybe thousands, of pounds of produce during the festival, so it goes through its usual channels for high-volume procurement, which includes broadline distribution as well as local sourcing. It typically has 1.2 million guests during the six weeks of the festival.

“This year attendance has been really good,” Hunnel said. “Every year we seem to get more and more.”

Epcot’s executive chef Jens Dahlmann tries to consider what’s in season and what’s at the height of flavor when developing menus for the festival, Hunnel said. In development stages, the culinary team even seeks help from Disney’s cast members, who are from around the world.

“From a fresh produce perspective he wants to make sure we use the best ingredients that are indigenous of the areas we’re representing,” Hunnel said.