ORLANDO, Fla. â A difficult economy didnât discourage people from packing the industryâs biggest annual show.
Shawn Pollard, salesman for Astin Strawberry Exchange LLC, Plant City, Fla., talks with Racine Roberts, Northeastern U.S. and offshore regional procurement manager for Stellarton, Nova Scotia-based Sobeys Inc., about strawberries at the Produce Marketing Association Fresh Summit 2010 in Orlando.
A record 3,938 retail and foodservice buyers walked the floors of the Orange County Convention Center in the Produce Marketing Associationâs Fresh Summit 2010, up from 3,633 in 2009 and the 3,842 that visited the Orlando show in 2008.
Fresh Summit drew 18,284 participants, beating the previous East Coast record attendance of 17,503 in 2008, the last time the convention was held in the Sunshine State.
âThere is a lot of energy and excitement on the floor,â said Garry Bergstrom, business development director of produce and floral for Publix Super Markets Inc., Lakeland. âPeople seem to be more upbeat. Theyâre not talking about the economy as much as they did two years ago. Thereâs more optimism.â
Last yearâs confab in Anaheim, Calif., set the conventionâs attendance record of 19,060.
John Oxford, chief executive officer of L&M Cos., Raleigh, N.C., and vice chairman of the Fresh Summit committee, said many exhibitors who have been attending for years as well as new ones told him again and again that buyer visits were high.
âAll I got was positive feedback on this,â he said. âPeople said it was great and they were glad they were there. Iâve always believe customers vote with their dollars. Just as we do in our business, people have a limited budget and made it a priority to come to Fresh Summit. That speaks volumes right there.â
From one end of the convention hall to the other, buyers from major retail chains and foodservice and wholesale operations visited produce suppliers and others in the showâs 950 exhibitors, up from last yearâs more than 800 exhibitors.
Exhibitors said they met with more buyers than they had planned.
âOur product requests have been unbelievable,â said Louis Hymel III, director of purchasing and marketing for Spice World Inc. âWe didnât bring enough product.â
Plantation Sweets, Cobbtown, Ga., significantly expanded its booth and had a larger presence on the floor.
âThis has been the best show we have ever had,â said Ronny Collins, president and chief executive officer. âIâm not sure if itâs been the location or the booth size, but we have had a tremendous amount of buyers visit us.â
North Bay Produce Inc., Traverse City, Mich., added space, including a table and conference center to its booth.
âWe have had excellent days,â said Jan VanDriessche, national marketing representative. âWeâre very busy seeing a lot of contacts and meeting a lot of retailers.â
The extent of the presence of international buyers was welcomed, said Tom Riggan, general sales manager for Chelan Fresh Marketing, Chelan. Wash.
âThere are a lot of Russians here, a lot of folks from the Middle East, South America,â he said.
International visitors comprised nearly half of Chelanâs booth business, Riggan said.
Mark Hanks, vice president of North American sales and marketing for DNE World Fruit Sales, Fort Pierce, said he noticed many produce exporters from Argentina, Chile, Australia and South Africa.
âItâs amazing how many of them from throughout the world are here,â Hanks said. âThis show is becoming very international. Orlando pulls in a lot of people.â
Oxford said the expanded food safety solutions center provided valuable information and conference goers received much take away information from the showâs many sessions.