ORLANDO, Fla. — A difficult economy didn’t discourage people from packing the industry’s biggest annual show.

Fresh Summit draws high East Coast attendance

Doug Ohlemeier

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 Association’s 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.

“There is a lot of energy and excitement on the floor,” said Garry Bergstrom, business development director of produce and floral for Publix Super Markets Inc., Lakeland. “People seem to be more upbeat. They’re not talking about the economy as much as they did two years ago. There’s more optimism.”

Last year’s confab in Anaheim, Calif., set the convention’s 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.

“All I got was positive feedback on this,” he said. “People said it was great and they were glad they were there. I’ve 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.”

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 show’s 950 exhibitors, up from last year’s more than 800 exhibitors.

Exhibitors said they met with more buyers than they had planned.

“Our product requests have been unbelievable,” said Louis Hymel III, director of purchasing and marketing for Spice World Inc. “We didn’t bring enough product.”

Plantation Sweets, Cobbtown, Ga., significantly expanded its booth and had a larger presence on the floor.

Fresh Summit draws high East Coast attendance

“This has been the best show we have ever had,” said Ronny Collins, president and chief executive officer. “I’m not sure if it’s been the location or the booth size, but we have had a tremendous amount of buyers visit us.”

North Bay Produce Inc., Traverse City, Mich., added space, including a table and conference center to its booth.

“We have had excellent days,” said Jan VanDriessche, national marketing representative. “We’re very busy seeing a lot of contacts and meeting a lot of retailers.”

The extent of the presence of international buyers was welcomed, said Tom Riggan, general sales manager for Chelan Fresh Marketing, Chelan. Wash.

“There are a lot of Russians here, a lot of folks from the Middle East, South America,” he said.

International visitors comprised nearly half of Chelan’s 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.

“It’s amazing how many of them from throughout the world are here,” Hanks said. “This show is becoming very international. Orlando pulls in a lot of people.”

Oxford said the expanded food safety solutions center provided valuable information and conference goers received much take away information from the show’s many sessions.