(Oct. 18) Thanks, Houston. Let’s consider that a dress rehearsal for 2012.

After Hurricane Katrina hit the Gulf Coast in September 2005, the Produce Marketing Association decided to move its Fresh Summit 2007 to Houston, which had been scheduled to play host to the annual produce convention in 2012.

The relocated show drew nearly 16,000 people Oct. 12-15 at the George R. Brown Convention Center.

“I’m relieved,” said Peter Goulet, past chairman of the board for the Newark, Del-based PMA and president of consulting company Pinnacle Sales & Marketing, Saco, Maine. “There was a lot of skepticism about how the show would go and the number of attendees. I think we’re in a very good place. Attendance was solid compared to the past five years.”

Attendance actually was about 2,000 less than last year’s show in Anaheim, Calif., but PMA president Bryan Silbermann said California shows draw higher numbers than other sites because of the concentration of produce companies located there. Silbermann added that PMA exceeded its budget goals for the show.

Fresh Summit 2007 parted with PMA tradition, featuring Friday through Monday dates rather than Saturday through Tuesday.

“I’ve been very pleased hearing excited reports from people about the traffic,” Silbermann said. “The change in days worked very well for everyone.”

The schedule switch was designed in part to help buyers miss less weekday work and to boost show floor traffic on the final two days of the expo.

“I thought it was great,” said Roger Pepperl, marketing director of Wenatchee, Wash.-based Stemilt Growers Inc. “Saturday and Sunday we were absolutely packed both days. We saw a lot of customers.”

Traffic on the final day was light compared to the Saturday and Sunday, sources said.

“Monday is the new Tuesday,” Pepperl said.

Sources said the show continues to draw more visitors from overseas each year. Silbermann said having an international airport in Houston helped in that regard.

“The convention has changed so much from an international standpoint,” said Mike Aiton, senior vice president of sales and marketing for Sun World International Inc., Bakersfield, Calif. “Our foreign customers are here to do business and put programs together.”

Sustainability, food safety and traceability also were hot topics in workshop sessions and on the show floor.

“It’s had a couple of lulls but beyond that we have had fantastic traction,” said Jonathan Hawes, director of business development for Redwood City, Calif.-based Yotta Mark, which offers track and trace solutions. “It’s been a big show for us.”

Hotels and reception sites were somewhat spread out in downtown, but shuttle buses and an abundance of taxis kept people moving, Silbermann said.

“People have been pleasantly surprised by Houston, the friendliness of the people, the quality of the restaurants,” he said. “They need more restaurants and hotels downtown, and they’re working on that.”

Ken Middleton, vice president of convention sales for the Greater Houston Convention and Visitors Bureau, said Embassy Suites and Omni Hotels are expected to open new locations in downtown before PMA returns in five years.

Fresh Summit 2008 is scheduled for Oct. 24-27 in Orlando, Fla.

“Hopefully, Orlando will be another destination city,” said David Sasuga, president of Fresh Origins, San Marcos, Calif.