Produce Powered by People - hopefully it's more than just the theme of this year's Canadian Produce Marketing Association annual convention and trade show, set for May 6-8 in Toronto.

Officials from the Ottawa-based CPMA are out to prove their respect to those powerful produce people with plenty of opportunities for fun, networking and learning.

"Toronto is the place to be in May," said incoming chair Adrian Abbott, marketing services manager of BC Tree Fruits Ltd. in Kelowna, British Columbia. "We've got a great lineup of speakers and sessions and the largest trade show in CPMA history."

Global Reach

A record number of participants - close to 4,000 - should attend this year's convention, said Melanie Richer, CPMA's senior manager of marketing and communications.

Exhibitors from Asia, Australia, New Zealand, South and Central America, Mexico and from across the U.S. and Canada will display their wares during the convention's two-day trade show.

It's the chance to network with industry colleagues that really makes the event worth attending, said outgoing chairwoman Beth Pattillo.

"No matter how challenging or how different today's issues may be, we still have one common denominator - the people," said Pattillo, director of marketing for Kings Produce Ltd., Canning, Nova Scotia.

"The produce industry thrives on the creativity and ingenuity of its people, and what a dynamic group we have working among us."

Abbott's Wednesday night welcoming reception will take place at Ontario Place, a complex overlooking Lake Ontario with panoramic views of the Toronto skyline.

Two inspirational keynote speakers will also set the tone for this year's event. Michael "Pinball" Clemons, a Canadian Football League legend who's now chief executive officer of the Toronto Argonauts, will share his skills for putting vision into action.

Mike Lipkin, one of Canada's most well-known speakers, is an author, motivator and persuasion coach. He is also president of Environics/Lipkin, the motivation and sales empowerment practice of Environics Research Group which is one of the country's leading research houses.

Getting down to business

The business sessions, meanwhile, are a must for anybody doing business in Canada and for Canadians sending produce to the U.S.

The first session details recent changes in labeling regulations for fresh produce processed within or imported into Canada. Participants will also learn how the CPMA can help with labeling requirements.

Another session addresses the heightened awareness of consumers and foodservice operators concerning food safety, traceability and locally grown food. Attendees can learn what's being done and the challenges and realities of these crucial issues.

Making connections

The final seminar, "Working with Gen. Y Employees," is a must for anyone over age 30. While everyone agrees the produce industry desperately needs to find and groom young people for the future, figuring out how to communicate with, motivate and harness the technological savvy of these potential employees requires new skills.

John Killeen, vice president of sales and marketing for Muranka Farm Inc., Moorpark, Calif., will lead the Gen. Y seminar, drawing on his more than 20 years of experience working for California's largest grower-shippers.

When the work day is done, join convention organizers for an authentic East Coast kitchen party on Thursday and a rousing send-off with the band Irish Descendants at Friday's banquet.

The kitchen party tradition began in old Maritime farmhouses, Pattillo said, where everyone would gather in the kitchen. Someone invariably showed up with a fiddle and a harmonica, she said, and there was always plenty of food and beer.

"Bring your dancing shoes and your singing voices," Pattillo said.