(UPDATED COVERAGE, 2 p.m., July 15) ANAHEIM, Calif. — The Fresh Produce & Floral Council Expo matched last year’s attendance with close to 1,000 exhibitors, buyers and floral and produce business people in attendance.

Carissa Mace, president of the La Mirada-based council, said though floral exhibits were down slightly the difference was made up by more produce companies buying booth space and showing their wares during the July 14 event at the Disneyland Hotel.

UPDATED: FPFC expo suggests ways to beat the recession
                                                           Dawn Withers

On the floor of the Fresh Produce & Floral Council 2009 Southern California exposition on July 14 in Anaheim, Calif., Craig Enos, vice president of retail sales, Taylor Farms, Salinas, Calif., and Vicky St. Geme, vice president of marketing, hold new salad blends the company plans to release in September.

“This is an opportunity for (companies) to meet with their customers,” Mace said.

More than 160 booths were sold, Mace said, with close to 200 companies represented at the event. Mace said regional expos like FPFC’s showcase are gaining popularity because they are less expensive than national, multiday gatherings and allow produce companies to connect directly with store-level managers and regional buyers.

The expo also offered tips on how to beat the recession and inspire consumers to buy more produce.

During the opening session, Emily Fragoso, marketing manager for Coast Produce Co., Los Angeles, and Kate Reeb, vice president of retail services for Coast Produce, said produce companies should capitalize on the local trend in produce by offering profiles of growers and working with retailers to make produce buying experiences more exciting for consumers.

“The shopper craves authenticity,” Fragoso said.

In response to the recession and continuing job losses, consumers are making fewer impulse buys in the produce department, Fragoso said, and are sticking to shopping lists to keep within budgets. That suggests produce companies, should be creative marketers, Fragoso said, using recipes and in-store cooking demonstrations and highlighting the seasonality and locality of produce.

A large untapped consumer base is children, Reeb said, who are often overlooked when it comes to produce promotions. Building produce displays that are child-friendly and sponsoring in-store tours and tastings with children are good ways of promoting produce and getting them in the habit of eating fruits and vegetables.

“You are training the shoppers of tomorrow,” Reeb said.

On the expo floor, Hector Soltero, salesman for Mission Produce, Oxnard, Calif., showed off the company’s latest product, ready-to-eat guacamole. It’s the second time Soltero attended the show, and he said the value in coming is meeting with buyers and customers directly.

“We’re here to see how we can improve our business and (our customers’) business,” Soltero said.

Nearby, Jaime De Leon, produce manager for Stater Bros., San Bernardino, Calf., said he comes to the shows to see what new products companies are offering, educate himself on how his suppliers run their businesses and talk about ways to improve the flow of produce through the store.

“You can interact with the vendors who are here and the growers,” De Leon said.

One noticeable change over previous years’ shows, he said, is the absence of strawberry suppliers and the growth in organic offerings.

FPFC’s Southern California exposition, now in its 15th year, is the largest for the organization, which has a smaller Northern California spring show. It is scheduled for April 7 in Pleasanton.