Doug Ohlemeier, Eastern Editor
Doug Ohlemeier, Eastern Editor

The return to New Orleans brought an air of excitement to Fresh Summit.

Another year, another city for the Produce Marketing Association’s big expo, but New Orleans isn’t just another city.

Home to intriguing food, music and steeped in history, the Big Easy beat the odds and has returned after a devastating loss.

One could feel that energy abuzz in the city during the Oct. 18-20 gathering.

Tony Piedimonte, owner of James J. Piedimonte & Sons Inc. & Anthony J. Piedimonte/Cabbco, Holley, N.Y., said he noticed the magic as well.

In particular, in the city’s residents, the ones working its restaurants, clubs, hotels, taxis and convention center.

“The people in New Orleans are unbelievable,” said Piedimonte, who’s also a partner with Wm. P. Hearne Produce Co. LLC in Wimauma, Fla.

“They are very happy to have us here. New Orleans has really undergone some hardships. When you (see) how happy they are in their work, you can really feel how they feel blessed to have us here.”

That attitude was evident among many of the convention center staff that worked the events including serving Creole-style food at the opening night reception at Mardi Gras World, a warehouse housing numerous decorative floats that parade in the city’s headline event.

At this year’s show, 13 grower-shippers, allied industry companies and commodity boards and promotion organizations marked 30 years or more of exhibiting at Fresh Summit.

Brooks Tropicals, Chilean Fresh Fruit Association, Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, Idaho-Eastern Oregon Onions, Marco Co., Mariani Packing Co., T. Marzetti, Monterey Mushrooms, New York Specialty Crops, Ready Pac Foods and Sinclair Systems made it to the big 3-0 while Basket Ease saw its 35th year.

The queen of all exhibitors, however, is Frieda’s Inc.

This year was its 40th consecutive Fresh Summit.

Karen Caplan, president and chief executive officer of the Los Alamitos, Calif.-based company says the show has changed much since she attended her first one in California with her mother, Frieda Caplan, during the mid-1970s.

During those early days, companies showed their wares via small tabletop displays.

Today, the show has become more professional and many talk about which companies’ exhibits are the largest and which ones employ the most chefs for samplings, Caplan said.

Caplan says the show has changed from being a place that saw mostly U.S. buyers meeting with suppliers to an industry showcase attracting people from throughout the world.

“It’s to the point where it’s really challenging for buyers to get through the whole show floor because it’s so big,” Caplan said.

“I heard quite a bit of concerns about the show going to only two days.”

Many first-time exhibitors stated they gained much from exhibiting and others, including Henderson, Colo.-based food safety materials provider Birko, are considering exhibiting at next year’s show.

“It’s humongous here,” said Philip Snellen, vice president of sales.

“We’re trying to absorb all of this. There’s so much going on here. It would be strategic to exhibit, but it would be easy to get swallowed up.”

To be fair, not everyone’s a fan of the city.

They liked the show but weren’t too happy about all the obnoxious partying in the city’s French Quarter that spilled into the show.

They said they noticed many buyers didn’t begin walking the show floor that first day until after noon and for those kinds of reasons, stated they don’t think New Orleans makes for a great business show destination.

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