(May 12) CHICAGO — The move of the United Fresh Fruit & Vegetable Association’s convention and exposition to Chicago for a show that also featured the Food Marketing Institute, All Things Organic, U.S. Food Export and Fancy Food conferences was, judging by attendance and comments from exhibitors and attendees, an overwhelming success.

Virtually anyone who attended the May 1-4 festivities would agree.

Agreeing on the highlight of the event was equally easy.
In two words, it was Barbara Bush.

The presidential mother and former first lady stole the show and charmed the crowd at United’s Centennial Gala Celebration May 1 at the Windy City’s Union Station.

And she did it while acknowledging that her husband, former President George H.W. Bush, “still hates broccoli.”

The frequent mention of broccoli, which was prompted by the elder Bush’s 1990 admission that he did, indeed, hate broccoli, had the crowd howling with laughter.

At the time, United immediately sent 20,000 pounds of the vegetable to the White House. The shipment was received in good humor amid mountains of media coverage by the first lady.

Barbara Bush, unlike her husband, insisted she liked broccoli.
There’s no doubt that the produce industry likes her.

Perhaps Jerry Butt, vice president of the Mixtec Group LLC, Pasadena, Calif., summed it up best: “The gala alone was worth the price of admission.”

United president Tom Stenzel and his staff did a superb job of keeping Barbara Bush’s appearance a secret, and that’s no easy task.

How secretive was the group? Well, Karen Caplan, president of Frieda’s Inc., Los Alamitos, Calif., and United’s chairwoman until she turned over the reins of the organization to Larry Kern, president and chief executive officer of Ready Pac Produce, Irwindale, Calif., on May 4, said she didn’t even know about it.

Wow.