(Oct. 27) The produce industry has to feel appreciably buoyed by the apparent success of the Produce Marketing Association’s Fresh Summit 2003.

Record-setting attendance and a noticeable uptick in retail representation were two welcome sights for exhibitors and those merely roving the floor Oct. 17-21 in Orlando, Fla.

More than 16,350 attended, topping the previous best of 15,950 set in Anaheim, Calif., in 2000.

The economic doldrums that cast something of an uneasy cloud over last year’s show appear to have lifted, revealing the vitality and ingenuity that have marked the industry — and the show — for so long, and so well.

New product introductions appeared up, perhaps an indicator of revived emphasis in research and development and overall industry optimism.

There were too many products to name them all, a celery straw, prime for bloody marys, was a hit at the Duda booth. Chiquita made its first public introduction of fresh-cut fruit. And Apio’s microwaveable side dishes also garnered interest.

Another positive aspect of the show was the foreign contingent, particularly the swarms of visitors from Latin America and Asia. Overall, nearly 70 nations were represented.

A lively discussion on country-of-origin labeling was a highlight of the workshop sessions, and it appears the forthcoming final rules may be less onerous on suppliers.

If, next year in Anaheim, PMA wants to break the record set at this year’s show, the association’s staff and industry representatives will have to work double time. Still, the show is already 87% presold, vs. 82% at this time last year, said Bryan Silbermann, president of the association.

Formidable competition awaits in the melding of trade shows next May in Chicago — a tethering of annual conferences of the United Fresh Fruit & Vegetable Association, the Food Marketing Institute and the Organic Trade Association.

But if the economy can continue to improve, perhaps exhibitors and attendees will be able to make room for both.

The more forums for networking and learning — as long as they’re cost-effective and results-oriented — the better.