Viva Fresh Expo Recap: TIPA's Dante Galeazzi, Grow Farms Texas' Tommy Wilkins, H-E-B's Brian Boutin, J&D's Produce's Jimmy Bassetti, and United Supermarkets' Joseph Bunting Tell All
SAN ANTONIO, TX - They told me it would be fun. They told me it would be informative. They told me it would be meaningful. What can’t be conveyed until actually attending the event, though, is the sheer magnitude of excitement and motivation that is instilled in attendees walking away from Viva Fresh. As the event wound down, I took inventory of my first produce show experience, and boy, was it grande! Professionals from all corners of the produce realm made the 4th annual migration for the festivities. The show continues its regional influence that impacts the industry at large, with a nearly 200 percent increase in retail attendance since its 2015 beginnings.
With the number of buyers double the number of booths, a 25 percent increase from last year, and a crowded show floor keeping all exhibitors busy, Viva Fresh was buzzing with business enthusiasm! The show also touted a 15 percent increase in new attendees from the region, further embedding those attending the Tex-Mex-focused event in the industry.
AndNowUKnow got a chance to catch up with Texas International Produce Association President Dante Galeazzi at the show to hear more about how Viva Fresh has grown this year and why its footprint in the industry has been so impactful.
“It’s really amazing after four years to still see such excitement. Retail attendance is up 190 percent from 2015, and we are hearing from more and more that want to come see the show,” Dante tells me. He says the recognition of Texas’ importance in the market is the draw to Viva for buyers. “Texas is only getting bigger as far as its importance in the market, and they are wanting to come and make sure they have the right resources, right connections, and the right retention points. That is why, while we don’t plan to add many more booths—we plan to stay relatively the size we are in terms of exhibitors—we want to become more regional and highlight even further why this is such an important part of the produce industry. Our focus is going to be to continue telling the story of the Tex-Mex region, why it's important to tell our story throughout North America, and why it continues to be applicable to produce purchasers throughout the year.”
Those attending were able to network with the best of them, movin’ and shakin’ along the showroom floor. Before Saturday’s show, though, attendees went back to school with the education panels. First up on Friday was Merger & Acquisitions—The Game Changing Lottery of Private Equity and Big Business Dollars with panelists industry expert Jay Pack, CREO | Montminy & Co CEO Joel Montminy, and Agriglobe Capital LLC President Ferrell Daste, with our own CEO, Robert Lambert, moderating. The second educational session was brought to attendees by Tom Edwards, Chief Digital & Innovation Officer of Epsilon, who dove into post-Amazon produce industry challenges with How Amazon and Technology are Fueling a New Food Retailing Paradigm.
Director of Sales at Grow Farms Texas, Tommy Wilkins, sat down with me for a moment to talk shop about this year’s event in the midst of the educational sessions, and there, he told me just what made this year’s panels and speakers so exceptional.
“I think we’re really trying to increase the number of Tex-Mex regional suppliers to solve the issues around this area. We want to become a regional show. We find that value in putting Texas and Mexico on a platform and educating the retailers about that. We believe that we’re providing resources that the retailer needs. This is an incredible way to connect retail to the dirt,” Tommy explains to me. “The sessions talked a lot about what retailers want to know—the acquisitions and mergers session, who our customers are with the Amazon session, and others. We’re trying to really give educational sessions that our retailers are asking us to provide. The show, to have 330 retailers for a day in a 168 booth show is priceless.”
After being showered with breakfast options before the first two educational sessions; including a decadent yogurt dish, a mango smoothie, and a coffee bar; participants in Friday’s activities enjoyed a healthy luncheon while Keynote speaker Phil Gwoke of BridgeWorks took the stage with his informative session, The Multi-Generation Marketplace: How It’s Changing the Face of Produce Consumption, wowing participants with themes seen throughout generations and empowering those attending with knowledge to tackle consumers thoughtfully and strategically moving forward. The last education session was Can You Say Inocuidad? Examining Food Safety Initiatives in Mexico, where Luis Alberto Cruz Garcia informed attendees of the safety regulations and procedures seen on both sides of the border.
All of the aforementioned happenings have piqued interest in many retailers, including San Antonio, Texas-based H-E-B, because each year just keeps getting better and better with more opportunities to engage with industry members, making businesses run more effectively and smoothly.
"The H-E-B organization has continued to find great value in the Viva Fresh Expo, both for the important regionality of the event and its vendors, as well as the show's constant drive to elevate the program and the experience," Brian Boutin, Business Development Manager for H-E-B shares. "We are excited to see what the show will bring to the table in 2019."
I also had a chance to check in with Jimmy Bassetti on the showroom floor, where he filled me in on what this show means to J&D Produce's President and the industry at large.
“This show brings an amazing value to the industry. Our increased retailer attendance is a plus. This venue is amazing, keeping it nice and intimate. It’s turning out to be a great produce show,” Jimmy tells me, before divulging his favorite part of the show. “I would say the keynote speaker has always been my favorite. That is one that J&D always sponsors. It’s a time when we can have mostly everybody together to get our message across. Health and wellness is one of the key components of the show, as well as having the buyers that attend be able to go home and go back to their companies and share something positive that we are able to provide.”
And did this show give everyone something inspiring to talk about, or what!
“I thought the 2018 Viva Fresh Expo was another huge success! The show offered many great opportunities for us to make new connections, strengthen current relationships, and keep us on trend with what is going on in the industry,” Joseph Bunting, Produce Business Director at United Supermarkets and Advisory Board member shares with me. “It’s a true regional event that we look forward to attending again next year.”
The powerful connections created over time and nurtured at Viva Fresh, though, are the heart of the event, pushing it forward in new and exciting ways. This year’s happenings added new flavors to this sentiment with a stronger focus than ever before on the lifestyle that fresh produce entertains, but the people attending the event were just as eager to suck the marrow out of this opportunity to grow their industry in this key region, making the event a string of jolly festivities that consumed the entirety of the weekend in a blur of professional growth.
Those attending caught a glimpse of this as they descended the escalator into the event, where they were welcomed with the Gateway to Innovations showcase. Congratulations are in order for ScanTech Sciences, who walked away from this year’s event winning Best in Show!
The stats for this year's show are as follows:
- Total Expo Spaces = 168
- Total Number of Retailer and Foodservice Companies Attending = 330 from 98 companies
- Number of Tex-Mex regional based companies = 135
- Number of allied industry exhibitors = 37
- Number of non-regional grower/shippers = 19
- Number of NEW/1st exhibitors = 26
- New regional grower/shipper/Importer = 20
- New allied companies = 4
- New non-regional grower/shipper = 2 (both were sponsors)
Because of the event’s steadfast guidance and determination to provide the industry with a regional expo catering to the Rio Grande Valley’s continued growth, professional growth is made easier and more fun, and I think we can collectively say, “Time flies when you’re having fun!” See you next year, Viva Fresh!