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2017 Caito Foods Fresh Foods Conference Highlights; Tony Mitchell, Vice President of Sales, Procurement, and Marketing Dicusses

2017 Caito Foods Fresh Foods Conference Highlights; Tony Mitchell, Vice President of Sales, Procurement, and Marketing Dicusses

INDIANAPOLIS, IN - With a strong dedication to achieving excellence across the fresh produce, value-added, and prepared products distribution arenas, Caito Foods is continuing to bring more value to both its customer base and its vendor partnerships this year. That commitment and promise was alive and thriving at this week’s 2017 Caito Foods Fresh Foods Conference held in Carmel, Indiana, from the 26-27th of September. This year’s vision for the show, and the theme throughout, was Through the Looking Glass–A Step Into the Future, which spoke to the direction that the fresh produce industry is heading and what the future holds for the competitive retail space, as well as how a company like Caito is more than just a business–it is a family.

2017 Caito Foods Fresh Foods Conference floor

Tony Mitchell, Vice President of Sales, Procurement, and Marketing for Caito Foods, joined me to discuss the incredible event and how a company committed to exceptional freshness executes it all.

Tony Mitchell, VP of Sales, Procurement, and Marketing, Caito Foods

“This event is really about bringing our vendor partners and customers together to share ideas, elevate that level of excellence, and build those lasting relationships that really set the Caito Foods family apart from other wholesalers and distributors in the industry,” Tony shared with me as we took in the show floor, along with the excitement and innovation across the two-day event. “We like to connect our vendors with our customers because it makes them better long-term, and establishes roots for growth. We try to bring an educational aspect into the fold, and that helps our attendees find new ways to address current challenges in the marketplace, while also discovering fresh ways to differentiate and diversify.”

This was my first year attending the coveted event, which brought together suppliers, buyers, and retailers, as well as “hot buys” that could only be snagged at the Caito Foods Show and an opportunity to network toward the collective goal of impacting the level of quality and service from the field to the plate. Along with the diverse range of exhibitors from Ippolito, Stemilt, Cal-Organic, CMI Orchards, Tanimura & Antle, and Red Sun, and a wide swath of retailers–the caliber of speakers also brought a new level of insight to the Caito table.

Caito Foods' Joe Caito, Tony Mitchell, and Gary Dillon walking the floor

Joe Himmelheber, Director of Merchandising and Marketing at Caito, kicked off the event on Tuesday afternoon as he spoke to the constant need to look to the future and tapped Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland to create a framework for an event that addressed what our business’ future looks like, how brick and mortar will either thrive or crumble depending upon perishables, and how falling victim to a world where “three taps on a glass,” can actually access a world of information and products.

As we stepped into the future, Will Peters, Highline Mushrooms Grower/Manager, gave us a virtual tour of the mushroom growing experience with quiz questions and insights that had the audience engaged. The mushroom is really a marvel to view, and learning about Highline’s dedication to growing and innovation, makes it even more so.

Alex Jackson Berkley, Frieda's

Frieda’s Specialty Produce Senior Account Manager Alex Jackson Berkley then took to the spotlight to speak about the Frieda Caplan legacy and the courage of one woman to bring the niche of specialty foods into the mainstream–especially in a time when women did not often grace the fresh produce industry’s movers and shakers circle. Alex shared her insights into staying relevant with specialty produce items, and how making the consumer happy starts with creating a consumer experience that is exciting, intriguing, and healthy. From incredible merchandising displays to trending concepts like food as medicine and anything Tiki, as well as rising produce stars like eggplant–Alex pulled back the curtain and had the crowd energized.

Alex Jackson Berkley of Frieda's

After a customer and vendor appreciation reception where delectable appetizers and refreshing beverages were shared, and a dinner created by Chef Brett Lewis, we sat down for the evening’s keynote address from Ken Gronbach, demographer, author and respected authority on demographic trends. As the retail landscape changes and populations, cultural diversity, and consumer age groups continue to impact fresh produce sales in new and different ways, Ken shared his experiences with shifting generational preferences, why it is important to drill down into your consumer demographics, and how the only way to truly remain competitive is by having all the pieces to the puzzle in front of you.

Tuesday evening wrapped up a sneak peak of trade show floor and a late-night dessert party to touch on the events and opportunities of the following day. Each aspect of this event was created to bring people together and create moments where companies can connect as people and friends.

“What we do here is unique and the Caito family has always been that way,” Tony said. “When you bring people together, it creates lasting bonds that elevate their business relationships and creates lasting friendships as well. When everyone is on the same page and can sit down and speak face-to-face, you can establish a trust and commitment that, I believe, creates better and more authentic relationships and more opportunities to bring fresh produce to the table.”

Bruce Peterson, Peterson Insights

Early-risers on Wednesday kicked off the day with a sunrise breakfast to prep them for the exciting day ahead where first to the stage, were industry giants Bruce Peterson of Peterson Insights and Former Senior VP of Perishables at Walmart, and Dick Spezzano of Spezzano Consulting and Former VP of Produce and Floral for Von’s, dished on everything from how to be competitive in the age of Amazon/Whole Foods and the rise of small discount formats like Aldi and LIDL, to produce butchers, and fresh produce focused food trucks. Both echoed the need to drill down into consumer demographics—knowing the customers that stay with you, and even the preferences of those that switch loyalties is importnat, in order to see what holes a company may have the opportunity to fill.

Russ Kiger and Dick Spezanno enjoying Caito Foods 2017

The two also touched on the impact of perishables on the overall retail concept and business' success, how competitive pricing can be addressed, and how we can look at more ways to create a fresh produce industry that taps into areas of indulgence and continued convenience. From the evolving definition of fresh produce and ready-to-eat and prepared foods competitive advantages, to meal delivery services from retailers impacting stand alone services without loyal followings, the morning was rich with amazing insights I am only now beginning to process.

As we moved through the first part of the morning with Dick and Bruce, the second part of the day had us on our feet on the expo floor to experience a range of products, sales strategies, marketing geniuses, and engaged discussions about growing fresh produce partnerships. Wednesday wrapped up with special guest speaker, Chad Porter, Zig Ziglar Certified Speaker and closing remarks from President of Caito Foods Bob Kirch.

As a first time attendee to the Caito Foods Fresh Foods Conference, as well as a first-timer in Indianapolis, I was truly blown away by the experience and by Caito’s incredible commitment to their vendors and customers. In an industry where it really comes down to the people and relationships that allow the business to thrive, I can easily say that this event holds a permanent place on my calendar for years to come. Thank you Caito Foods, for graciously opening your doors to the AndNowUKnow team. See you next year!

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