International Fresh Produce Association's 2023 Foodservice Conference Wraps Up; Cathy Burns, Gene Harris, and More Comment
MONTEREY, CA - Happy Monday, industry friends! If you’re anything like us, you’re still reeling with excitement about the recent Foodservice Conference, hosted by the International Fresh Produce Association (IFPA). Over 2,200 registered attendees gathered on the floor of the record-breaking trade show, with 930 buyers in attendance from the likes of Denny’s, US Foods, and more. Opportunities for brand growth were abundant this past Thursday and Friday as the event saw a 1:1 buyer-to-supplier ratio.
“It was only a few short years ago when much of the foodservice segment was shuttered overnight,” said IFPA Chief Executive Officer Cathy Burns. “Not only has the segment come back on track, but we are back with high energy and clear intentions to transform the way people eat and experience food and fresh produce. As this conference grows, it becomes more diverse, inviting more members from across the eating experience. From restaurants to hotels, to healthcare and higher education, the foodservice segment was strongly represented this week in Monterey, which means that our consumers were represented here as well.”
The anticipated event kicked off on Thursday, July 27, with Buyer Sourcing Meetings, which allowed produce providers to connect with foodservice operators and distributors and have in-depth conversations face-to-face.
“The IFPA Foodservice Conference is the best place to meet with the entire foodservice produce supply chain!” exclaimed Gene Harris, Senior Purchasing Manager at Denny’s. “Literally, from field to fork, the experts and products are here to see!”
The Buyer Sourcing Meetings were followed by the Monterey Bay Live! session, during which multiple foodservice professionals shared their insightful perspectives on the foodservice industry. Moderated by award-winning author, speaker, consultant, and television host Leslie Sbrocco, the session featured several high-powered foodservice experts, including Art Kilmer, Chief Operating Officer for P.F. Chang’s; Melissa Melshenker Ackerman, Chief Executive Officer of Planet Harvest; and Nazim Khan, CEC, WCEC, WCMC, and Executive Chef of Nutrition and Dining Services at Bryan Health, Lincoln, Nebraska.
This session concluded with the awards ceremony for the Produce Excellence in Foodservice Awards program. Thursday closed out with the highly anticipated Women’s Fresh Perspectives Reception, as well as a fun-filled networking session at The Barns.
Keeping the fun going, Friday’s schedule began with a networking breakfast, followed by the Fresh Ideas Showcase and a General Session, “Foodservice Directions and Implications on the Produce Industry,” with Joe Pawlak, Managing Principal at Technomic. Attendees also had the opportunity to choose from four breakout sessions, including “Triumphs & Challenges: Award-winning Chef Panel,” “Fruit & Vegetable Programs in K–12 Schools,” “Sustainability Market Trends,” and “Supplier Diversity and Inclusive Procurement.”
With an increasing number of K–12 school districts turning to the USDA-DoD Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Program to use their commodity entitlement dollars to source fresh produce, the Foodservice Conference also hosted a session to review how school districts and produce companies are currently engaging with this program.
And, of course, the conference brought its impressive number of attendees to the show floor for the Foodservice Produce Expo, where valuable connections were formed among fresh produce suppliers and operators across the entire foodservice industry.
Read on to see what some of our industry friends had to say about the highlights of this exciting show:
Peppe Bonfiglio, Vice President of Sales, Mastronardi Produce®
“At Mastronardi Produce, we understand the value of fresh fruits and veggies with big flavor. That’s why we love showing our foodservice partners the best in fresh flavor that will help their products stand out, and the Foodservice Conference is the perfect venue for that.”
Crystal Chavez, Marketing Coordinator, Gold Coast Packing
“The IFPA Foodservice show was fantastic! With record attendance, our booth was busy all day. Our team was able to make great connections and catch up with our customers. This year we saw a lot of school foodservice operators at the show. We love being able to connect and learn how we can work with them to get fresh produce to K–12 students.”
Tony Incaviglia, Vice President of Sales and Marketing, GR Fresh
“We are excited about seeing our current core customers and exploring new opportunities. I’m old-school. I always prefer to visit customers in their own environment; it’s much more relaxed and productive for them, but these smaller venues are the next best option. So, this is a great opportunity to meet with a lot of people in just a couple of days.”
Ernst Van Eeghen, Vice President of Foodservice Business Development, Church Brothers Farms
“We always enjoy the week of IFPA Foodservice because it’s our home turf. From field and plant tours to our Ranch Parties, customers really get a sense of the breadth and scope of what we do, plus who we are as a company. That’s something you can only do in person, and for folks who are seeing it for the first time, it’s pretty impactful.”
Dan Canales, Senior Vice President of Sales and Marketing, Ippolito International
"Another amazing Foodservice show week for the books! With tours, meetings, and dinners, it’s been busy and productive. Happy to have hosted our many friends and customers while sharing our Ippolito culture and everyday hustle!"
With Monterey, California, still in our rearview mirrors, we are already looking forward to next year’s Foodservice Conference!