A Look Inside the International Fresh Produce Association's Foodservice Conference
MONTEREY, CA - The word “exhilarating” only scratches the surface if you’re trying to describe the energy that was felt during the International Fresh Produce Association’s (IFPA) Foodservice Conference last week. With industry members from far and wide taking to the show floor for a day of bolstering connections and produce innovation, this is one show that was certainly for the books.
“Despite the challenges foodservice continues to face, the energy at Foodservice Conference—be it the sessions or the Expo—shows just how passionate this community is about the flavors and tastes fresh fruits and vegetables bring in meals and menus and the new opportunities and channels we have to bring produce to every aspect of foodservice,” commented IFPA Chief Executive Officer Cathy Burns.
The first Foodservice Conference hosted by IFPA saw a record-breaking number of almost 2,000 registered attendees, with over 900 buyers attending from more than 250 companies. With a one-to-one buyer to supplier ratio, the energizing event served as a prime catalyst for business opportunities and industry connections.
As this year’s conference also tapped into a new audience segment, nearly 100 K–12 professionals also hit the show floor to explore all the fresh produce industry has to offer.
The conference kicked off on Thursday, July 28 with a K–12 School Foodservice Forum, which hosted school menu planners and chefs from the nation’s largest school districts. Following buyer sourcing meetings and the Fresh Ideas Showcase, world-class Chef and Food Network star Robert Irvine took the stage for the General Session to discuss setting clear goals, the significance of image, and the importance of quality.
On Friday, Leslie Sbrocco, award-winning author, speaker, consultant, and television host, also hosted an insightful session with a panelist of produce experts, including Bruce Taylor, Chief Executive Officer of Taylor Farms; Michel Nischan, Founder and Chairman of Wholesome Wave; and Vincent Huynh, Culinary Director at Agricole Hospitality.
“IFPA’s Foodservice Conference is the most meaningful show for Sysco because it is completely centered around foodservice,” commented Julie Olivarria, Sysco’s Vice-President, Produce. “Our entire Salinas-based team was able to attend and participate. This year, we brought out more than 100 members of our produce teams and customers from around the U.S. and Canada. The in-person connections made here often last for lifetimes. We were most excited to see new and innovative items.”
This year’s winners of the Produce Excellence in Foodservice Awards Program were also recognized during the General Session. To view a list of the winners, click here. IFPA also recognized the winners of the Expo awards on the show floor, spotlighting Natalie's Orchid Island Juice Co. as Best of Show winner, Duda Farm Fresh Foods as Best of Show Runner Up, and Rijk Zwaan as Best Product Promo winner for its new Red Vein Arugula.
“It has been incredible to come together again at this event! The foodservice industry is at the forefront of the latest trends, and it is always an inspiration to connect with our partners to share ideas and insights,” Chip Wujek, Director of Foodservice for Mastronardi Produce® shared. “Our team had a great time showcasing our flavorful produce at this year’s Foodservice Conference.”
Gene Harris, Senior Purchasing Manager for Denny's, also reflected on the opportunities presented by the show.
“I’m paraphrasing, but my good friend Joe Nucci called the Foodservice Expo the best five hours in produce, and he was right!” exclaimed Harris. “It's even more than that when you include the meetings, networking, receptions, and field tours! It's an educational and productive show!”
And that’s a wrap on this year’s Foodservice Conference! Until next time, our fresh produce friends!