United Fresh 2019 - Highlights, Awards, and All Around Fun
CHICAGO, IL - There was so much packed into the few days of United Fresh. In just a couple of days, we saw a number of on-point educational sessions, celebrations, Leadership Class 24 graduates and welcomed Class 25, torches passed, and that wasn’t even on the show floor. As keynote speaker and author Morten Hansen said, “Do less, then obsess.” So, while I would love to touch on every memorable moment, I will focus on a handful.
Though the final numbers were still being tallied as of the closing of the show, upwards of 5,000 were in attendance.
“I’ve been coming to the show for the last five years. This year, I’ve liked the education sessions and learning, seeing the new technology and new packaging,” Rodney Taylor, Director, Food & Nutrition Services, Fairfax County Public Schools in Springfield, Virginia, told me. “You think you can only do so much with fruits and vegetables, but I’m amazed at what they are doing. And during all the sessions I’ve noticed people are engaged; no one is getting up and leaving!”
It all kicked off with a number of educational and networking opportunities on Monday, tying off the night with an opening party at the Navy Pier’s dazzling Crystal Gardens, to which nearly 1,000 attended.
Despite evening festivities, the next morning’s breakfast and keynote saw full attendance. We also saw the passing of the torch for United Fresh’s Chair of the Board.
“Serving as your Chair was exciting, enlightening, educational, and I continue to be an avid student of this industry. Being Chairman was such an honor and I’m really thankfully for the opportunity to serve each and every one of you,” Cindy Jewell, United Fresh’s outgoing Chair and VP of Marketing for California Giant Berry Farms, told us, explaining that while she had a lengthy list of goals coming into the role, her overarching desire was to make sure that there is engagement and participation in United programs for every segment of the industry, particularly from younger members.
She left the room with the challenge to learn how else United can help improve professional or personal growth, one which her successor, incoming Chair and Senior Director of Raley’s Produce and Floral, Greg Corrigan, seems to be looking to up the ante on.
“I’m honored to be able to work closely with CEO Tom Stenzel. His leadership for this organization is second to none. His drive and motivation to shape the policy and regulations for the greater of our industry is absolutely incredible. As an industry, we are fortunate to have a very talented United staff, a smart powerful group of board members, and more than 400 volunteers—leaders that are at various segments of the boards, councils, and committees working hard on many initiatives to help our industry. Our industry faces several challenges today, and United Fresh is helping meet those challenges,” Greg said.
As Chairman-Elect and President of Baldor Specialty Foods, Michael Muzyk, promised, “Change is in the air.” Likewise, there were a few new splashes in United Fresh’s schedule, namely bringing to all in attendance the Retail-Foodservice Celebration, previously only accessible to All Access Pass holders.
The agenda overall seemed to flow more seamlessly as we moved from breakfast, to keynote, to show, to educational sessions, to late-night celebrations.
While upwards of 1,000 of us went to United Fresh’s event at the House of Blues Tuesday night, attendees managed to return early the next morning to honor this year’s featured speaker for the Women in Produce breakfast, Jan Berk, COO, San Miguel Produce, who shared her amazing road to and through fresh produce.
“I’m very humbled to be joining the many amazing ladies before me who have received this award,” Jan commented, adding she had some tall shoes to fill. She filled them well, speaking to her adventures through journalism, becoming a single mother, and then a career change into produce. “Today, with almost 20 years behind me, I have learned a great deal. I always say we never stop learning, and every day brings something new.”
As for the show itself, there was resounding positive notes as the show ended its Chicago streak.
“Initial traffic was phenomenal, and the great thing about this show is the atmosphere encourages quality conversations. Retailers don’t seem to feel as much rush or pressure leading to deeper networking,” Cory Oliver, Senior Category Director, The Wonderful Company, shared with me on the show floor.
Innovations left their own mark, with a total of 48 contestants entering to win an Innovation Award across seven categories. But, of course, only a few could win.
The 2019 Produce Innovation Awards winners included:
- Best New Food Safety Solution: natures frequencies, Food Freshness Card for Packaging
- Best New Fruit Product: CRUNCH PAK-Peeled, Diced or Sliced Pears
- Best New Packaging: Del Monte Fresh Produce, N.A., Inc., Film-sealed Fruit Cups
- Best New Packing/Processing Equipment: Fox Solutions, Pouch Bagger
- Best New Vegetable Product: Taylor Farms, Inc., Taylor Farms Avocado Ranch Chopped Salad Kit
- Best New Indoor Growing Technology: Root AI, Virgo
- Best New Field Technology: RipeTime, RipeTime
While I’m sad to bid farewell to Chicago for the foreseeable future (professionally, anyway), San Diego is on the horizon for 2020, along with new and exciting ways to bring our industry together to better all aspects of fresh produce. See you there!