Dante Galeazzi, April Flowers, Joseph Bunting, and Jacob Fox Comment on Milestone Viva Fresh Expo
DALLAS, TX - Sitting down to write this recap was much like working to remember steps I haven’t danced in a while. In doing so, the words of the Texas International Produce Association’s (TIPA) Dante Galeazzi echoed.
“This is a year of firsts. This is my first show wearing masks; my first show not knowing whether to go in for a hug, a fist bump, or a handshake,” the association’s President and Chief Executive Officer shared at last Saturday’s keynote luncheon.
More than 1,200 came out to participate in that first—not only one of the first in-person gatherings for fresh produce since the global-wide shutdowns of 2020 took place, but also Viva Fresh's Dallas debut.
To set a safe zone for all levels of comfort, attendees were offered a color code system of name badges (red for maximum distance and masks at all times, yellow for medium distance, green for lesser distance needed and willingness to remove masks for longer periods of time) as well as tables color coded to badge preferences where everyone was gathered, such as breakfast or lunch.
“Viva Fresh met the moment by providing yet another new normal that was comfortable and navigable for all. I’m proud that Viva Fresh and TIPA are clearing the path for a return to face-to-face business and networking in a responsible and productive format,” April Flowers, Marketing Director for Lone Star Citrus, shared with me.
April played a role in that format, specifically for the women of our industry, as Chairperson for TIPA’s In Bloom program, planning a Grow Your Network event with Co-Chair, Michelle Cortez.
“The women of In Bloom were beyond excited to finally meet again at the Grow Your Network event. After a year-long hiatus on in-person events, we are back to doing what matters most: supporting and connecting produce women. The Grow Your Network event provided scaffolded conversations with other industry women on a variety of topics that extended far beyond basic business,” April said. “While there are plenty of people we can do business with and some we should do business with, it was our goal to connect women with those they will want to do business with. We hope all who attended made memorable connections with other women, and we look forward to seeing the new business and personal relationships that grow from this event.”
In addition to In Bloom, attendees as a whole mixed and mingled safely and at their comfort while playing in the now “semi-annual” golf tournament—as Dante put it—a draw so strong TIPA ended up opening a second course to accommodate all desired players.
If exhibitors and buyers didn’t connect on the green, chances were many show floor interactions were still reunions from the previous 24 hours. Turnouts were strong not only for the VIP and General Welcome Receptions, but also the Buyer Speed Meeting Sessions that took place just before the expo opened.
“I really enjoyed the 2021 Viva Fresh show. The Viva Fresh team did a great job of planning and taking the proper precautions to make the show as safe and productive as possible,” Joseph Bunting, Produce Business Director for United Supermarkets, said. “We were able to make some great connections and find some new ideas to continue to drive our business forward. We look forward to attending this show again next year!”
Jacob Fox, Sales at Fox Packaging, also had words to share regarding the show.
“Having the opportunity to come out to showcase our product and see our customers and friends in person has been such a rewarding experience. Our team is thankful to TIPA for organizing an engaging, safe convention of our industry,” Jacob noted.
And as we approached the final hours, the keynote luncheon offered a safe space to listen in on the success story for the second annual Clean Eating Challenge, direct from Dr. Ian Smith. With him, we saw successful peers of our industry who took up the challenge, all of whom shared a few words of wisdom on how we all can walk the walk of fresh produce purveyors.
The finale was, of course, the expo itself. TIPA actively coordinated admittance to avoid crowding, and once everyone was inside, I was surprised by the way things fell into place. While space was given, the hours saw more and more a “normal” show, save the masks, and an air of enthusiasm I can only attribute to an industry that missed its people.
Foodservice and retail operators from near and far followed up with new and old acquaintances. Among the many buyers were representatives from H-E-B and United Supermarkets, Albertsons, Harps Foods, Home Chef, and many more. I imagine, going off my own conversations, everyone had more to discuss than ever before!
“Our industry relies on personal networks. As a relationship business, the safety of our attendees was our number one priority as we discussed the possibility of bringing everyone together in 2021,” Dante concluded. “I am truly filled with pride that we were able to deliver the hospitality Viva Fresh is known for and hope our attendees felt comfort in the measures we introduced while enjoying one of the first in-person shows in over a year.”
Everything is still very different from what we once knew, but the steps were still there to be remembered, and together we will figure out how to continue to move forward.
As this unique Viva Fresh proved, no one knows how to do that better than the produce industry.