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United Fresh Produce Convention: Q&A With Convention & Industry Collaboration Vice President John Toner

United Fresh Produce Convention: Q&A With Convention & Industry Collaboration Vice President John Toner

CHICAGO, IL - Although the wording may seem melodramatic, it truly is the beginning of new era at the United Fresh Produce Association. For the first time in its history, United Fresh is segmenting its annual convention into United FreshTEC and United FreshMKT, both of which will be keyed in to directly address the issues important to either side.

John Toner, Vice President, Convention & Industry Collaboration, United Fresh Produce Association

With that goal in mind, I spoke with United Fresh’s Vice President, Convention & Industry Collaboration, John Toner, who was able to give me the inside scoop on what’s new and what’s to come this for this year’s June 13 through 15 show.

Q: What is United Fresh’s goal with this new FreshTEC and FreshMKT rebrand?

A: At United Fresh, we’ve always had two sides of our show—the produce marketing side and the tools and technology side—and over the years, we noticed that the focus of the expo was starting to get lost. With this change, we really wanted to bring a strong focus to the fresh produce marketing, retail, and foodservice environment with FreshMKT, and on the opposite side, with FreshTec, we want to bring focus to the tools and technology aspects of our business.

We really want to differentiate the two sides of our expo. The VP of Operations and a VP of Marketing are going to want different things from their experience at the show, and with these two separate focuses, there are value propositions for the entire breadth of your produce company.

Q: Beyond the rebrand, what other changes can we expect from this year’s United Fresh convention?

A: There are so many new additions this year, starting with Wednesday morning’s first ever joint general session. Attendees of all four shows—FreshTEC Expo, FreshMKT Expo, Global Cold Chain Expo, and International Floriculture Expo—will gather together to set the tone for the entire conference. It’s really about creating a sense of community throughout our industry.

Another new addition that you’ll see at this year’s show is FreshTec’s University Showcase, which will see some of the nation’s top robotics universites coming together to show what they have been innovating. For example, we have the prestigious Carnegie Mellon with us showing some of their most exciting new developments.

On the FreshMKT side, we’ll have a Snack Break Snacking Showcase, where companies can share what they’ve been working on in that growing category, and also a new Organic Showcase—featuring more than 40 innovative organic products. Organic is continually gaining buzz, so we want to give exhibitors a way to catch buyers' eyes and then drive them back to their main exhibits.

Q: Can you share a little bit about the two General Session keynotes this year, Bruce Taylor and Tony Sarsam?

A: Something that we’re excited about this year is that we have two keynotes speaking head-to-head—Bruce Taylor at the FreshTEC Keynote and Tony Sarsam at FreshMKT. Bruce Taylor will be speaking to building a culture of innovation, on how Taylor Farms looks to incorporate new technologies, and where the company sees its future going. On the other hand, Tony Sarsam will be talking about how to build a culture around fresh foods, deliver new products to the consumer, and creating fresh food trends. We’re really excited to have both these great speakers on the schedule.

Q: What are some features you’re most excited for at this year’s conference?

A: We’re still holding off on a few of my favorite announcements, but the opening party at the Shedd Aquarium is one I’m looking forward to. It’s not only the largest aquarium in North America, but the sunset view over Grant Park and the city of Chicago is a beautiful one.

One of the coolest new events we’ve been doing over the past few years is our School Foodservice Program. We bring in about 50 school foodservice directors from around the country for a focused two-hour trade show exclusively for foodservice procurement professionals. The combined reach of these professionals serves something like 100 million lunches every week, so being able to reach these people is very valuable.

My personal favorite is the last event of the show—Thursday’s Retail-Foodservice Celebration dinner. Seeing the produce managers and chefs receive their awards is a great feeling.

As John Toner kept assuring me throughout our interview, there is plenty more exciting news where this comes from. Stay tuned for more news, and with June 13 rapidly approaching, visit www.unitedfreshshow.org to learn more and to get registered!

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