Jill Overdorf and Nichole Towell Talk New Moves for PMA Foodservice
- by Melissa De Leon
MONTEREY, CA - This year, PMA’s Foodservice Conference & Expo seems to be all about balance: between work and play, supply-side and buy-side, the new and the tried-and-true. A new day, new events, but a continued focus on quality experiences in the same scenic Monterey, California.
This is also reflected in those chairing this year’s experience, return Chair Jill Overdorf, Director of Business Development for Naturipe Farms, and first-time Chair Nichole Towell, Senior Director of Marketing at Duda Farm Fresh Foods.
“We’ve been involved on the committee for several years and it was time to step up and help,” Nichole laughs when I ask why this was the experience she chose to chair. “I think the Foodservice conference being dedicated specifically to the foodservice sector is very important to all of produce, especially with the plant-forward movement. It’s important to step up and help the industry to basically guide how we want to be part of their conversation.”
We discuss that while there are several foodservice-focused conferences, none put fresh produce front and center like that of PMA’s July event.
“There are other shows for foodservice, but here fruits and vegetables are taking the main stage and it’s about how we include ourselves in the conversation of the plant-forward movement. How do we stay on top of those conversations?” Nichole adds.
Jill echoes this, sharing that she absolutely believes in what we as an industry are doing and how we’re doing it.
“It’s an exciting time to be part of both the foodservice and produce industries!” she says, and I can hear the smile over the phone. “The biggest change this year is a broader picture of the importance of our industry in global businesses and changes. Cathy Burns just participated in the Milken Institute Global Conference, PMA was at the annual South by Southwest for the second time, and we’re finding on a global scale that our industry is the hub of everything that’s creating positive change. That’s such an exciting thing to acknowledge and participate in; we all have the opportunity to be catalysts.”
That scale can be found in everything from the educational opportunities to the keynotes of this year’s event, and you as the attendee can choose what suits you best.
“New this year is what we’re calling the À la carte! breakout sessions. You as the attendee can pick and choose what would best drive or help your business, and those topics are produce safety, technology, sustainability, talent, and trends. So you can pick and choose if you want to be a part of those learning sessions,” Nichole explains.
In the speakers, too, you see some new and some of the Foodservice Expo’s lasting impact.
“It is going to be fun to have Ted Allen back. He came as a mentor and teacher for the culinary students when we worked with the CIA and Johnson & Wales in the kitchen about 10 years ago and he remembered our conference and the value, so he is thrilled to come back,” Jill reflects. “And, I’m really thrilled we’re having Dan Buettner address the conference. He’s such a great advocate for healthy living (without preaching) and has produce—eating fruits and vegetables—included in his definition of something we all should be doing every day according to researched blue zone areas. His philosophy and our core philosophy as the produce industry are so symbiotic.”
Other changes include the show’s first-ever Saturday expo, giving exhibitors maximum return and attention from attendees while attendees themselves don’t have to stressfully run to the airport to be back to work Monday. About 200 companies will exhibit.
“We’re addressing concerns from employers not wanting the show to take up an entire weekend for their team, and also to make sure we have everyone’s full attention for the day Saturday,” Jill says.
Nichole adds that a first-time networking opportunity will be held Friday, July 26, at The Barns at Cooper Molera, a short jaunt from where the industry will be staying.
“Foodservice is of course about food, but it’s also a great chance to get to network around food and bring the best of both worlds together by getting to be part of the whole foodservice conversation around fresh produce. It’s entertainment and nourishment together!” she sums up for me.
When I ask about what differentiates Foodservice from the growing number of industry events, Nichole says it is the only show, from a PMA standpoint, with buyers, menu influencers, and all companies involved really dedicated to creating new produce products for foodservice.
“It is truly dedicated to the foodservice industry, working with menu influencers there on the floor is exciting. You talk about it at foodservice and you go into a restaurant and it’s on the menu!” she says.
Curious about all the details? See a comprehensive schedule of the big days here!
Bringing together 1,800-plus people of produce, strap in for a strong foodservice experience with Center for Growing Talent events kicking things off starting Wednesday, July 24, core Foodservice events on Friday and Saturday, July 26-27, with the expo, for the first time ever, on Saturday, July 27.