The Crosset Company Produce and Floral Conference 2019 Wraps to Rave Reviews
- by Melissa De Leon Chavez
CINCINNATI, OH - Even if you aren’t a baseball fan, you would say The Crosset Company hit it out of the park this week with its annual Produce and Floral Conference—the Cincinnati Reds’ Great American Ball Park, to be specific.
Celebrating record attendance and one of the quickest sell-out windows to exhibit in its existence, the Crosset Company debuted a new format and additions to its schedule, as well as a lineup of engaging, accessible keynotes just off the floor.
“The goal this year was not only to bring more people to the show, but more decision makers,” event organizer and Marketing Manager Stephanie Smith shares with me. "We wanted to ensure the top list of our retail vendors came, and they did.”
While we might be used to hearing about buyer appearances as a key draw for the supply-side to exhibit, this has a different meaning entirely for the wholesale distributor, according to Vice President/General Manager Greg Kurkjian.
“This is not indicative of Crosset or Castellini as a wholesaler, but wholesalers in the past were building a wall between growers and retailers to maintain control. Now, if any of my retailers wanted to buy from a grower, the internet has made that connection available and quick. So, we have had to step over that insecurity to redefine our value and introduce my retailers to my growers,” Greg explains to me of the event’s importance.
That value was made clear by the connections created in a room that felt more like a cocktail set-up than a show floor, where retailers approached growers that are happy to serve them, but need Crosset’s resources to do so. Hence the fitting themes of this year’s events: differentiation, innovation, and organic.
To emphasize the latter, Steve Lutz treated the crowd to some key insights on converting consumers that are not die-hard organic supporters, and there to provide ample backup was 100-plus years of successful buy-side experience of Drew Sullivan, Sprouts Farmers Market Senior Category Manager for Produce; Greg Corrigan, retired Senior Director of Produce and Floral at Raley’s and current CEO to the United Vegetable Growers Cooperative; Caitlin Tierney, Director of Produce and Floral at 99 Cents Only; and Mimmo Franzone, Director of Produce and Floral at Longo’s.
“My demographic is highly hispanic—it’s close to 50 percent. We also have a large older demographic and a large millennial demographic, so it's really spread out. But what I would say to any smaller region is we are in big cities, we’re in rural areas, food deserts, we have small stores and large stores—the one message we get is that they want organics,” Caitlin said to attendees. “So it doesn’t matter what size store you have, what your demographics are, what the age of your customer is, or the location—organics is an area of growth for your store. Once you learn that and put the backing behind it, you’ll see it in sales.”
Greg Kurkjian shared with me, too, that Crosset has over 400 certified organic items, and is positioned to help its partners enter or grow in this area where its conventional, with over 1,200 items, is at a more maintained pace.
So, it makes sense to include the organic sector in its triad of the Dare to Be Different show. For those that seemed to excel in that spirit, the Crosset Company hosted its first-ever Innovation Awards. Attendees voted, and a big congratulations go out to the following winners:
- Fresh Express Salads and Apple Bites - Best New Package Design
- Chelan Fresh Rockit™ Apples Shuttle Pack - Best New Fruit Product
- Club Chefs Stew Kit - Best New Vegetable Product
- Crispy Greens Crispy Fruit - Most Innovative Snacking Solution
Perhaps the king of innovations himself, it was a fitting atmosphere to welcome the wise (and crazy) stories of “Jungle” Jim Bonaminio, who has made a theme park out of grocery shopping and can stand up there with all the wisdom of our most seasoned produce veterans, solemnly rocking a wizard costume complete with crystal ball.
On the other side of that wisdom was Bonnie Curtis, Chief Human Resources Officer for the Castellini Group, introducing our industry to the workforce that has polarized our industry’s business approaches: Generations Y and Z.
I will be the first to say it was a strange experience to see the youngest of produce professionals take the stage and the microphone, and stranger still to watch the seasoned ones ask them the questions. Dare to Be Different was taken to heart, and it was a conversation that was interesting, enlightening, and maybe a little unnerving. Which is why this should probably happen more often.
While my word count is reaching its cap, it does not encompass all the Crosset Company and its partners achieved in less than six hours, and certainly not the festivities that wrapped the event. Needless to say, it was an excellent end to the 2019 summer.
As we enter the fall, and the mad dash to the holidays, I will carry these lessons with me, and I can’t wait to see what this conference has in store.