PMA Foodservice 2019 Highlights
- by Maggie Mead
MONTEREY, CA - From new proprietary varieties of lettuce to avocado popsicles, this year’s PMA Foodservice had something for everyone. And when I say everyone, I mean everyone, because the showroom floor was a veritable who’s who in the produce industry. Nearly 2,000 attendees roamed the floor with 600 buyers. The ratio of buyers to exhibitors was three to one—a stat worth mentioning. Of the 201 exhibitors on the sold-out show floor, there were 30 first timers, and a record 36 participants in the Fresh Ideas Showcase. Attendees were treated to new products, innovations, and trends that are set to take the foodservice world by storm.
“This year’s Foodservice Conference and Expo was an incredible gathering of the produce and foodservice communities—from the education programs to the expo to the networking opportunities," said PMA CEO Cathy Burns. "I’d like to thank Conference Committee Chairs Jill Overdorf of Naturipe and Nichole Towell of Duda Farm Fresh Foods and our committee members for their leadership and guidance in helping to create the experiences we shared this week, as well as our sponsors for their support. I’d also like to thank our exhibitors for sharing their innovations with us, but also their generosity in donating fresh fruits and vegetables to the Food Bank of Monterey County.”
From what I saw, I firmly believe that everyone was a winner at this show, though some left the expo with some extra kudos—Driscoll’s won Best of Show, Coastline Family Farms snagged Best of Show 2nd Place, and Good Farms won Best Product Promo.
Duda Fresh Farms had an especially good time, winning the coveted PMA Produce Plate Award that was presented by celebrity chef, author, and TV host, Ted Allen, at the People’s Choice Award at PMA’s 2019 Strolling Lunch Competition. The company’s prize winning dish, Charred Dandy® Super Sweet Corn and Chicken Tinga Tostada with Fermented Dandy® Celery Slaw, was created by Chef Todd Fisher.
Allen—Host of Food Network's Chopped to name one of his many projects and keynote speaker at the show—did more than just pass out awards, however. The celebrity culinary maven also spoke about his insights on the culinary world and his thoughts on what’s ahead for the foodservice industry. He even took it a step further, adding that he would love to establish ongoing connections with PMA and produce suppliers as contributors to the unbelievably cool ingredients on the Chopped show.
"We [Chopped] would love to be a show that's at the vanguard of what you do. We have a perfect place to showcase it and we've demonstrated that grocery stores and the buying public responds to it...you can help us and we can help you," Allen said. He later continued. "I think we could be something of a team. We're all about stimulating people's imaginations and palates, and it's fun—let's do it together."
Conference Co-Chair Jill Overdorff posed a question to attendees: how are each of us going to be an ambassador for our industry? Allen echoed that sentiment in his keynote, where he compared his work on the popular food show Chopped to what those in the produce industry partake in everyday. Allen’s purchases are 90 percent produce, so he’s clearly put his money where his mouth is when expressing his passion for the produce sector. In his speech, he noted that this industry makes an impression by introducing people to new flavors and evolving their palates, simply by what we bring to the table in terms of fresh produce. Allen waxed poetic about new and rare flavor combinations like strawberries or peaches added to Bruschetta, or shishito peppers added to a pesto dressing or seeded and charred, as a way to open consumers up to a whole new world of possibilities.
Among the products and offerings I saw, I deduced that plant-based foods are steadily taking off, avocados are as popular as ever, pre-cut fruits and veg are in high demand, and sustainable packaging is the next big innovation—and that’s just for starters. No two booths were the same, and there was always something amazing around every corner. At least in this writer’s eye, the show was flawless, and I wasn't the only one who thought so.
"This year's event in Monterey, California, impressed once again. The agenda put together by the PMA, as well as the people, the food, the location was perfect," commented Frank Swanson, Category Manager, Fresh Produce for US Foods.
It’s no surprise that this show attracts the best in the biz, whether big or small, because I saw partnerships percolating left and right. I’m no buyer, but I could see how the event was a smorgasbord for companies looking to meet their produce goals and make a splash in the foodservice world. This show is an invaluable tool for networking and gaining fresh ideas and insight.
“PMA Foodservice is such an incredible opportunity to meet with our suppliers outside of Salinas and build new relationships in the area and beyond as well. Monterey is also the perfect place to host a number of networking events giving our associates the opportunity for professional development in an intimate setting," Julie Olivarria, Vice President or Produce for Sysco, said. "PMA always puts on such a great event, starting with the keynotes and the 5K, all the way through to the trade show floor. We're always looking for new items, new packaging, or new ways of addressing food trends to better serve our customers. As we continue to expand our programs and look for new partnerships, PMA remains among those we feel offer significant value."
Making new connections, developing business relationships, and inspiring new dialogues around food were major themes at the show, but more than that, PMA Foodservice offers the entire industry a chance to look at where it’s been and where it’s going. It may be cliché, but I saw the future of the industry on that showroom floor, and that future looks pretty bright.