Inside the Excitement of the Sold Out Viva Fresh Produce Exposition 2015
- by Jordan Okumura
AUSTIN, TX - The much anticipated Viva Fresh Produce Exposition happened last week in Austin, Texas, and we were fortunate enough to have a front row seat to a regional produce event that offered great opportunities for networking, team building, and, of course, plenty of fun!
High profile buyers and grower/shippers from throughout Texas, Mexico, and neighboring Southwest U.S. states converged in Austin to taste the range of diverse and local food offerings, wander down sixth street to the tunes of live music, meet old friends, and make new ones.
The opening reception was set to the rhythm of the Cody Bryan Band as three chefs from the Texas International Produce Associations’ home base in McAllen showcased their signature dishes. Spork Restaurant Owners Adam Cavazos and Jesse Castellon, and owner of the restaurants House. Wine. & Bistro and SALT Larry Delgado served a range of menu items from food trucks.
The show floor itself hosted an intimate, exciting atmosphere of buyers, growers, packers, and shippers who packed the event all the way through happy hour.
Also on the menu was the the 19th Hole Celebration held at the Grey Rock Biergarten with live music by Charlie Gore, along with games, drinks, 7 Leguas Tequila samples and heavy hors d'oeuvres.
“I was really pleased with the attendance from all aspects of industry that were invited,” Jimmy Bassetti, President of J & D Produce, Inc. told us. “It was an intimate social event from all sides of the industry, and I’d like to thank all the folks that came out.”
With over 800 in attendance, the hall and hotel where Viva Fresh took place were completely sold out.
“I am very proud of the spotlight put on Texas production and the product that is available crossing through our borders,” Tommy Wilkins, Director of Sales and Business Development for Grow Farms Texas, tells us. “It was quite apparent we had topics and a venue they were interested in. We hope our expo floor represented the production from this area well and that we delivered on the virtual tours and the educational series.”
"We were thrilled to be part of this new forward looking show. Exhibitors and retailers shared overwhelmingly positive responses from the show floor which speaks to the valuable importance of this growing and distribution region,” Heidi McIntyre, Managing Partner of Full Tilt Marketing whose company helped to plan and market the Viva Fresh event, tells me. “From sold-out attendance, high level retail and foodservice attendance, cutting edge virtual field tours and chef-inspired menus Viva Fresh delivered on the promise that everything is bigger in Texas.”
Also sold out was the scheduled golf tournament, which Heidi told me was a great success.
“The golf tournament raised $10,000 for the Just Keep Living Foundation, allowing the Texas International Produce Association to be able to give back to the local community. It's exciting to look forward to Viva Fresh San Antonio in 2016 and what new opportunities we can create," Heidi said.
There were several entertaining and educational events, including two Virtual Farm Tours presented by J & D Produce, Inc. and Frontera Produce that went off without a hitch. J & D took the audience on a walk through its sweet onion fields, followed by Frontera leading everyone through its cabbages, all without ever having to travel to where they were grown.
The entire room was introduced to a real time Q&A segment via smartphones with Dante L. Galeazzi of Crescent Fruit & Vegetable LLC on the microphone. Attendees were quizzed on their knowledge of the Texas growing industry, including the state’s cabbage and sweet onions, before transporting the crowd live to the field to have the chance to see and speak with the growers in real-time.
Director of Sales/Business Development at Grow Farm Texas Tommy Wilkins, who has 40 years of industry experience, moderated an educational talk in Halt - Who Goes There: The U.S./Mexico Border Crossing Conundrums, where a panel of speakers shared insights on the importance of the U.S./Mexico trading bridges, including how they impact volume and prices for consumers, while emphasizing social responsibility.
Among the major educational messages was the emphasis on bringing more transparency to the supply chain. Millenials want an authentic product; why it originated in certain locations, where the product came from, all prompting a need to educate consumers on food safety.
Part of this aspect is emphasizing how greatly food safety compliance in south-neighboring Mexico has grown. According to the presenting panel, including Director of Operations Ian Vega of Frontera Produce, LTD and Leader of Sourcing Analytics for Robinson Fresh Gina Garven, the next big trends coming out of Mexico are avocados, tomatoes, and hot peppers. With such category growth and better technology, produce has improved and is ready to be shared.
This was only one of many great show moments, including a special appearance from inventor, author, and leader in preventative medicine Dr. David Katz.
“Definitely one of my big highlights was Dr. David Katz and what he brought to the forefront of the industry,” Jimmy tells me, emphasizing how Dr. Katz is shining a light on the need for more fruit and vegetable consumption, calling fresh produce “our medicine,” and the importance of the Glimmer Initiative, which focuses on how living a healthier lifestyle can cure 80 percent of all chronic diseases that have been associated with premature death. “This is something J & D really supports, and I want to get as many people in the industry behind as possible.”
Overall this was an amazing success for all branches of the industry. We are so grateful to have been able to witness a collection of flavor, fun, and information and look forward to even greater heights at the Viva Fresh Expo in San Antonio next year.