Highlights from the 47th Annual FPAA Convention and Golf Tournament
- by Jessica Donnel
NOGALES, AZ - As someone who had never traveled to Nogales, Arizona before, I wasn’t exactly sure what to expect. Sure, people tell you that Nogales is the largest entry point for Mexican produce in the country, but you really don’t get a sense of how much this city lives and breathes the produce industry until you are thrown right into the deep end. Thankfully for my fellow ANUK reporter Melissa De Leon and I, this year’s annual Fresh Produce Association of the America’s (FPAA) Convention was the perfect opportunity to get a taste of what makes this hub of produce powerhouses tick.
This year’s convention and golf tournament had another record attendance. From importers and suppliers to distributors and logistics providers, this was truly an opportunity to meet the “who’s who” of the Mexican produce industry. For two California girls who are still in their rookie years in the produce industry, the wealth of knowledge we received from just spending two days at the convention was immeasurable.
Kicking off on Thursday November 5th at the gorgeous Tubac Golf Resort and Spa, the convention brought the opportunity to visit three educational sessions hosted by industry innovators including Four Seasons’ President and CEO Ron Carkoski, social responsibility specialist Lilly Lopez Ceniceros, and Matias Mesta, Manager of Bioconsultoria Agricola Integral (BAI), a company in Culiacan that specializes in plant treatments yielding a reduced impact on the environment. The focus of the sessions was “Forward-Looking, Future-Perfect: Taking Charge of Social Accountability and the Bottom Line,” and if you ask the resort full of happy attendees, these speakers absolutely did not disappoint.
The next two days of fiestas, networking, warehouse tours, and golf that followed made for a trip I will not soon forget. After the first night of the Opening Fiesta and Networking Event, the real highlight of the convention for me was Friday night’s Gala Event and Pillars of the FPAA Award Ceremony. This year’s award recipient was vine ripe tomato industry pioneer and Nogales legend Carlos Bennan.
“Without the individual that we are here honoring tonight, to be honest, none of us would be here,” FPAA Chairman Matt Mandel said of produce pioneer and honoree during his speech. “He had hustle, he knew—get in, make your deals, make your sales and move on.”
The entire Bennan family made it out to the convention, including son and grandson Robert Bennan and Robert Bennan Jr. of Ta-De Distributing, to honor their patriarch’s legacy, and his undeniable impact on Nogales and beyond.
“The greatest part of Nogales is that while we’re all competitors, but we’re a tremendous community who all supports each other—that’s a beautiful thing about this community,” said Carlos’ grandson and CEO of Ta-De Distributing, Robert Bennan, Jr., during his speech. “I want to thank the FPAA for honoring my grandfather, it’s a tremendous award and much deserved.”
Besides the incredible and welcoming produce men and women we got the pleasure of meeting with during our stay, I would be remiss if I didn’t take a second to mention one of my favorite things about traveling—the food! Being in the epicenter of fresh produce and authentic Mexican food made for what I believe was not only some of the best convention food I’ve ever had. From the fresh Mexican seafood at La Bocanita and the legendary Sonoran hot dogs, to the amazingly detailed food at the convention dinners themselves, I left the city full, yet still wanting more.
That's actually pretty accurate for my feelings about Nogales in general—while what I learned about the city and the industry during my stay was amazing, I can’t help but think even a few more days would have made the experience that much better. You can bet you’ll be seeing Melissa and I in Nogales again before you know it.