FRESH APPROACHES ACROSS THE BOARD

SN REPORTld say that trade associations on the Fresh Foods side of the business are engaged in their own kind of ECR -- Efficient Convention Response.The four major national trade groups -- the United Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Association, the Produce Marketing Association, the Retailer's Bakery Association and the International Dairy-Deli-Bakery Association -- have been re-engineering their annual

SN REPORT

ld say that trade associations on the Fresh Foods side of the business are engaged in their own kind of ECR -- Efficient Convention Response.

The four major national trade groups -- the United Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Association, the Produce Marketing Association, the Retailer's Bakery Association and the International Dairy-Deli-Bakery Association -- have been re-engineering their annual conventions for 1996 in a bid to respond more effectively to the needs of attendees.

The analogy goes further. To some extent, increased competition may have had a hand in prompting the changes. A formidable player, the Food Marketing Institute, will enter the game directly in 1996 with MealSolutions, a new freestanding convention targeting fresh foods. Other new shows are also springing up, focusing on segments such as fresh produce and "innovative" foods.

Meanwhile, the two produce trade associations, United and PMA, are still in the wake of a fruitless round of negotiations over whether to merge. The pressure for a merger came from industry members who are frustrated with supporting two associations, each with its own show.

United representatives said the FreshWorld 96 convention, slated for Feb. 24 to 26 in New Orleans, is alive and well, and the merger controversy generated no additional pressure to make this year's event shine.

"Every year the onus is on us to give a successful show, and to give the industry value," said Caren Schumacher, vice president of communications and marketing at United, Alexandria, Va. "We learned a lot from last year. We really listened to our industry members."

New for 1996 is a scheduling change that officials said should make attending easier. For the first time the convention will run from Saturday to Monday, rather than from Sunday to Tuesday. The change is intended to cut the time attendees spend away from their businesses.

Another change is the addition of a half-dozen "highly interactive" industry forums where participants can talk freely about issues such as distribution, technology and value-added products.

Schumacher said interest in FreshWorld 96 is strong. The number of sponsors has almost doubled from what it was in 1995. By early November, she said, 80% of the trade show floor space at the Ernest N. Morial Convention Center was sold out.

Change will doubtless be an underlying current for PMA at its convention and exposition, scheduled for Oct. 13 to 15 in Atlanta.

The show is expected to be the biggest in PMA history. But it will also mark the end of an era; at the show, Bob Carey, PMA's longtime president, will retire and hand over the reins to his successor.

It will also usher in the largest show floor PMA has ever assembled, said Bruce Peterson Jr., chairman of the 1996 exposition. "The expanded floor space will allow more and more exhibitors to attend," said Peterson, who is produce director for Wal-Mart Supercenters, Bentonville, Ark.

The 1996 trade show will incorporate 360,000 square feet of exhibiting space in the Georgia World Congress Center. PMA, Newark, Del., anticipates as many as 525 companies will exhibit, to fill 1,405 booths.

At RBA's convention and exhibition, set for March 9 to 11 in Philadelphia, bakery profitability will come under the microscope.

"We're continuing to talk about profitability because I think the food business is getting tougher. With everybody getting into the business, the slice of pie is getting skinnier and skinnier. It comes down to how to get more of the market or how to increase profits," said Peter Houstle, executive vice president of RBA, Laurel, Md.

Called Marketplace '96, the convention will also refocus more tightly on bakery. In the last few years, RBA had been broadening its convention to address deli issues as well.

"We've decided to stick with what we do best," Houstle said. Exhibitor space for the RBA convention-exhibition was nearly sold out in November, and Houstle predicted attendance would top 10,000.

The International Dairy-Deli-Bakery Association's 1996 Seminar and Expo will explore the brave new world of technology and its effect on supermarket retailers and consumers.

Set for June 2 to 4 in Minneapolis, the event will carry the theme "Cyberspace: The Next Frontier," and will explore how consumers' lives are changing, with and without the advent of the computer -- and what that means to retailers.

"We wanted to really focus on the issues that are changing the face of retailing and what the implications are for the buyers and sellers of dairy, deli and bakery products," said Carol Christison, executive director of IDDA, Madison, Wis.

IDDA also has made program changes in response to attendees' comments after last year's event. "For one thing, we've expanded the total number of expo hours by 25%. Attendees told us there were so many new products and new exhibitors to see that they couldn't do it in the short afternoon hours the expo was open last year," Christison said.

The seminars were also structured to make better use of time. "Our program committee looked at three different scheduling options and chose one that creatively allows us to continue to offer the same number of hours but in a different pick-and-choose format.".

Interest in the event is reported to be heavy. IDDA filled 65% of its exhibit space this year in the first four days of selling, Christison said.