NEWARK, Del. -- The Produce Marketing Association will hold a second FreshTech conference next year, encouraged by the attendance at last month's successful inaugural event that exclusively linked produce operations and merchandising with the advent of new technology.
"The committee was really pleased with the success of FreshTech," said Duane Eaton, vice president of industry programs at PMA, who was interviewed shortly after the first FreshTech, held in Dallas April 11 to 13.
Apparently, PMA successfully gauged a growing need in the produce industry for more specific, technically oriented information.
"I thought it was very beneficial," said Bruce Peterson, vice president of produce merchandising at Wal-Mart Stores, Bentonville, Ark., who attended the conference. "Technology is so important, long-term," he said.
Peterson, who also sits on PMA's technology committee, said the conference reinforced his ideas about where the industry is headed in the future.
Learning about new software that's on the market was particularly useful, he added.
Beth Weibert, director of international marketing and communications for the California Tomato Board, Fresno, Calif., said she took away some very concrete ideas from the conference.
"There was a lot of information," she said. "The whole thing was just really fascinating."
Weibert said she picked up some ideas for the World Wide Web page that the tomato committee is developing. She also suggested that the next conference could offer some more hands-on experience for attendees.
Marji Morrow, director of marketing at Ready Pac Produce, Irwindale, Calif., said she was pleased to hear that the conference will be offered again next year.
"I thought it was a good conference," she said. "In general, the [seminar] topics were good."
Morrow said she made contacts with some new industry sources at the conference, "which was helpful."
Morrow also agreed with conference planners that running seminars on two different levels for those with different degrees of familiarity with technology would be a good idea.
The event appeared to have helped PMA tap into a new constituency. Eaton said the conference attracted 206 registrants. Of those registrants, 97 had never before attended a PMA event, he said.
However, Eaton expressed some disappointment with the number of exhibitors who showed at the conference. Only 10 exhibitors, including PMA, took part.
"Obviously, we didn't draw the numbers of exhibitors we thought we would," he said.
A date has not yet been set for FreshTech '97. However, Eaton said he was looking at holding the event next spring, with a possible return to Dallas.
Most attendees seemed to like the format, Eaton said. During the two full days of the conference, seminars were conducted in the morning. The exhibition hall was then opened for several hours, to allow exhibitors half-hour demonstrations of their products.
Following the exhibition were more seminars and group discussions.
"We won't tinker too much with the format next year," he said.
According to evaluations collected from attendees at the conference, most participants felt the general sessions and seminars offered new information without much repetition, Eaton said.
Still, PMA is considering offering two tracks for the conference next year geared to two levels of proficiency.
"We seemed to have some techies and some nontechies, so we might do an elementary level and a more advanced level next year," he said.
The conference was held at the Infomart in Dallas, which is home to various technology-oriented companies. However, most attendees at FreshTech didn't seem to visit many of those companies, Eaton said, and social events were held at the conference hotel, which was a considerable distance away.
"We learned Infomart didn't really seem to add a lot to the conference," he said. "So next year, we'll probably do everything under one roof."