As the United Fresh Produce Association and FMI get ready for their second joint show in Chicago June 8-11, SN checked in with Tom Stenzel, United Fresh’s president and CEO, about what to watch out for at the conference. Much is new this year, not the least of which are a budding partnership with the International Floriculture Expo, innovative software that can instantly connect buyers with exhibitors and vice versa, and the return of United Fresh’s popular tours for retailers and suppliers. Here are excerpts from SN’s interview with Stenzel.
Supermarket News: What can United Fresh show attendees expect this year? What’s new from last year?
Let me start out with our partnerships. There’s United Fresh with our produce focus, and the FMI show as it was last year, and now this year, we have a new partner, the International Floriculture Expo. That partnership will bring us upward of 200 additional attendees. All the major floral buyers from the supermarket industry will be there. It also helps create a one-stop shop for retailers. Our partnership with Floriculture is important to us for that reason, and we’ll be set up side by side with them. There will be merchandising ideas with fusion of flowers and produce.
SN: What are additional benefits of your partnering with other organizations for the show?
TS: One is from a senior management viewpoint. Senior management [on the supply side] is seeing the importance of the perimeter departments, and they’re able to connect with buyers. We’re bringing them all together. This helps produce as well as retailers. Some of the top [supplier] companies’ executives have been working with FMI for a long time, but frankly that’s been lacking [for us] before we put this all together. Seeing what’s new, in floral as well as produce, will broaden center store’s outlook, for example.
Another example [of top management’s involvement] is Bob Mariano [president and CEO of Roundy’s] is going to be our keynote speaker in the morning. What a good example he is. Very innovative. He created a different brand.
SN: What, in particular, will your partnership with International Floriculture do for you?
TS: The design elements of floral, I think, are going to be good. They’ll broaden the merchandising flair [for produce and other fresh products]. The floral people have always had an Iron Designer contest — a takeoff on The Iron Chef competition — to create the best centerpiece. This year, we’re calling it a fusion of produce and floral. We’ve all seen things like lemons floating in a jar of water with flowers around it. That sort of thing is pretty cool, I think. At the show, there will be winning, newly designed centerpieces, using fusion of produce and floral.
SN: What else is new this year?
TS: FMI is pioneering — and we’re going with them on it — a concept that will make connecting with people easier. It’s a software program called CBX, which stands for Connect Business Exchange. Our exhibitors will be able to go online to say who — what buyer or buyers — they’d like to meet with. And vice versa. Attendees can do the same thing with this software.
So, say if a buyer is interested in apples, he can enter “apples,” and the program will tell him which exhibitors to see. Meetings can be scheduled right online. All exhibitors and all buyers will have been entered into the system. It just gives people one more way to connect.
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Sure, there have always been the parties and receptions and informal meetings, and they’re valuable as well as fun, but when people travel and pay to come to a show, you’d better offer some added value. That’s what this is — it’s the first time we’ve tried another way to connect. We want to make this show about business, making it easier.
SN: What about new products, innovation?
TS: There is so much innovation going on in produce. There are, of course, bagged salads, new combinations, but there will also be snack packs and super food salads. The number of new product entries has grown. It did last year from the year before, but even more this year. This time we have 54 entries. There are a lot of convenience items, packaged items.
With packaged and labeled items, produce is becoming more like center store, more like retail. For example, getting support from suppliers, more marketing dollars. Then, there’s more and more variety, too. So much for consumers to choose from. Just within apples, for example. There are so many more taste profiles, and sliced apples, and apples packed with other items. The idea is how many ways can you deliver that important word: “Fresh.”
Exhibitor, attendance numbers
SN: How many exhibitors do you have this year? What attendance numbers do you expect?
TS: We have 270 exhibiting companies, the same as last year. On attendance numbers, we’re strong this year on retail. We’ll have at least 12,000 total attendees, and the buyer-to-exhibitor ratio will be strong.
SN: What can you tell me about the show’s educational sessions and tours?
TS: We have Super Sessions scheduled that will cover a number of topics, from food safety to GMOs to sustainability and social responsibility, and then there are 20 workshops to be held right on the show floor.
And, we’ve just added tours. We used to have them a number of years ago and then discontinued them, but people have asked us to offer them again. On Thursday, there will be two separate tours. One will visit retail stores and the other will be for the supply side.
The retail tour will give us a look at how different retailers are selling produce. We’ll go to a Mariano’s store, a Walgreens that sells produce, and a small convenience store called Urban Counter, also to Eataly.
Everybody is selling food these days. In the produce sector, we have to figure out how to work with all those different types.
SN: How does Chicago work for you? Is it the best site? I know you’ll be there in 2016, but what about after that?
TS: Yes, we’ll definitely be in Chicago for the 2016 show. It’s one of the best places for a show. People like to go to Chicago, it’s a nice city with good eating places, and it’s just one direct plane ride from a lot of places in the country. After next year, FMI and we at United Fresh will decide, but I think we’ll probably stay, especially with International Floriculture coming. We like the consistency. It’s beginning to feel like a unified industry annual show.
SN: Are there any new partners ready to co-locate with you in Chicago?
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TS: Yes. The Global Cold Chain Alliance will partner with us to present the first Global Cold Chain Expo in June 2016. That will be a one-stop shop for all cold chain needs. There will be hundreds of exhibitors from every sector of the cold chain including warehousing, transportation and supply chain/logistics solutions. [Ed. note: Co-located with United Fresh, FMI Connect, and the International Floriculture in Chicago next year, the Global Cold Chain Expo is expected to attract more than 15,000 key decision makers from retail, foodservice, processing, production, distribution, logistics and transportation.] In the future, others could partner with us, too. FMI has some partners who might join us.
SN: Could you comment on issues facing the produce industry this year or last?
TS: There are so many issues and they’re ongoing. They can’t be handled in one year. We’re working on them — just one example is food safety — all the time. Our educational workshops at the show will be discussing sustainability and traceability, and social responsibility and immigration. Our growers need a stable workforce. And on recalls, we need to be quicker and surgical so we don’t scare the heck out of people. That [being quick and surgical] will be easier to do as more produce items are packaged and labeled.
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