“Teaching people where food comes from absolutely matters… without eyeballs, you can’t teach people anything.”
-Ted Allen, Emmy and two-time James Beard Award-winner; Host of “Chopped” and “Chopped Junior” on Food Network; Author
Ted Allen set a powerful tone of excitement and anticipation with his keynote opening of the 2019 PMA Foodservice Expo, and his sentiments were music to a produce marketer’s ears! His talk left the room buzzing with ideas and validation that more marketing in the fresh produce industry is not only impactful, but desirable. The remainder of the conference and expo, from the “À la Carte” education sessions to the strolling lunch, paved the way for creativity and on-trend bites that turned the familiar into the unexpected.
What Blew Us Away (#WBUA) at PMA Foodservice 2019
Engaging Format Changes from PMA that Drove Traffic
PMA brought a revamped event schedule and a new spin on “extra” touches throughout the show that stood out as buzz-worthy engagement drivers. We have to give PMA kudos on these changes that, while some were subtle, added an exciting new level of interactivity on Friday and Saturday.
Interactive à la carte education sessions
PMA offered a new level of interactivity to its education sessions on Friday. Attendees were able to float in and out of the sessions that mattered most to them, and the sessions each offered deeper engagement than a simple presentation. Our team chose to divide and conquer between the “Taste the Trends” and “Talks on Talent” sessions:
- Taste the Trends: This session was essentially broken up into 15 minute “micro-sessions” occurring simultaneously. Attendees broke into groups and traveled across the room to attend each station which represented a current trend in Foodservice. Trends include food delivery, plant-based foods and global diet trends. We loved that each station received a food sample based on the discussion - including a bite of the hard-to-find Impossible Burger at the plant-based station! The biggest takeaway that hit home for us came from the delivery station: produce companies and foodservice operators have an opportunity to work together to determine the right fresh products to add to popular delivery items so that they hold up during the “last mile” of delivery.
- Talks on Talent: Hosted by Doug Bohr, Executive Director of the Center for Growing Talent by PMA, the speakers for this discussion included both current students in the Career Pathways program and former students of the Emerging Leaders Program. Seasoned industry professionals were also present and invited to engage in healthy discussion around the up and coming generations’ perspectives on finding new jobs, the importance of work-life blend, business culture and authenticity of companies that they choose to work with. As fresh produce marketers, we looked forward to hearing the young professionals’ position on the role of marketing when searching for a job. Listening to the speakers, we heard loud and clear that websites, google ranking and social media presence are all important indicators that young professionals research and take into account when searching for a place to work. In short, the next generation of talent entering our industry is equally interested in how companies “show up”—both online and in person. As an action item, we are hopeful fresh produce companies will share the information from this session with their marketing and recruitment teams!
Improved Floor Space
Next-Level Show Floor Lounges
PMA has taken “recharge” lounges to the next level! We loved seeing the “Zen Den” relaxation lounge complete with beach backdrops and comfortable assorted seating. The “Inspiration Station” lounge also caught our interest - this lounge was equipped with various stress-relieving (and addicting) touches, including adult coloring books and kinetic sand. If you haven’t played with kinetic sand before - we highly recommend giving it a try. It may or may not have distracted us for a good 30 minutes!
Wine, Beer and Cheese Tasting
Located in the 2nd floor showcase, this addition was a brilliant hit by PMA that successfully drew traffic upstairs. Each hour, cheese and produce samples were paired with local Monterey wines and switched out, ending with a beer tasting in the last hour of the show. The space was a great location for further gathering and networking by industry colleagues. We hope to see this included as a show staple going forward! Our only suggestion: keep the wine flowing even once the beer becomes available!
Competitive Game Show Addition
Who doesn’t love a little friendly competition? People couldn’t stop talking about the addition of an interactive game show that allowed you to challenge your friends and colleagues for a chance to win prizes. Located in the 2nd floor showcase near the wine, beer and cheese tasting, this was an ideal activity to give a try while sipping on a glass of wine or beer. The best part was the produce-centric and PMA-specific questions included with general trivia - a nice touch!
Ted Allen’s Attendance During the Strolling Lunch Competition
We can’t rave enough about how much we enjoyed Ted Allen’s opening keynote, but the cherry on top was seeing him attend the Strolling Lunch Competition and mingle while enjoying the fresh samples. Not only did he try each of the samples, but a special “Ted Allen’s Choice” award was awarded to Duda Farm Fresh Foods and Chef Todd Fisher for his Charred Dandy Super Sweet Corn & Chicken Tinga Tostada with Fermented Celery Slaw. This award was much deserved, as this tostada was irresistible and we saw more than a few of you going back for seconds! Duda also took home the people’s choice award as a result - congratulations Duda!
After listening to Ted Allen’s keynote, we felt the entrants to the strolling lunch did a wonderful job of “taking something ordinary and trying something unfamiliar,” as Ted Allen quoted as being a strong qualifier on “Chopped.” Amongst Duda’s tostada with fermented celery slaw was a jackfruit taco, spaghetti squash carbonara, and a sweet potato croquette!
On-Trend Fresh Samples
It wasn’t hard to eat our way across the show floor on Saturday. We were blown away by the creativity and variety of samples offered. One thing that stood out is that diverse flavors are on-trend: we loved seeing both Asian and Latin flavor profiles added to some of our favorite produce items in new and exciting ways! Here are a few of our favorite bites:
- Duda’s Japanese Street Corn
Chef Todd brought his A-game again on Saturday with a unique take on corn-on-the-cob: super sweet corn rolled in a combo of mayo, honey, miso paste, and togarashi seasoning topped with furikake and tempura crispies - YUM! This was the perfect example of taking a food we all know and love - corn on the cob - and adding unexpected flavors to take it to the next level.
- Simplot’s Avocado Rolled Ice Cream & Popsicles
Talk about an Instagrammable sample! Simplot took the ever popular avocado and made two popular and share-worthy ice cream dishes that not only looked great, but tasted FANTASTIC. What a creative way to showcase the creaminess of avocados paired perfectly with the sweetness of ice cream presented both in rolled ice cream and in popsicles. Bravo, Simplot!
CanAm’s Ready-to-eat Spaghetti SquashDuring the Strolling Lunch Competition, we fell in love with CanAm’s low-carb Spaghetti Squash Carbonara! After speaking to the CanAm team further, we understand that the new Par-Baked Spaghetti Squash product is hot off the press and looking to make a big splash in the culinary world. We look forward to seeing this product soar in foodservice and anticipate great success at retail in the future as well.
Good Farms’ Strawberry Sushi
The perfect combination of savory and sweet, Good Farms brought their A-game with flavor. To make the booth more interactive, they provided customizable toppings, including fan favorites like wasabi, spicy mayo and tempura crumbs.
Avocados from Mexico’s DIY Guac Bar
We wouldn’t expect anything less than the tastiest guac on the show floor from Avocados from Mexico, and this year they delivered with a DIY guac bar with less traditional toppings. We especially loved giving the yuzu (a type of asian citrus) pearls a try, along with the Korean BBQ beef jerky and wonton chips for dipping.
Jica Foods’ Jica Tortillas
It is our sincerest hope that Jicama is about to see its time in the spotlight, because this veggie is the perfect diet-friendly carb substitute. Jica Foods has created a convenient Jicama tortilla, packaged and ready to go. Who wouldn’t want to sub their tortillas out for something this fresh and easy? We can’t wait to see these in more restaurants and retail stores!
Elma Farms’ Poshi Steamed & Marinated Veggies
How refreshing to see veggie options for those on the go! Elma Farms’ Poshi Steamed & Marinated Veggies mastered the art of perfectly marinated, lightly steamed and crispy snacks that are prepackaged and so fresh. From lemon and garlic cauliflower to basil and thyme artichokes, we were blown away by these flavor bites.
Good Foods’ Plant-Based Dips
In addition to their Chunky Guacamole fan favorite, Good Foods brought their new lineup of Plant-Based Dips and WOW, were they delicious! They successfully took some of the most popular dips and made them DAIRY-FREE, including their Buffalo Dip, Creamy Cilantro, Avocado Pesto Tzatziki and our favorite, Queso. And let us tell you, we are self-proclaimed “queso experts” from Texas so we know a good thing when we taste it!
We have to commend PMA for continuing to take exhibitor and attendee feedback into account to make this show better and better every year. Our experience this year was a great reminder as to why PMA Foodservice is one of our favorite produce events of the year, and one that we simply cannot miss. We look forward to seeing everyone back in Monterey in 2020!
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