It’s not a secret that PMA Foodservice is one of our favorite shows of the year, but after last year’s expo featured top-notch education and a packed show floor, the bar was set pretty high for 2018. We walked into the (FINALLY) complete Monterey Convention Center ready to see our industry putting their best foot forward to reach a crucial yet sometimes overlooked foodservice audience. Throughout the weekend, an overarching theme surfaced around providing exceptional service, value and most of all, experiences.
More and more, diners have come to expect restaurants to be about more than just the food they serve, but about providing an experience that can’t be had elsewhere. Keynote Speaker Danny Meyer set the tone for this discussion on Saturday while elements of the show, the booths and the food continued to echo this theme throughout the rest of the weekend. From the Strolling Brunch featuring a customizable poke bowl experience to exhibitors with booths tailored to speak uniquely to foodservice operators’ needs, the 2018 Foodservice Conference was all about exceptional service and experiences that make food that is grown shine! Here are a few of our takeaways and favorite bites and booths that made the weekend a success:
Takeaways from Shake Shack
Danny Meyer, CEO of Union Square Hospitality Group and founder of Shake Shack, hosted an incredible keynote that taught us the importance of improving the experience for customers. During his talk, he expressed a reality that we are all too familiar with in the fresh produce industry which is how quickly things can change in the food business. With social media becoming a hub for food inspiration that is shared and is somewhat fleeting, how do businesses in foodservice truly carve out a unique and special experience that becomes part of people's lives? The obvious answer is creating an experience for the customer that cannot be repeated without returning to the restaurant.
Danny Meyer presented the “rule of two” for business leaders which is the idea that in the pursuit of price, quality, and speed, business leaders should only expect two of the three to be executed well at any given time. Meyer then challenged that rule and encouraged us to enhance our customer’s experience by focusing on delivering a portion of the three, price, quality and speed, to create a memorable experience beating other restaurant options with an elevated experience full of emotion and satisfaction.
With his tale of the Shake Shack crinkle-cut fries he explained how something as simple as the difference between a frozen crinkle-cut fry and a fresh-cut fry could make all the difference in the customer experience based on emotion and the nostalgia that customers’ experienced when eating the controversial fries.
What we learned from his speech is that experience matters. When looking at how our foodservice products and services can improve businesses, we need not look further than the experience we are creating for our foodservice buyer and their end customer.
PMA Improves the Show Experience
At DMA Solutions we volunteer our time and talent to industry associations, like the PMA Foodservice Planning Committee, in order to help shape progress from a marketing and membership perspective. Along with our fellow committee members, we have the opportunity to attend each event to witness how our voices and opinions are being heard and resulting in an improved experience for attendees and exhibitors alike.
Over the years we have received feedback that attendees and exhibitors are concerned about the lack of new exhibitors participating to showcase new and exciting products. We are happy to report that this year, the PMA Foodservice show experienced new exhibitor participation by 12% year over year! In addition, the conference portion of the event showed an instant improvement by hosting two keynotes of great significance both to the fresh produce industry and to foodservice businesses. As mentioned above, Danny Meyer provided input that was inspirational and helpful to all who attended. On Sunday, Chef Jet Tila led a panel discussion teaching us how to transform everyday challenges into winning opportunities with a positive perspective. To further the conversation throughout the show, the PMA Foodservice team offered additional networking time during the conference and added meeting space to the show floor.
The Hands-on Fruit and Vegetable training session was a conference first! This session was designed to showcase new products and unique flavor pairings to cater to menu influencers, produce buyers, category managers and entry to mid-level foodservice professionals.
Our Favorite Foodservice-Worthy Bites
Avocados + Tuna = Heaven!
Avocados continue to be a standout item for foodservice, and Asian-inspired flavor combos featuring ahi tuna are all the rage. We saw this throughout the showfloor, but California Avocados’ California Roll with Avo-sabi was by far one of our favorite bites of all! The mixture of fresh avocado and wasabi was the perfect creamy and spicy combo with just the right amount of heat. We also loved Avocados from Mexico’s Tuna on the Half Shell, which would be a great creative appetizer to replace the well-known “tuna tower” for a new unique offering.
Meatballs With a Hidden Gem
(Image provided by Monterey Mushroom)
The team at Monterey Mushroom proudly sampled a mixed protein meatball with a meat and mushroom blend during the expo giving booth visitors a delicious taste treat and inspiration for including more veggies into menu items. The innovation is so captivating, this marketing team took home the win for Best Product Promo.
Cal Giant Honors Chefs & Sysco in the Booth
Towards the end of the show, an aerial view would have shown a hot spot at booth #307, where California Giant was sharing a toast to Chef Luis Reyes, Sysco, for winning the first annual Chef Invitational. His presence at the booth and the award presentation highlighted the brand’s value of their foodservice partners. California Giant certainly created an experience for show attendees and celebrated collaboration, innovation, and chef excellence.
Duda’s Sweet and Savory Cold Treats were HOT!
Chef Todd Fisher’s big personality juxtapositioned with tiny sweet corn gelato and celery granita cones stood out on the show floor. We loved the sweet application of traditionally savory ingredients, and so did the show’s attendees. The flavors were on-trend and in-season, further demonstrating Duda’s commitment to constant innovations in flavor and variety.
Good Foods Brought the Good Stuff with Fresh Sauce Solutions
Good Foods showcased flavor innovation with their pesto, chimichurri, and harissa sauces served atop a rice and beans blend. This range of sauces provides value to chefs not only in flavor, but also by being free of gluten, artificial ingredients, preservatives, and added sugars. In true Good Foods fashion, the brand provided a product that delivers convenience without sacrificing quality and freshness.
Harmless Harvest Makes its Foodservice Debut
We’ve sampled this refreshing pink coconut water before, but we were excited to see the brand on display at the Foodservice expo this year. If you think about it, Harmless Harvest’s pure pink product is perfect for Foodservice and could add value and a unique color to cocktails and juices. We love that they are so focused on natural and sustainable sourcing, which could provide foodservice establishments with a great story to draw more people in the door who value fair trade and organic offerings.
The Watermelon Board Shows Foodservice Operators How to Reduce Watermelon Waste
We’re always big fans of how The Watermelon Board provides unique and thoughtful solutions to buyers attending a tradeshow, and the Foodservice expo was no exception. This time they presenting an on-trend way to reduce waste by pickling watermelon rind! Foods that offer “gut health” are on-trend and pickling is just one way to provide this sought after benefit. When you combine this with the fact that the entire watermelon, including the rind can be utilized, you can tell diners a great food waste story that will get them talking!
Shanley Farms Has the Exclusive on Goji Berries
Last year, Shanley Farms blew us away at Foodservice with their finger lime pearls. This year, they returned with yet another innovative product to bring freshness to this space. These tiny, delicate gems are called goji berries - and Shanley Farms is the only brand packing them fresh for retail and foodservice! We were blown away by how delicate and flavorful they were and left the booth with a new appreciation for the care their team puts into being the one and only fresh packer. Plus, hearing that they have more antioxidants than an acai berry is a good indication that these could be the next big superfruit trend - and Shanley Farms has the exclusive!
Simplot Serves Up a Trendy Burst of Caffeine
This year’s expo featured more than 190 exhibitors spread across three showrooms and two floors. Simplot provided the caffeine burst attendees needed to cover the expo in the form of a latte adorned with fresh avocado cream. We loved that their sampling was on-trend, yet different from anything else we saw on the floor. They are thinking about hot trends like avocados, but presenting restaurant operators with ideas to think beyond the obvious, which we think will make them a valuable partner!
Freshline Produce Creates Convenience for Chefs
Following Danny Meyer’s keynote, our team had a craving for just about anything crinkle-cut. Freshline Produce delivered grooved goodness with their Supreme Cuts crinkle-cut sweet potatoes, packaged with foodservice in mind. In fact, their booth was filled with fresh-cut and on-trend products like shaved Brussels sprouts and zoodles created to simplify and improve the experience for chefs.
Our Favorite Stand-Out Booths
Gold Coast Packing is Meal-Kit Ready
The meal kit category is growing at 28% annually, and leading brands like Blue Apron are quickly becoming a pivotal audience in the foodservice space. Gold Coast Packing is innovating alongside meal kit companies with their pre-portioned broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, and spinach bags. Their California SnowTM is the ultimate on-trend solution for meal kit companies, as it can be used as rice, for pizza crusts, in a mash, and so much more.
Taylor Farms Makes the Ingredients, Not the Brand, The Focal Point
Take one look at the Taylor Farms Foodservice booth and it’s clear they understand that foodservice and retail audiences like to be approached differently. The beautifully lit, bold display showcased what is most important to chefs, restaurants, and foodservice distributors alike - the ingredients. We loved the unique booth and the departure from the booth they use at other shows, where branded products are the focus.
Markon Teams Up with Sun Orchard to Provide Refreshments
As a foodservice buyer serving restaurant operators, we were excited to see Markon’s approach in teaming up with another exhibitor, Sun Orchard, to supply fresh juice and refreshments in their booth! This got our wheels turning - why wouldn’t more exhibitors team up with customers during any tradeshow to add value to their booth? OR we could even see like-minded brands working together to provide exceptional recipes and offerings on the show floor beyond what they could do alone. Think about the power of pairs!
Booths that Literally Lit Up the Show Floor
We extend a Texas-sized congrats to the marketing teams from Avocados from Mexico team (Best of Show Winner) and Famous Software (Second Place Best in Show). Both companies put their best foot forward on their in booth presence with bright backdrops, engaging graphics and friendly faces welcoming you in the booth to learn more.
If honorable mention were an award, we would consider presenting it to HMC Farms who featured two stunning backlit towers that made their graphics and products pop. Both the Famous Software and HMC Farms booths serve as a great reminder that something as simple as lighting can greatly enhance your presence on the tradeshow floor. Don’t overlook them as you prepare for PMA Fresh Summit!
It’s Our Pleasure
Our experience at PMA Foodservice 2018 was one we won’t soon forget and we are grateful for the opportunity to take part in the many facets of the show from planning to execution in Monterey. We commend PMA for taking exhibitor and attendee feedback from previous years and putting it to work to create better experiences for us all. Until next year, we will be looking for evidence that Danny Meyer’s voice was heard during the event with new, enriched innovations and concepts emerging from the industry.
In terms of what we think could be improved for the show next year? We would like to see more purposeful placement of signage and communication around the expo on the 2nd floor of the convention center to guide attendees accordingly. Overall, we enjoyed fruitful conversations, lots of hugs, laughter and reminders as to why we love investing in and attending shows with a specific focus and working in our industry so much! Thank you PMA for a job well done and see you in Monterey in 2019.