While the idea of a virtual tradeshow conjured up many questions for most of us in the fresh produce industry - there’s one tradeshow mainstay that we had no doubt would be stellar in a virtual format: education sessions!
With tools like Zoom, we knew the educational content offered up during United LIVE! would be just as engaging, and we really enjoyed the ability to jump into a session and take notes from the comfort of our own offices or homes.
Networking and interaction, however, was a different story. How would networking be possible in a virtual format?
The team at United Fresh found a way to pull this off and we have to applaud them for it! We found ourselves not only getting to see familiar faces and catch up in the coffee talks and networking happy hours, but we also had the unique opportunity to chat with people we may not have normally gotten the chance to speak with - and this was extremely valuable!
Here are our recaps, highlights, and thoughts on the education sessions from the 2020 United Fresh LIVE!:
Our Favorite General Sessions
Opening Message from United Fresh Chairman Michael Muzyk, Baldor Specialty Foods
The Grand Opening LIVE! General Session kicked off the week by honoring our industry's essential workers. Following the powerful video, Michael Muzyk, from Baldor Specialty Foods, did an exceptional job inspiring us all with his heartfelt anecdote about managing through his own business’ COVID-19 crisis and loss of business the company relied upon as New York foodservice business came to a screeching halt in March.
From creating a new business, to consumer focus with at-home delivery, to making it a goal to increase their retail presence, Baldor knew they needed to adapt in order to continue to push for quality produce to be on the grocery store shelves and on consumer tables. Partnering alongside their marketing team, Baldor was able to pivot and navigate the business during these unprecedented times. Hooray for marketing! (Michael said it himself!) Thank you, Michael. we agree. Marketing IS essential!
2020 Woman in Produce Honoree: Sarah Frey-Talley
Sarah Frey-Talley inspired us with her acceptance speech as the 2020 Woman in Produce, an award that she - no doubt - is a worthy honoree of.
Sarah shared her experience starting a successful business at a young age as well as the opportunities and challenges that present themselves as a mother and entrepreneur. Her statement “we need to shed the guilt as working mothers” resonated strongly with the DMA Solutions team and inspired thoughtful conversation in breakout discussions during United Fresh LIVE! sessions.
It’s Sarah’s bold spirit, passion, and high risk tolerance that empowered her to launch the first and only bottled watermelon juice produced in the U.S, Tsamma. She was also quick to thank the women in the industry who came before her and encouraged her on her journey, women like the cherished and respected Frieda Rapoport Caplan.
Lastly, Sarah reminded us to look to the next generation for advice and innovation. Her fun example of her kids driving traffic to the watermelon farms through social media reminds us that we have a passionate up-and-coming generation of fresh produce professionals.
Thank you for sharing your unique story, Sarah. You are incredibly deserving of this recognition and we’re so inspired by all of your dedication and hard-work.
Key Educational Session Highlights (From a Marketers’ Perspective!)
Foodservice Insights From Visionary Chefs
United Fresh did a great job of bringing in a variety of voices from the culinary world, from all aspects of the industry and different regions around the country. We learned from Marissa Thiry, Nutrition Specialist at Taco Bell, the different ways in which one of the largest fast food chains in America is pivoting in the time of COVID by offering family packs in the form of a “Taco Bar” to feed the whole family.
Other chefs around the country, such as Chef Daniel Bruce from The Boston Harbor Hotel in Boston, MA., shared how he’s seen many chefs, including him, finding it hard to access meat and seafood. To tackle this, he has had to revamp his menu to be more focused on vegetables and relies heavily on local farms. Being flexible and having the ability to be nimble with menu planning is a key takeaway we learned from chefs living in this current time.
School Meals During COVID-19: Creative Approaches to Ensuring Students Get Their Fresh Fruits and Veggies
United Fresh brought together top voices from the world of student learning and foodservice to discuss the current state of meals in schools and how COVID-19 is affecting what meals students are able to have access to.
In addition to what was discussed with school meals in their current form (outlined in the image to the right), what the future holds for school meals in an ongoing COVID world was also theorized.
While the state of what schools will look like in the fall is yet to be determined, whatever that world looks like, school meals are still set to be a main priority. School meals will be an evolving situation for the foreseeable future and many school meals may look different state to state, or even district to district. What we do know is school nutrition professionals will use their creativity and innovation to ensure fruits and vegetables are a staple in school meals.
Highlights from Coffee Talks & Networking Opportunities
Brand Purpose in Times of Crisis
We loved the interactive nature of the Coffee Talks sessions, and they were a good motivation to make sure we were dressed and had our “faces on” each morning! One stand out coffee talk for us, as marketers, was the session on Brand Purpose.
This discussion attended by many prominent marketers in the industry centered on why authenticity is important to show your brand’s sentiment. We discussed: What do we really need to do as brands? Sharing who you are as a brand matters and goes a long way - but don’t forget that your shoppers and customers expect you to “walk the walk” when you align with something that’s so passion and emotion-driven.
Direct to Consumer Channels - A Permanent Change?
Another exciting topic for us to engage in as marketers was the discussion around Direct to Consumer channels - can produce companies be doing more to explore direct to consumer sales through ecommerce or in-person pick up? We heard from several companies in this session who had no choice but to pivot during COVID and sell directly to consumers. The results have been positive, but will it be a permanent change? Now that companies have seen that they can overcome some of the operational challenges, many of the participants believe this is a huge area of opportunity for our industry.
As marketers, we have seen that consumers perceive produce purchased directly from the source as fresher or better than produce they get in the grocery store and we would be remiss as an industry if we didn’t consider ways to take advantage of that!
Maximizing the Consumer-Influencer Connection to “Create the Crave”: How to Drive Fruit and Vegetable Consumption Through Influencer Marketing
This insightful discussion with Produce for Better Health ambassadors focused on the benefits and best practices of engaging with influencers to magnify brand and product messaging. We appreciated their emphasis on authenticity as a foundation for creating a trusted community and how they are constantly seeking creative ways to make sure their audiences stay engaged.
The leading question was “how do we establish a long-term partnership?” as opposed to individual one-off posts for a product launch or seasonal promotion. One of the most beneficial parts of partnering with influencers is that they are vital at getting a pulse on what audiences are talking about.
Our main takeaway: We need to inspire new behaviors. Influencer content is both aspirational and inspirational. Audiences want to see what is possible and be shown how to do it for themselves. Beau Coffron, of Lunchbox Dad, emphasized that while what is being shown on social and/or blogs is eye-catching, you have to make sure that it is something that your audiences can replicate. In fact, all the content that appears on his channels is #approved by his kids. This provides his followers with assurance that their kids will like it too!
Young Professionals Reception
A staple for the DMA team, we couldn’t wait to attend the Young Professionals Reception in full force and get to know some new young faces working in produce. Due to the virtual format of the show, we were able to “bring” the full DMA team and we were excited to get them out and meeting other people their age in the industry. Our team was pleasantly surprised to see so many young people engaged and interacting during this reception. Based on the poll questions to get us talking, it’s clear that everyone agrees that fresh produce is a passionate and people-oriented industry. We loved interacting with people just a few months or years into their careers. Our only complaint - that it was only an hour! There were so many great conversations happening, we wish things could have continued. Hint: Maybe we can host these types of virtual gatherings more regularly, United Fresh?
Now that we’ve wrapped up our first virtual expo, there’s a couple of great things to look forward to:
- Because the show is virtual, the expo is available for you to access for several more months! That’s right - you can access all of these education sessions, workshops, AND continue to visit people’s booths throughout the summer months.
- Next year, United Fresh will take place April 21 - 23 in Los Angeles, CA. We don’t know what the future holds so who knows? Next year's show could be a hybrid in-person and virtual event, but the April date means we will (hopefully) come together even sooner in 2021!
And while we were blown away by these education sessions, we were equally as blown away by the expo itself and the creative marketing excellence on display - virtual style! Be sure and take a look at our post covering What Blew Us Away at United Fresh LIVE: The Expo!
Since United Fresh so graciously made the show free to all of us to attend and based on the valuable interaction we have had this week, our team feels motivated to give back. DMA will be donating $100 per team member to the United Fresh Power Fund for our team members that attended (all of us!) and matching that amount with a gift to the United Fresh Start Foundation because of the incredible work they’re doing to help people in need in response to COVID-19.
Until next year, we thank you, our readers and the team at United Fresh for hosting such a wonderful event!