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My most recent trade show

This past weekend, I took my newest company employee — my daughter Alex — up to Monterey, California, to attend one of our industry’s trade shows. This one is devoted to the foodservice industry and it brings together growers, brokers, marketers, chefs, restaurant chains and distributors to talk about the latest and greatest in fresh produce.

While the largest segment of the produce industry is probably retail business (supermarkets), the foodservice side is pretty large. It’s made up of chain restaurants, such as McDonalds, Subway, California Pizza Kitchen, Darden (parent company of Olive Garden, Capital Grill, Seasons 52, etc.), and smaller independents like Hard Rock Café, Jamba Juice and Del Taco.

You may not realize just how much produce is purchased by these restaurants, but approximately 50 percent of all food consumed is eaten away from the home! That’s a lot of strawberries and tomatoes!

During this 3-day conference we visited growing areas, attended panel discussions and walked the show floor expo. (This year, the grower tour stopped at Ocean Mist Farms, one of the largest growers of artichokes.)

During the expo, more than 100 produce companies exhibited and sampled their tastiest new products. My friends at Gills Onions sampled the most fantastic French onion soup – served piping hot in single sized cups. Gills Onions is a second-generation family farm — the largest grower and processor of fresh onions in the country.

Driscoll’s handed out samples of the biggest and sweetest blueberries I’ve ever tasted. San Miguel Produce, which grows all sorts of specialty greens like kale and collard greens, sampled freeze dried kale covered in chocolate. Interesting, but not my favorite.

Voted the best new product at the show? Artisan Romaine lettuce from Tanimura and Antle, which are the perfect size for making lettuce wraps. They sampled grilled lettuce topped with shaved Pecorino Romano cheese and a balsamic dressing. (Here’s the recipe.)

Early Sunday morning, we got to watch five top chefs from northern California create a unique dish with a fresh produce item. Each chef was assigned their own item: carrots, avocados, small potatoes, artichokes and celery. It was fun to watch them create their recipes live.

But what was the best part of the conference? I asked my daughter Alex, a recent graduate in communications and public relations. She told me, “The networking was the most interesting part of the experience.”

When you attend a conference, do you make the most of the networking? Do you pack enough business cards so you can hand one out to everyone you meet — and be sure to get theirs, too.

Do you attend all the educational seminars, cocktail parties, meals and tours? It’s amazing how many different people you meet at each venue.

On Sunday evening, we decided to have dinner with a friend. Just the three of us. But, as my friend and I sat down to dinner, my daughter Alex disappeared. After a few minutes I started looking around.

There she was across the room, a glass of wine in one hand and business cards in the other, shaking hands with growers and buyers who we had met earlier that day. She came back to our table 20 minutes later very excited, as she met some of our industry trade press who might write a story about her.

That’s the way it should be at a trade show or any social event. Always maximizing the opportunities for your organization.

But the final, and possibly most important part of this story? The key follow-up that happens when you get back to the office! We’ve been pumping out emails and thank you notes since we got back.

Try it sometime!

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