Although regional produce conferences have a broader reach than their namesake areas, there’s something about keeping it local, simple and intimate that appeals to participants.
That’s how Lauren Mordasky, owner-operator of Vermont Hydroponic Produce, Florence, Vt., feels about the New England Produce Council’s Produce, Floral & Food Service Expo, Sept. 18-19, at Hynes Convention Center in Boston.
“We’ve been part of the NEPC, oh gosh, 10 or 12 years, and we’ve had a booth the last 6 to 8 years. We get to connect with all our Northeast buyers,” Mordasky said.
“Everyone makes the rounds, says ‘hi.’ It’s more intimate.”
This is the expo’s 20th anniversary, which will have a floral segment double the size of 2018’s event, NEPC executive director Laura Sullivan said. There may be more than 160 exhibitor booths, about 20 more than last year.
The first day begins in the afternoon with educational seminars featuring Tony Tantillo, “The Fresh Grocer” TV personality and food editor broadcast on CBS affiliates nationwide.
Born in Sicily, Tantillo grew up assisting his father at southern San Francisco wholesale markets. He partnered in a namesake restaurant and runs a Tantillo company selling Italian pastas and other foods.
Several years after moving to New York City in 2000, he was a spokesman for Hunts Point Produce Terminal Market in the Bronx.
“We think that he’ll give an educational, entertaining produce presentation, talking about where we are now and peek into the future of produce,” Sullivan said.
Then there’s an invitation-only VIP reception at the Top of the Hub for sponsors and Career Pathways program participants — area university students chosen to participate in the conference’s activities plus bonus mentorship, networking and field experiences. A cocktail reception in the same venue for everyone follows.
Top of the Hub is a lounge and restaurant in the Prudential tower 52 floors above Boston’s Back Bay with iconic skyline views.
The expo planning committee also chose this venue because it’s walking distance from the convention, so transportation won’t be an issue, Sullivan said.
The second day starts with a keynote breakfast led by Rich Dachman, former vice president of produce for Sysco Corp., where he retired from in June after 28 years.
His “Are you truly committed to the produce industry?” talk will focus on what foodservice really is and “how our industry affects our health,” Sullivan said.
“It’s like, here we are in the produce industry, but do we practice what we preach? Do we consume the fruits and vegetables that we’re encouraging everybody else to?” Sullivan said.
Dachman began his career at his father’s produce distribution company, Perry Produce Co., in Denver, and they later opened foodservice broadliner Westman Commission Co., a Kraft company.
He was president of FreshPoint Operating Cos. in several cities. When Sysco acquired FreshPoint in 2000, he was appointed senior vice president of the western region and later promoted to vice president of produce.
In 2010, The Packer named Dachman as its Foodservice Achievement Award recipient. He was the inaugural recipient of the Produce Marketing Association Center for Growing Talent’s Jay Pack Cultivating Our Future Award in 2018.
But Dachman isn’t taking it easy since retiring from Sysco two months ago.
He’s now the CEO for Brighter Bites, a nonprofit that focuses on feeding under-privileged elementary school children fresh produce.
“I will be able to continue working with my colleagues in the produce industry, but in a way that enriches underserved communities around the country. Who could ask for a better job?” Dachman said in a July 15 article in The Packer.
Lastly, there’s the NEPC expo. The exhibit hall opens 9:30 a.m. to 4 p.m., highlighting the products and services of suppliers of produce and floral.
At 1 p.m., there’s a special lunch for floral professionals, led by Becky Roberts, director of floral, new initiatives and volunteer leadership at the Produce Marketing Association.
“She’s on the cutting edge of what’s coming in the floral world,” Sullivan said.
“The luncheon is a way to give some value back to floral segment of the show. There’s so much that pertains to produce. We did it last year for the first time, and I really feel like it’s been well-received — proven with the doubling this year.”
Some stores have the same buyers for both floral and produce, and expo planners thought there was some crossover, she said.
“To be honest with you, it just beautifies the show. The floral exhibitors, like the produce exhibitors, they go all out, put time and effort into a great display.”
Attendees can expect a growing list of buyers from large regional retailers and foodservice, as well as independent stores.
Otherwise, the show is over by 4. Other years, the expo has involved more days and events, and sometimes local field trips. But people like it simple, Sullivan said.
“A lot of the feedback we get is that people like that it’s a short event, so we stopped trying to stretch it out,” she said.
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