Hillary Rodham Clinton Headlines Busy United Fresh Show in Chicago
The aisles of the United Fresh 2014 show were filled with a cornucopia of mouth-watering produce , eye-popping booths, bright colors and plenty of people on the first day of the show’s opening this week at Chicago’s McCormick Place.
Attendees had the opportunity to try out Pom Wonderful’s new flavorful juices and every kind of guacamole imaginable from different growers, while also taking in education on and off the showfloor, hearing high-profile speakers such as former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and networking at places like Chicago’s Millennium Park.
Timed with the release of her book “Hard Choices”, Clinton kicked the show off in front of a packed theater and talked about her nearly 1 million miles traveled as secretary of state, her greatest successes and regrets and her eagerness to become a first-time grandmother in the fall.
In a sit-down Q&A with Stewart Resnick, founder of Pom Wonderful and Wonderful Pistachios, he asked Clinton if she was going to run for president.
She laughed and told the crowd, “If I ever decide to do it, I’ll let you all be the first to know.”
Rainy skies didn’t keep attendees from heading over to the opening party at Millennium Park afterward to feast on Chicago delicacies and enjoy some local music.
This year was a good one for a show that’s gone through several iterations during the past decade, including being a part of a five-show collocation, aptly called Power of Five, then going it alone for a few years, reteaming with FMI Connect on a biannual and now annual basis and moving to a few cities in between.
Even with all the changes, John J. Toner V, vice president, convention and industry relations at United Fresh Produce Association, said attendance at the 2014 show was on pace with when United Fresh was held in San Diego with 4,500 attendees, a real feat since 50 percent of its members come from California.
“For Chicago, it’s huge, really unbelievable,” he added, “There is a real recommitment from our membership.”
With FMI Connect added in, total pre-registration was at 12,000, which was 3,500 higher than the last comparable collocation year when American Meat Institute also was in the mix and total attendance with all three shows was 12,000.
This year’s United Fresh showfloor grew to 72,000 net square feet, with 330 exhibitors.
Leland Wong, who oversees marketing for Sunkist Growers, said his company has been on the United Fresh showfloor “forever”.
He added, “This is our connection with our customers. Hopefully, we can leave a positive impression with a lot of attendees.”
Wong said the company, with a 25’x25’ booth at the show, had new packaging and products for attendees to check out, and there was fresh, green juice and orange pesto samples to taste as well.
Jeff Schultz, an attendee who works for Hollywood Markets based in Troy, Mi., said he was at the show for the first time to scout new products, adding, “We’re really looking for different, unique packaging.”
Keeping attendees on the showfloor and creating new opportunities at the show were strategies behind launching a new area called the “Expert Consultation Center”, according to Toner.
He said they wanted to make the showfloor more engaging. They knew a lot of consultants came to the show and attendees often had problems they needed to resolve, so why not set up a place for those conversations to take place?
Consultants were charged a small fee to set up a table, and there were hard wall meeting rooms right on the showfloor if they wanted to take private meetings.
“It’s set up for people who need help,” Toner said, adding that it was the first year, so they were in wait-and-see mode to see how it went.
Scott Turner, president of Denver-based Turner Consulting Group that focuses on warehouse logistics, said he decided to sign up as an expert in the new area to meet potential clients.
“We wanted to be in front of a community that needs our assistance,” he added.
Also in an effort to make keep attendees on the floor, there were several major produce brands, such as Ready-pac, that opted out of a big exhibit presence to instead be in another area of the showfloor where they could sit down with buyers in a setting without anyone seeing products that weren’t introduced to market yet.
“These brands are often innovators in their space, and they do not want to show their products in public,” Toner said. “(Also), the vice president of produce for Kroger will spend three times more time on the showfloor because there are private meeting rooms.”
Next year’s show will be back in Chicago and have a new partner – the International Floriculture Expo – which will add another 70,000 net sq. ft. to the collocated United Fresh and FMI Connect shows.
An indication that this year’s show in Chicago was received well, Toner said, on the first day the showfloor opened, “2015 exhibit sales are already up over last year.”