CHICAGO -- It won't be business as usual at the United Fresh Fruit & Vegetable Association's annual convention this year.
For starters, United will kick off the show with a keynote address from Brian Cornell, Safeway's executive vice president and chief marketing officer. The presentation by a senior-level retailing executive is a departure for United, and a sign the trade group continues to evolve to serve its 1,000 member companies more effectively. In his talk, Cornell will discuss the role fresh produce can play in the future of food retailing.
Bringing top-level retailers in touch with produce industry movers and shakers is a priority for Tom Stenzel, United's president and chief executive officer. After all, executives at consumer packaged goods companies have had tight relationships with top food retailing executives for years. Stenzel thinks produce company officials could benefit greatly from the same kind of exposure, so lately, he has focused more attention on recruiting the top brass at supermarket chains to speak at United's conferences. The meetings give produce suppliers a look at the big picture of food retailing, a broader view of what retailers need from their vendors and, it is hoped, foster stronger, more profitable relationships.
"The Krafts, Kelloggs and Cokes, they've really reached out to the supermarket industry for many, many years," Stenzel told SN. "Produce has been left off on our own. It's more challenging. As we try to refocus supermarkets on sales and profitability, we need the top executives of produce talking with the top executives of supermarkets.
"Our members are used to the produce buyers," he continued. "We said we wanted someone who could speak to the supermarket industry side, where might produce fit within that. That's a different type of education for our members. If they understand more about the supermarket industry challenges, they can be better suppliers."
Officials at United also revamped the education component of the show. For the first time, United will group seminars following a system of three tracks -- the international trade, retail marketing, and food safety and security tracks -- to provide better continuity for show-goers. Seminars will begin at the conclusion of Cornell's morning presentation Saturday, April 30.
A new session will address a perennial challenge -- increasing consumption -- that's taken on greater importance with the release of the 2005 Dietary Guidelines. People on 2,000-calorie diets were advised to eat about 4 1/2 cups of fruits and vegetables daily, under the guidelines. United's session, dubbed, "Marketing to a Junk Food Nation -- Can We Really Double Produce Consumption to Meet Government's New Dietary Recommendations?" will give retailers tips for capitalizing on the government's recommendations.
More ideas for boosting sales at store level will be offered up by a panel of top-notch retail produce managers who will speak at the retail marketing conference on the opening day of the show. The 12 managers are the first group to be recognized for outstanding work under United's 2005 Retail Produce Manager Award program, established this year to recognize managers for outstanding efforts to increase produce consumption through merchandising, special displays and promotions, community service and commitment to customer satisfaction.
The winners were chosen by a United committee whose members received about 100 applications from supermarkets and produce companies from around the country.
In past years, wholesalers and growers have been tapped to be the recognized, keynote speaker at United's Reception Honoring Women in Produce. This year, for the first time, a retailer will be recognized at the reception on Sunday, May 1.
Jennifer Tenney, produce merchandiser, Great Lakes Division of the Kroger Co., will be the honored speaker at the networking function, established 10 years ago to honor women in the produce industry. The reception is one of the show's most popular events, with men and women, officials said.
Tenney began her career with the company in 1984 as a management trainee in the company's Cincinnati/Dayton division. She's held several operating and merchandising positions within the company. Tenney was promoted to her present position in 2003.
United Produce Expo & Conference
When: April 30-May 3
Where: McCormick Place, Chicago
Who: 250 exhibitors and an estimated 25,000 attendees
What Else: The United show will be held in conjunction with the FMI Show, All Things Organic, Fancy Food Show and U.S. Food Export Showcase, which will take place in nearby convention halls.