CHICAGO - United's Produce Expo & Conference next month will showcase a bumper crop of new convenient products aimed at the retail and food-service industries.
Once again, United will keep company with the Food Marketing Institute, All Things Organic, the Fancy Food Show and the U.S. Food Export Showcase. Combined, the five shows will attract an audience expected to hit 30,000, about the same as last year's estimated turnout.
Bringing the shows together under one roof has caused a change in the demographics of show-goers, said Tom Stenzel, president of the Washington-based United Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Association.
"We're getting more and more food-service people to attend the show," Stenzel said. "A few years ago, it was the supermarket show. Now it's bigger than that. For three days in Chicago, you can go to the produce show, the FMI show, Fancy Food show, Organic show. We're all sitting there side by side.
"It's making it a very convenient place for retail or food service or anyone looking for new food ideas," he said.
The biggest changes at United's show will be found at the exhibitors' booths. New packaged products aimed at busy, on-the-go consumers will be showcased. Interestingly, many of the new items developed for supermarkets and other food retailers look like they belong on restaurant menus, Stenzel said.
"You can go to a supermarket and buy a salad with ham and cheese," he said. "It's really competing with the food-service segment."
Much of the show's format will remain the same. On the education side, the highlights will include a keynote address from Bill Moran, chief executive officer and founder of Save-A-Lot, the limited-assortment banner now operated by Supervalu. Moran is expected to comment on the competitive landscape and the reality of modern food retailing.
One of last year's most popular sessions will be repeated, this time with a new cast of characters. A panel of retail produce department managers, all finalists in this year's United Retail Produce Manager Award program, will offer merchandising strategies and observations on consumer behavior during a 45-minute program.
The finalists were selected from a pool of more than 200 nominees, Stenzel said. This is the second year of United's awards program that honors exceptional store-level managers.
Hotly contested in the nation's capital, immigration reform and its impact on the industry will be covered in a session moderated by Robert Guenther, vice president of public policy for United.
Other sessions will touch on changes in food safety regulations, industry innovations designed to improve profitability, transportation challenges and the changing retail landscape.