Return to Normalcy (and Growth) at IFPA Show

Don Harris - Retail Perspective

Originally printed in the September 2022 issue of Produce Business.

After nearly three years of industry disruption caused by the pandemic, we go into the fall of 2022 with the possibility of returning our industry to some status of normalcy. With the COVID-19 threat receding from its peak, much of what was considered normal operations in the produce industry is beginning to return. This is highlighted by the return of large-scale gatherings in the industry and especially the return of the largest produce show in North America formerly known as Fresh Summit. The 2022 Global Floral and Produce Show will be held in Orlando, FL, Oct. 27-29.

With the merger of the two largest produce associations in the U.S., this show takes on added significance as the International Fresh Produce Association (IFPA) looks to capture the former brilliance of this gathering to help signal that return to normalcy. For the most part, upper management typically views these types of meetings as a waste of time and that they hold no real value other than a large social gathering. This attitude, which is rooted in management experience with other large retail industry meetings, shows once again that in matters pertaining to the produce industry, “they just don’t get it!”

The value of this yearly gathering is contained in the ability to observe and learn about the inner workings of the entire produce industry. The following is a closer look at some of the key things attendees can learn at this meeting, which can help provide the tools to construct a world-class produce operation.


One of the key aspects of the former Fresh Summit is the ability to view all the new products, processes, suppliers and markets that are represented on the show floor. The great challenge is to make sure you and your organization are covering all this potential information throughout this gigantic venue.

Most of the show exhibitors and vendors bring their best and brightest products, ideas, line extensions and programs to present to the industry as tools and products that can help raise the level of produce operations and provide new opportunities for sales and profit.

Initially, the size of this show floor is intimidating, but with some advance planning of how to attack the show, it can be tamed. By walking as many of the aisles as possible (or allocating specific aisles to associates), one can gather a true pulse of what is going on in the industry and emerging new trends. By working the floor in this manner, the innovative produce operator can accumulate a wealth of new ideas and concepts.

After three years of pandemic isolation, the opportunities to build relationships or reconnect with old acquaintances has value beyond estimation.


Another important aspect of this industry meeting is the opportunity to meet face-to-face with individuals you deal with on a day-to-day basis. This personal contact and relationship building has always been the cornerstone benefit of attending the show. Most commonly referred to as networking, personal interaction and the social aspect of the produce industry has always been a vital part of being successful in the produce industry.

After three years of pandemic isolation, the opportunities to build relationships or reconnect with old acquaintances has value beyond estimation. The opportunity to discuss with your acquaintances the various concerns, viewpoints, positions and potential solutions concerning the industry will have a lasting effect on your progress into this new, post-pandemic world.


The third major area of benefit is the opportunity to meet with your key vendors and suppliers to prepare strategic and cooperative planning to benefit both your organizations and utilize the opportunities available. These discussions expand the depth of mutual benefits that are available from working together to address challenges that are both common and unique to each operation.

These sessions, where developing strategies and actions are born, can help your operation raise its level of performance and enhance the ability of your suppliers and vendors to assist in the process. There is no better opportunity to engage in these high-level discussions face-to-face with your most important collaborators. Together, you can uncover potential opportunities to introduce new products, incorporate new processes and develop powerful competitive strategies to drive your operations forward. It is an absolute must that you devote a large portion of your time during your attendance to this opportunity to brainstorm.

To fully take advantage of everything this unique produce industry gathering has to offer, you must fully plan your activities in advance to gain the benefits that are available. From walking the show floor to individual, strategic supplier or vendor meetings, from discussing mutual challenges and concerns to developing solutions and processes to mutual problems, a comprehensive action plan is the key to returning to your operation with invaluable information to improve your operation.

Also, the show gives you the unique opportunity to renew and reconnect with friends in the industry and re-establish that personal bond that helps hold the produce industry together.

Don Harris is a 41-year veteran of the produce industry, with most of that time spent in retail. He worked in every aspect of the industry, from “field-to-fork” in both the conventional and organic arenas. Harris is presently consulting. Comments can be directed to