Originally printed in the September 2023 issue of Produce Business.
With the summer selling season winding down, it’s time to begin working on the next great opportunity for the produce operation. Next month (October) offers an opportunity to personally connect with all aspects of the produce industry, and not just through email, P.O.’s, or text. I am referring to the industry convention organized by the International Fresh Produce Association (formerly PMA): the Global Produce & Floral Show, scheduled for Oct. 19-21 in Anaheim, CA.
This once-a-year gathering of the entire industry is a unique event for the fresh produce industry. Upper management often has a dim view of such events, as the large event for the grocery industry that was known as FMI has largely disappeared from the scene and was characterized as one big party. Management’s belief is that this event is like what they knew at FMI and would serve no purpose other than to provide time away from the job to party with friends.
I have attended this industry function for over 40 years and am convinced there is far more value in attending this event than upper management gives it credit for, once again showing “they just don’t get it!”
Contrary to upper management’s feelings on the subject, this industry gathering is not just an opportunity to get away from work for a few days, but is a unique opportunity to have access to the entire produce industry in one place. But to take full advantage of this opportunity, a retailer must carefully plan their attendance at this event. There are several key areas that must be explored to determine your best plan of action.
First, discuss and decide what you want to accomplish at this event. What exactly do you want to come away with from the convention, in terms of your operation? Do you want to develop new sources of supply? Do you want to meet new suppliers? Do you want to develop better relationships with suppliers? Do you want to see new innovations in the industry?
These are just some of the questions you need to ask yourself to prepare a complete plan of action. The IFPA show is a huge, intimidating event and one can get lost in its size and complexity without a plan. Flying by the seat of your pants is not the best way to approach your attendance at this event.
The second step to plan is determining who you want to see. What relationships do you want to improve? This will require input from your entire team and extra effort to schedule meetings with these people and their companies during the convention. Complete agendas should be prepared for these meetings to be sure to discuss all points of concern for both your operation and your supplier. Discussions and listening sessions with your vendors help you understand their motivation and develop personal relationships.
In addition to information and discoveries at the Global Produce & Floral Show, the opportunity to establish personal connections is key.
The third step deals with what commodities you want to develop and move forward. This is a key part of the agenda during your targeted meetings, but also includes listing new suppliers and making appointments with those you are presently not working with that may have potential products to add. This is a key part of developing additional capabilities for your operation and expanding your reach in the market.
The last step of your planning is to provide opportunity for discovery. This is part of the unique nature of this convention, where suppliers from around the world introduce new products, processes, and other innovations to the industry. If you are fortunate enough to have more than just one person attending, assign everyone on your team specific areas (rows) or areas of expertise to explore during their time on the show floor.
This can be the most exciting part of the convention where you can develop and discover new ideas and processes to improve your operation. However, it can become overwhelming with the overall size of the show floor, so it is a must that assignments be made to try to assign each person a doable section to explore.
The innovative retailer who approaches the IFPA show with such a well-made plan maximizes their attendance at the international trade show and will yield ongoing benefits well beyond the time spent at the convention.
But, more importantly, in this time of technology and fewer personal contacts, this gathering provides the opportunity to create personal relationships with your vendors and peers. In addition to all the information and discoveries one makes at this convention, it is the opportunity to establish and, in some cases, re-establish, the human touch to the aspects of our business.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.