Synergy: Working Together to Promote Produce Consumption

Originally printed in the January 2023 issue of Produce Business.

A record groundswell of produce industry titans and innovative change agents joined forces in New York City in late 2022 with an urgent imperative to increase produce consumption. The 13th annual New York Produce Show & Conference, with meetings beginning on November 29 and ending December 2nd, with the one-day trade show centered at the Jacob Javits Center on Dec. 1, packed in a multifaceted week.

Movingly, this year’s show took on a bittersweet significance. Devastated by the death of show founder Jim Prevor Nov. 7, the global industry chose to triumph and go forth, swathed in the spirit of Prevor’s vision, explains Ken Whitacre, publisher of Produce Business. The iconic New York Produce Show, organized by Produce Business and the Eastern Produce Council, drew more than 5,000 attendees over the course of four days.

Known for its intimate, high-level networking, this year’s show ushered in the largest percentage of buyers to non-buyers, a 50/50 split, says Whitacre, making it a bustling treasure of leading retailers, foodservice operators, and distributors, as well as prominent wholesalers, terminal markets and buying organizations.

An underlying theme, accompanying the focus on driving produce sales and consumption, was the vital need for synergy. Instead of divisive actions, synergistic approaches enveloped the NY show, and were interwoven into all its aspects — promoting a mutually supportive atmosphere of comradery, and the premise that the combined power of a group working together is greater than the total power achieved by each entity working separately.

Also this year, the award-winning venue broadened its educational programming across platforms.

“The New York Produce Show provides an atmosphere of openness, where companies and people with differences and vulnerabilities gather to work together,” says Whitacre. “With a focus on synergy, Jim and I hoped for all layers and levels of industry members to recognize their own value of participation in the produce industry, and have a genuine understanding of how their part helps achieve the vision.”

That vision included the exclusive, pre-show Foundational Excellence program, organized by Cornell University and honed for executives with five years or less experience in the industry; and the esteemed Global Trade Symposium, curated this year by Gustavo Yentzen of The Yentzen Group to gather diverse leaders from around the world to gain in-depth knowledge of international markets, and network to meet challenges and opportunities.

Fittingly held in Manhattan, home of the United Nations, the show hosted thought-provoking speakers and sparked lively panel debates and smart Q&A exchanges that lingered long after the show’s close.

The Produce Business Rising Star 40 Under 40 awards event honored exceptional young industry leaders, followed by the opening night cocktail reception. At the popular affair, an elbow-to-elbow crowd connected in a shared tribute to Prevor.

The Keynote Breakfast, Dec. 1, kicked off show day with a bang. The Thought Leader Panel, an illustrious group of female retail executives, confronted the slumping produce consumption crisis head on with the charge, Consumption: Let’s Work Together!

Higher intake has the potential to significantly improve individual health and well-being, the experts discussed, as they shared insights on programs and partnerships to reach consumers.

Marching on from the Keynote Breakfast, EPC board members and dignitaries cut the ribbon to welcome participants into the trade show hall, where more than 300 exhibiting companies greeted produce buyers, consumer media, educators, students, and a host of other stakeholders involved in the fresh produce industry.

Adding to the action on the trade show floor, attendees relished the launch of the new Industry Insights stage. This stage featured back-to-back, dynamic panel discussions, enjoining key players on critical topics, stirring problem-solving debate, spirited Q&A, and new business contacts. This complemented the customary Market Research stage, where renowned university researchers shared their latest findings.

Throughout show week, a University Interchange Program let top students participate in a mentored education program and nab extraordinary exposure to the industry.

The New York Produce Show also hosted an invitation-only media luncheon, educating scores of influential consumer and social media influencers.

While retail and foodservice supply chains are often divergent, trends in foodservice can foreshadow what happens in retail. So the New York Produce Show puts it front and center. Top NYC chefs whipped up exciting demos of their innovative produce dishes on the trade show floor. And always a hit, culinary students from Johnson & Wales met a cook-off challenge, foraging the exhibitor booths for exotic fresh fruits and vegetables to build their creative dishes.

But the culmination for foodservice insights took place Dec. 2 at the special Ideation Fresh Foodservice Forum, held at the Midtown Manhattan Hilton, keying in on successful plant-forward menus and sustainable strategies to meet diner demands, with a diverse and distinguished group of presenters. Among the highlights was an adventurous tour with Peter Betz, director of culinary, New York Hilton.
Also Dec. 2, five concurrent produce industry tours included unique destinations, encompassing retail visits, an urban ag vertical farm tour, and the can’t-be-missed trips to the Hunts Point Produce Market and the Philadelphia Wholesale Produce Market.

Once again, The New York Produce Show made the largest one-day donation of fresh produce to City Harvest, a local food rescue organization — 78,000 pounds of nourishing fruits and vegetables, bringing the goals of the show full circle.

The New York Produce Show is a microcosm of synergy, says Whitacre. “Sometimes ideas and solutions are presented and learned in the most surprising ways, maybe at the opening night reception, or during one of our co-located events, on the show floor, or perhaps while riding a bus to or from the Javits Center or to a wholesale market or retail establishment within an industry tour.”

“Let’s keep the momentum of the past 13 shows going and capitalize on the collective good, on the value of our many parts contributing and achieving. Let’s work together!”

The 2023 New York Produce Show and Conference will be held Dec. 5-7.