Featured images courtesy of Dante Galeazzi, CEO/President of TIPA
As final organizational details are buttoned down for the April 30-May 2 Viva Fresh Expo, presented by the Texas International Produce Association and set once again in the JW Marriott Hill Country Resort and Spa in San Antonio, behind-the-scenes excitement is full throttle about the show’s focus on “Clean Eating” and fresh produce from the Tex-Mex corridor.
We caught up recently with Dante Galeazzi, CEO/President of TIPA, and he told us keeping the corridor’s wide range of fresh, wholesome produce – including onions – in the public eye is numero uno. The “Clean Eating” campaign drives that nutritional message home.
“`Clean Eating’ is ALL about the fresh, and particularly fresh produce,” he said. “Too often, American consumers think of fresh produce as just a salad or a kid’s snack. It is like somewhere after the Industrial Revolution in this country, the American consumer decided fruits and vegetables were a bad thing, were too inconvenient or that they were best served as an appetizer covered in Ranch dressing. Regardless of when or how, the health of American’s has deteriorated and a lot of that change has to do with our eating habits.”
Dante continued, “We want to change those habits and those perceptions. We want people, industry and consumers alike, to see fresh produce the way we see it – for the flavor, the nutrition, and the incredible diversity. Like our Texas onions.”
He added, “Onions should be more than a garnish on a burger. During season, they should be the star of the plate. Bacon-wrapped onions and gulf shrimp kebabs with some mango pico-de-gallo salsa is an incredible Sunday afternoon dish around the BBQ, and it’s incredibly easy to make… and healthy! Hold the bacon, and it gets healthier.
But seriously, that’s what we want to convey. American consumers need not substitute flavor in search of nutrition. Fresh fruits and vegetables fit the bill, and can be the “star of the plate” – onions included!”
Tex-Mex onions are well-repped at the show, and Dante told us the show’s stable size, held at 169 booths, maintains Viva Fresh’s focus on the region and its bounty and provides great networking opportunities for attendees. He explained, “The exhibitor list has actually focused every year on making the show more about the region. The leadership committees wanted to see a Viva Fresh exhibitor floor that reflects the Tex-Mex corridor. That direction has translated in to a very selective process in regards to which companies are able to exhibit.”
And, he said, “This way, when attendees walk the show floor, they can be confident they’re going to see a good mix of the region’s fresh produce trade.”
Rather than add more floor space, he said, “…we’ve actually kept the floor size the same – 169 booths. Viva Fresh has the demand that we could increase the floor size, but we’ve purposely chosen to keep the number of exhibitors the same. This makes it possible for the show to maintain the intimate atmosphere and for show-goers to visit all the exhibitors in one day.”
In doing this, Dante said, “Viva has chosen to focus on two areas: making the exhibitor list more regional and ensuring a good mix of new companies every year. This way, the attendees who walk the floor are getting to not only see businesses from the area, but they are also seeing companies they did not see the year before.”
The mix and the fresh approach have worked, he said. “Attendance has grown every year! Last year, Viva Fresh was at just under 2,300. Where Viva Fresh has experienced the most growth has actually been in the participation of those attendees. During our first years, most attendees were only participating in the expo on Saturday. Now, we’re seeing an explosion of participation throughout all three show days. Last year, we had 240 golfers, over 700 people at the Keynote Luncheon and a packed house during the Meet & Greet Breakfast and the Welcome Reception events.” In addition, “The expo floor had very good foot traffic all the way to the closing announcement at 4 p.m.”
He emphasized the relaxed setting and intimacy of the show, saying, “For Viva Fresh, face-to-face time supersedes the number of participants. The time and relaxed atmosphere to network, visit with one another, and strength or build contacts throughout the Tex-Mex region is a cornerstone of our show planning, and having more people attend the various elements of the show means more of that is happening throughout these three days.”
The show also serves to showcase the close relationship between participants from the U.S. and Mexico.
“It is tough to say what percentage [of attendees] is international, especially since for many of us, the relationship between the U.S. and Mexico is an everyday thing. The perception of international is not as rigid as elsewhere,” he commented. “I can say, though, that we have a good mix of attendees from throughout North America – the U.S., Mexico and Canada – in attendance.”
That mix will hold again in 2020, with the “Clean Eating” theme overarching.
“Besides networking and the relaxed atmosphere of the show, another of the show’s tenets has been health and nutrition and this region’s fresh produce,” Dante said. “This year, Viva Fresh developed that tenet into the central theme and turned the focus into ‘Clean Eating.’ We started in November by getting four produce professionals from the region and putting them on a ‘Clean Eating diet,’ led by Dr. Ian Smith – medical doctor, author, TV personality – and by February the group had collectively lost over 100 pounds! One of our session speakers will be Dr. P.K. Newby, ‘The Nutrition Doctor,’ who will focus on the science behind ‘Clean Eating’ – what fruits and vegetables do for the body – and how we can market these ideas to consumers.”
And dovetailing with the science and the empirical evidence of how “Clean Eating” really works is the fact the Tex-Mex Corridor is the supermarket for needed ingredients.
“Texas is a one-stop-shop opportunity for all North American retailers when it comes to fresh produce,” Dante said. “Between what is grown in the region and what is imported, there is very little that produce buyers cannot find when it comes to the Tex-Mex corridor. Viva Fresh is really the opportunity for companies doing business in the region, or who want to learn about doing business in the region, can come to meet each other, understand the regional nuances and opportunities, and of course, find out what delicious, nutritious and health fresh fruits and vegetables this area can provide to consumers.”