Now in its fifth year, the Viva Fresh Expo has outgrown its “small regional tradeshow” moniker to become one of the season’s favorite produce gatherings, bringing together all components of the industry to one terrific venue, the JW Marriott Hill Country Resort and Spa in San Antonio, TX, for a packed three days.
Bringing the Lower Rio Grande Valley into focus as “emerging trade corridor and production zone,” Texas International Produce Association-hosted Viva Fresh continues to draw multi-national attendees and exhibitors, and the onion industry is well-represented again this go. Considering last year’s expo saw a 140 percent jump over 2018, we surmise 2019 will again be a good opportunity for our favorite produce item to shine.
Inroads can be made with supermarket retailers, produce directors/buyers/specialists, foodservice operators/distributors, category managers/merchandisers and brokers and buyers. Onion industry reps among the nearly 170 exhibtors include Stella Farms at Booth 97, Val Verde Vegetable at booth 114, Wada Farms at Booth 144, Rio Fresh at Booth 70, Eagle Eye Produce at Booth 23, Frontera Produce at Booth 39, Shuman Farms at Booth 146, Peri & Sons Farms at Booth 134, South Tex Organics at Booth 30 and Onions 52 at Booth 96. Volm Cos. is at Booth 12.
From start to finish, this 2019 event promises to shine, with the ballyhooed Viva Fresh Open held Thursday, April 25, on both the Oaks and Canyons courses, immediately adjacent to the JW Marriott. Hill Country Resort & Spa grounds. It’s a wildly popular event, and both courses will feature a Best Ball Scramble tournament format, with 1st & 2nd place teams for gross and net scores for both courses. Following the tourney there’ll be a 19th Hole Celebration.
Leading up to the great networking/friendly competition dished up at the golf tourney, Viva Fresh will provide an inside look at the three-year-old, 240,000-square foot San Antonio Wholesale Produce Market with two tours set for Thursday.
Friday’s highlights include intriguing educational sessions, starting with Dr. Martin Wiedmann delivering “Steps to Prevent A National Food Safety Crisis.” His presentation looks at last year’s outbreak involving romaine that “cleared shelves across the country right before Thanksgiving.” This session will include a dialogue on how the produce industry can minimize a national food safety crisis with improved tools – like reduced hold wait times by improving speed of traceability, better record keeping, integrated systems and industry collaboration.
The second morning session is “What do Game of Thrones & digital engagement have to do with online food purchases?” featuring Steve Lerch, international speaker and digital consultant. Lerch, a former Google exec, will examine the influence digital media has over food and beverage purchases (spoiler alert: 31 percent of all F&B sales were influenced by digital media, $13 billion in a $43 billion industry).
In his luncheon keynote, celebrity Chef Seamus Mullen will explain the “The Transformative Power of Fresh” by drawing from his own near-death experience caused by an the rheumatoid arthritis he’d had for years. The episode brought about a change in the way Chef Seamus cooked both for himself at home for his patrons at his restaurants. He is an award-winning New York chef, cookbook author and health and wellness expert who opened his first solo restaurant Tertulia, a finalist for the James Beard Foundation Award for Best New Restaurant, in Manhattan in 2011, and in 2013 he opened El Colmado at Gotham West Market in New York’s Hell’s Kitchen.
He was named “Chef of the Year” by Time Out New York and has been named a semi-finalist for Best Chef NYC by the James Beard Foundation three years in a row. In 2017 Chef Seamus released his second cookbook “Real Food Heals: Eat to Feel Younger + Stronger Every Day.”
The afternoon sessions commence with “Geisinger’s Approach to Food as Medicine,” featuring Michelle Ann Passaretti, MSN/RN/CCM and senior director of innovations for the Geisinger’s Steele Institute for Health Innovation. Looking at “The Fresh Food Farmacy – Making Patients Healthy Consumers,” Passretti will examine the availability of fresh food for patients, using wellness within the definition of interventional medicine and helping high-risk patients adopt healthy eating practices. She’ll address “food as medicine” in research, explaining how healthy eating can combat high obesity rates and diabetes to those in most need.
Another afternoon session looks at “Politics or Parity – A Discussion of the Tomato Suspension Agreement,” with the United States having announced its “intent to withdraw from the long-standing Tomato Suspension Agreement with Mexico.” The program states, “Both U.S. and Mexico growers have opinions about the possible reasons and realities of this situation and many U.S. growers find themselves embroiled in an international issue that affects their businesses on both sides of the border. Some say it’s only about free and fair, others say it’s more about politics. Join industry insiders for a discussion on the merits of the Tomato Suspension Agreement and what it means for shippers on both sides of the border, as well as customers and consumers.” The ramifications extend beyond tomatoes.
Friday will see the “Aggies for Fresh Reception” and other evening receptions. Saturday kicks off with the Gateway to Innovation Showcase, which will run all day outside the exhibit ballroom. There will also be demos prior to the expo hall opening at 11:30 a.m. – and lunch will be served during the expo in the exhibit ballroom. There’s even a happy hour on the floor during the afternoon.