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NEPC celebrates 20 years

This year marks the 20th anniversary of the New England Produce Council’s annual Produce, Floral & Foodservice Expo, which regularly attracts more than 1,000 produce movers and shakers in the region.

“We are really excited to celebrate out 20th anniversary and 20 went by so fast,” said Laura Sullivan, NEPC’s executive director. “We have a great lineup as far as speakers and a great presence on the exhibit floor.”2019-Expo-Logo

The 2019 NEPC event will be held Sept. 18 and 19 at the Hynes Convention Center in Boston, and the turnout is expected to be one of the largest ever.

“The show has grown since last year both with exhibits and attendees and we’re really excited about what’s to come this year,” Sullivan said. “We have full support of retailers, even some from outside the New England area.”

The floral segment of the show has doubled in size since 2018, as the committee has worked diligently to increase the presence at the Expo. The floorplan needed to be reworked a few times to accommodate everyone exhibiting, but Sullivan noted that’s a small price to pay for bringing in so many great people to the show.

“We’ll have some special celebrations that will take place throughout the two days to honor the 20th,” Sullivan said. “There will be a Top of the Hub Expo reception on the 18th and there are some special things planned for that, and there will also be some celebration on the show floor throughout the days.”

The Expo will get underway on the 18th with an educational session by TV personality Tony Tantillo, known for his “Fresh Grocer” segments on newscasts around the country.

“He’s had a life-long presence in the produce industry,” Sullivan said. “I’m sure he will have a very entertaining and informative session, and everyone is looking forward to what he’s going to deliver.”

Another speaker is Becky Roberts, a floral expert with PMA, who will be delivering a presentation at the floral luncheon on the day of the show.

A third speaker will be Rich Dachman, former vice president of produce for Houston-based Sysco Corp., who currently serves as chief executive officer for the non-profit Brighter Bites, which focuses on feeding under privileged elementary school children fresh produce.

“He will be giving a lot of insight on the food service side of things and talk about the produce industry in general,” Sullivan said. “Everyone is really excited about what he has to convey.”

Since the Top of the Hub is close by the Hynes Convention Center, it makes getting there for the nighttime reception easy for attendees and Sullivan expects great attendance and start the Expo off on a great note.

“This is a true regional show. We don’t try to compete with the national shows. We stay true to our mission and focus on New England and a little bit of the Northeast region,” Sullivan said.

“We are fortunate that we do have some retailers who travel a little bit further away. We are able to keep our costs low and are probably one of the least expensive shows you are going to find. We are very welcoming and want everyone to come.”

What Sullivan has discovered from past shows is many times, those retailer employees who don’t normally get an opportunity to hit a larger trade show will head to NEPC and experience the show.

“It gets them out of their routine and they really enjoy it, and get to see some great products that are out there,” she said. “These are the people on the frontline selling the product to the consumer, so it makes a lot of sense to educate these produce managers about these products.”

Many of the attendees enjoy going to network and talk about what’s happening in the industry with fellow produce workers. The NEPC fosters that networking through the evening reception.

“It sets the tone for the event and allows everyone to relax and talk,” Sullivan said. “Then the day of the show, people can get some more face time and connect even more. That makes for a great show.”

This year, the Center for Growing Talent partners once again with the NEPC, and will offer a tour and match students up with produce professionals.

“Some of these students have graduated and pursued a career in the produce industry, with some of the credit going to this program,” Sullivan said. “It’s a great way to foster growth in the produce industry.”