Produce Marketing Association’s Fresh Summit is the leading produce expo in the United States where the latest trends, innovation, and cutting edge technology mingle and explode (in the very best way possible, like MIND.BLOWN.)
This post is sponsored by the Produce Marketing Association through Kitchen PLAY. All opinions are my own. You can check out #TeamFreshSummit on Twitter and Instagram to see all the tasty things we discovered and shared with our readers.
Fresh Summit is my candy store. From the moment I sit down at the State of the Industry brunch to the last second when I drag myself from the expo floor after 2 days of nonstop walking, talking, sampling, and learning, I am in produce heaven. Here’s just a glimpse of my trip to New Orleans for Fresh Summit 2017 from October 18-21.
Fresh Summit Sensory Experience Contest
This year our team was invited to be the judges for the first ever bloggers’ choice awards for the Fresh Summit Sensory Experience Contest. It was fun to see what different brands were doing to innovate produce-centric snacking in ways that are kid-friendly. Here are just a few of the dishes we sampled. Would you make any of these snacks for your kids (or grandkids)?
Good Foods Mardi Gras Spring Roll
Zespri Kiwi Frui-shi
Crunch Pak Apple Rings Flatbread
Black Gold Farms Thai Red Potato Summer Roll
DelFrescoPure Mini Cucumber Strawberry Boats
Let’s hit the Fresh Summit Expo floor for days 2 and 3.
The Fresh Summit expo floor is where you can see, try, and taste all the innovation of the produce industry. From seeing machinery in action to tasting the newest flavors in produce, you never stop learning something new on the expo floor.
But first things first. Fresh Summit is about connecting people. Building relationships. Frieda’s Specialty Produce stripped down their booth to focus on just that this year. While I missed the bright colors of the produce they usually bring, I love the focus on relationships.
My first stop on the expo floor was HBF International. Not only were they our team’s sponsor, but I needed to catch up with my friend Lori who works at the company ASAP. We were hoping to catch up on her side of the country on our road trip but Gmail kicked her emails to spam and I caught them too late. So sad! That being said, I was happy to get to chat with her and find out what’s new in HBF world. Have you gotten the opportunity to try their kiwi berries yet? And guess what?! It’s cranberry season. My favorite season.
Another favorite stop is always Avocados from Mexico. They had a full 2 days of fun at their booth this year. Not only do they have this quick tutorial on avocados, but they also had a mini chef lineup and avocado vending machine where you placed your order and an avocado appetizer or lunch dish popped out. The lines were long, especially around lunchtime, and I had places to see and people to chat with so I didn’t stand in line but it looked like so much fun.
I also caught up with my friend Erik Patrick, aka @cherrydude. You may remember that PMA Fresh Summit 2016 is where our epic New England to Pacific Northwest Road Trip was born when I had a conversation with him on the expo floor. Hey, what did I say? Connections and relationships at Fresh Summit!
I met James Michael, the Vice President of Marketing, N. America Northwest Cherry Growers and Washington State Fruit Commission, who coordinated our visit to the peach orchards and packing shed this summer, and caught up with the folks at Rainier Fruit who took us on this great tour of their blueberry fields and packing shed.
I was excited to see what’s trending right now with easy steamable bags of produce and saute kits being hot items. I love how the produce industry is making fresh produce more convenience-driven and easy for busy families to put together. Be watching for great new products from Fresh Express, Mann’s Vegetables, and Eat Smart among many others.
Of course I couldn’t skip a visit to Melissa’s Produce where I saw what’s new in the world of specialty produce and chatted about my Moms’ Souper Night event, which I just hosted. We chatted about the event for a bit and they ended up sending me most of the produce we needed for the party.
And I couldn’t skip a stop at Litehouse Foods to see what new things they are up to these days. They are steadily expanding their lines of dressings but they also have new cheese crumble shakers that I am watching for at my grocery stores. They also provide dressing in bulk and individual sizes for companies through their foodservice line. And if you haven’t used their Instantly Fresh herb lineup, they are always in my spice cupboard. You can find them in the produce department of many grocery stores across the country.
Another quick stop was at the SUN-MAID booth where I discovered they now have “sour” raisins in lemon, watermelon, and strawberry. I brought one of each home for the kids to try. We’ve decided if you can have sour candy, why not sour raisins? Not something for daily consumption, perhaps, but definitely a fun treat.
No visit to the Fresh Summit floor would be complete without a stop at Mucci Farms. They sponsored #TeamFreshSummit the first year I was on the team and I got to work at their booth for a bit. Is there any better combo than tomato + basil + fresh mozzarella?
And finally, the food in New Orleans.
I have to admit I didn’t have beignets. I’m still sad about that but there simply wasn’t time. I did have so much other fantastic food though and I’m about to share a bit of that with you. I hope it’s not a case of “pictures or it didn’t happen” because I didn’t get pictures of everything.
The evening we arrived I checked in at the Royal St .Charles Hotel, a boutique hotel in a restored bank building just outside the French Quarter, then met up with part of the team at Lüke, a John Besh restaurant. We had fantastic seats near the kitchen. Can’t beat being able to watch them prep food.
I ordered the ricotta gnocchi, which completely spoiled me for gnocchi anywhere else. It almsot melted in my mouth. I followed that up with their version of shrimp and grits, which the server said he felt were the best in NOLA without bias. I think he had a bit of bias there but I didn’t have a chance to compare any other local shrimp and grits, but I’ve had better outside NOLA.
The second night I had the opportunity to enjoy dinner at New Orleans Creole Cookery with the people over at Vidalia Onions where I got a sneak peak at their new logo. You can check it out here. Isn’t it cool how the onion logo forms a ‘v’ and ‘o’? They’re in stores across the country but if you’re one of my favorite ALDI shoppers you may recognize their Vidalia label already, or recognize the Bland Farms name, who I also met there.
Do you use Vidalia Onions? One of the featured dishes of the meal was onion rings made with Vidalia Onions. Mmmm! I also had Crab Cakes Napoleon, not to be mistaken for crab cakes. I misunderstood what I was ordering, thinking I had ordered regular crab cakes. I’m not a huge fan of heavy breading so it wasn’t my favorite dish but I’m a poor person to listen to since it isn’t my thing. I can say it had a nice amount of crab sandwiched in-between the layers.
The final evening I was there I was invited to dinner at Compère Lapin with Litehouse Foods, Fresh Express, and NatureSweet. Everyone had a lovely time getting to know each other over a delicious meal. I especially enjoyed the curried goat with sweet potato gnocchi. Usually the dish is served with cashews, which they skipped for me. I’m sensing a gnocchi theme here. I think I need to try my hand at homemade gnocchi. Yum! And, I have no pictures of this meal. It was really good from start to finish.
To finish out the evening I met up with part of my team at Borgne to finish out the evening with this deconstructed key lime pie. I need to go back to NOLA just for this dessert.
Fresh Summit in conclusion.
While traveling can be exhausting, being immersed in the produce world for several days – from learning to eating to talking – renews me and excites me to keep doing what I do – sharing food that builds community around our tables and even along the road. More often than not that food includes the bright fresh flavors and colors of produce. How can it not? We have so much available right in our grocery stores.