Since the first food show I attended back in the last century, I have donned my most comfortable career gal shoes shoes and trudged up and down the aisles of industry conventions at least a few times a year. I’ve been to them as an exhibitor– sneaking up onto stepladders to hang signs before the union workers can stop me and shifting from foot-to-foot in a booth at 3:47 p.m. counting the minutes until we can break down at 5:00. I’ve been an attendee, cruising the aisles like a shark, looking for the next hot thing and alternately seeking out the people I want to meet and dodging a few I want to avoid.
This last October 18th and 19th, I attended the Produce Marketing Association
(PMA) Fresh Summit convention in Anaheim, CA. It’s huge, with over 1000 exhibitors spread over four giant halls and hosts 22,000 attendees. The show floor is so big, that you could probably run a good-sized farm in the space. You walk in and are dazzled by the architecture of the booths. I say architecture because many of them have the square footage of a decent-sized house. The samples are plentiful and mostly healthy, people are open and positive and with 60 countries represented, there is an international vibe. There is a Mexican section, Guatemalan, Argentinean, Peruvian, Dutch, Chinese, Thai and certainly many more that I missed. Where to begin?
Exhibitors in the apple business are lucky, because mid October is prime time for new crop apples in most of North America. One of the new stars this year is Autumn Glory® grown by Domex SuperFresh growers out of Yakima, WA.
You couldn’t walk three feet into the hall without one of their staffers handing you a wedge of this incredibly juicy, sweet apple. It has a light red striped skin and a mild, heirloom taste, but with firm, snappy flesh. Not too far away was a display of Envy ™apples, a New Zealand-grown variety I was already familiar with. Happily, they are now being grown in the Lake Chelan, WA area. They had been available for a short time during the summer from New Zealand and now with the Washington crop they are available in late fall as well. The Envy also has a light red striped skin and creamy-colored flesh that resists darkening. Both apples have a mild, complexly sweet flavor and an almost complete absence of tartness. Move over Fuji and Honeycrisp!
At other food shows, new companies and exhibitors are relegated to Siberia. At the PMA, one could hardly move through the ’newbie’ aisle the first day. Attendees were actively engaging in the booths to learn about new offerings. One of these new exhibitors was Volcano Produce,
a ten-year-old grower, shipper and importer of certified organic produce. They also import exotic fruits from Latin America and are the largest importers of GoldenBerries (sometimes know as Cape Gooseberries). A bona fide superfood loaded with vitamins and antioxidants, these members of the nightshade family look like tomatillos with a papery shell resembling a part-open umbrella. But that’s where the similarity ends. The fruit is bright yellow, the color of a raw, fresh egg yolk and the taste is almost indescribable. It’s tart and sweet; a bit of tomato flavor, with some blueberry and grapefruit thrown in. I observed hundreds of people walk by the booth and most happily tried this unusual fruit and gave it good reviews. There were some attendees who had made a beeline to the booth expressly to try the GoldenBerries and inquire about availability. Volcano Produce principals Toni Rodosta and Ingrid Peñuela kindly gave me samples to experiment with. GoldenBerries caramelize nicely on the griddle with shrimp, onions, mushrooms and other vegetables. They also went particularly well with chicken baked in a sauce of tangerine marmalade, ponzu sauce and sharp honey mustard. With Thanksgiving coming, I’m thinking GoldenBerries will add a whole new dimension to cranberry sauce.
A few booths down I was intrigued by a very well designed display promoting a company called Go Green Agriculture located just north of San Diego.
They are a hydroponic grower of organic spinach, butter lettuce and kale. The Millennial-aged founder, Pierre Sleiman Jr., was a self-described science and engineering geek in college with no farming experience and came up with the idea of small, sustainable organic farms on the outskirts of cities. Go Green cultivates without soil and uses 80% less water than conventional farms. Sleiman’s goal is, “To be the first national farming company with a network of small farms that grow and sell produce locally with a brand that is recognized by consumers as ultra-healthy, premium-quality and always consistent.” Right now the company is selling direct to local restaurateurs as well as specialty markets like Gelson’s, Whole Foods and Sprouts. This company seems to be onto the future of farming.
I was frequently drawn to interesting versions of familiar fruits and vegetables. For example, colorful bell peppers are nothing new, but individually wrapped? Red Sun Farms, which is a grower of greenhouse peppers, tomatoes and eggplant headquartered in Ontario, Canada, says that by wrapping the peppers individually as soon as they’re picked, shelf life is increased by several days. Not to mention this is appealing to the most fastidious shopper!
What’s more ordinary than romaine lettuce? Coastline Family Farms
is just about to bring to market burgundy romaine. It is a beautiful wine color down to the base and contains many more nutrients than regular romaine due to its high amounts of flavonoids and other antioxidants. Coastline has also come up with an interesting package for this colorful new romaine that allows it to be displayed vertically, maximizing impact on the shelf.
I saw a unique new potato called, Klondike Royale.
It’s has thin, golden yellow skin with what look like purple lipstick marks around the eyes. The flesh has a buttery flavor when baked and the skin crisps-up beautifully.
If there was a celebrity booth at the show, it was probably Babé Farms.
People were standing about six deep to take a photo of their beautiful, unique vegetables. Red, pink and purple baby carrots; golden, green and purple cauliflower; extravagantly-colored radishes, stunning chartreuse romanesco and more.
Like the Louvre in Paris or the Uffizi in Florence, it would take a week to fully absorb all there is to experience at the PMA Fresh Summit. As a foodie and industry professional, it’s encouraging to see the tremendous amounts money and resources put towards feeding us Americans well. Yes, everyone participating is in it for profit, but the result is win/win all up and down the food chain. Purple Brussels sprouts, anyone?