"Produce is all about relationships."
If you’ve been in the industry long enough, chances are you’ve heard that phrase spoken by a mentor or a colleague. If you ask me, that phrase’s meaning is never more clear than when you look at a gathering like the Canadian Produce Marketing Association’s (CPMA) Annual Convention and Trade Show. Both intimate enough to create meaningful connections with industry members and with the community-focus to build a coalition with Canada’s thriving agriculture industry, CPMA’s convention is a unique breed of a networking opportunity. And when I talk to Association President Ron Lemaire, it’s easy to expect that this year’s show in Calgary will be no different from its predecessors.
“We’ve always aimed at hosting a boutique-style event where you are together with the community, the exhibitors, the delegates, all the way to the retail participants,” Lemaire tells me when I ask him what makes the association’s event so distinct. “Produce is absolutely about relationships, and CPMA’s convention structure is built so that participants are engaged in all the elements so that they have as many opportunities to connect as possible and make business.”
From new convention timing and new pilot programs, to the scheduling of Keynote speaker and business virtuoso Arlene Dickinson, it seems as if CPMA is doubling down on its commitment to cultivate those connections, as well.
For the first time since the convention’s inception, the trade show will be shifting from its typical Wednesday to Friday format, to a mid-week Tuesday to Thursday design. This strategic move is something CPMA’s leadership refers to as a response to cater to the growing demographic of younger produce industry professionals who are aiming for a better work-life balance. This comes with the added benefit of fostering the attendance of foodservice professionals—another sector of growing importance in the produce industry.
Perhaps the most radical improvement to CPMA 2016’s lineup, however, is not the new time but a first-of-its-kind pilot program that puts registered dietitians closer than ever to the industry that provides the food they so expertly recommend.
On the Thursday before the convention’s close, CPMA will be hosting a special seminar for dietitians hosted by Carol Dombrow, RD. This session will be free to dietitians in the Calgary area and will serve to educate and share best practices when it comes to encouraging the consumption of fruits and vegetables. The dietitians will finish the day with free time on the trade show floor to meet with the industry and network.
“Dietitians are beginning to play a bigger role in Canada at both retail and the public health level,” Lemaire continues as I press him for the details. “There is a great disparity of knowledge within the dietitian community, not about the nutrient value of the fruit and veg products, but about what it takes to get produce to the store. Right now, dietitians are far removed from the farm and production processes, so we’re asking ourselves, ‘How do we re-engage those dietitians so they are better informed to talk about things like GMOs, organics, trends in the market, what's new and innovative—a range of elements that introduce the industry to the dietician, as well as introducing the dietitian to the industry.’ We will be taking a small group into our fold this year in Calgary and expect it to expand from here as we go to Toronto and beyond.”
CPMA is no stranger to innovative solutions to engage those less-than-optimally-developed sectors of the produce industry either. Now in its fourth year and its first time in Calgary, the association’s two Retail Produce Manager Sessions are brimming with key local produce professionals.
These sessions are free, and offer key insights into innovations in produce and how to continuously demonstrate value to customers.
“We want to go beyond just the buying part of the business, but also into stores directly,” Lemaire explains. “Four years ago we introduced our Retail Produce Manager Sessions as a key piece in answering the question, ‘How do we educate the front lines of the industry that are directly involved with the consumers?’ Our new session for dietitians is absolutely an extension of that.”
And if it’s not relationships CPMA is fostering, it’s certainly education, as you can probably already glean from the association’s instructive programs. An essential part of that educational component being the selection of a keynote speaker. Vaulting off the success of last year’s Speaker, Ron Tite of Kraft, Microsoft, and Johnson & Johnson advertising fame, Lemaire tells me the addition of Canadian business powerhouse and Dragon’s Den star, Arlene Dickinson, will give the produce industry a glimpse of how to take outside business strategy and turn it into opportunities for our own success.
“Arlene is one of the foremost marketers in our country and one of the members of the Shark Tank-esque TV show, The Dragons Den,” Lemaire says. “She’s a known entity in the country, and is going to provide members with a key focus on how to build business and what makes success. With the amount of success that she’s experienced throughout her career, we think she’ll be able to share knowledge that goes beyond just produce. It’s so important for us to understand how we can bring business knowledge from outside the industry to improve how we function and how we market to consumers.”
At this point in the article, you’re probably convinced this event will be just what Lemaire says it is—“An outstanding business program and a journey into the country’s vibrant produce community.” While this will be CPMA’s final major trade show in the city of Calgary, there’s no doubt this will be one of the association’s most professionally valuable congregations yet. Don't miss an amazing final send off to the Calgary market, and a chance to cultivate the produce industry’s most valuable currency—relationships.