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Viva Fresh: It's Gonna Be "Austin"...Again!

rom United Supermarkets, Brookshire’s, and H-E-B, to Ahold and Whole Foods, the Viva Fresh 2017 program is well underway, bringing in a breadth of retail formats from independents to national chains as the 3rd annual trade show and convention returns to Austin, Texas. Slated for April 20–22, 2017 at the Austin Convention Center and Hilton Hotel, this event cultivates an intimate trade show environment with a buyer-to-supplier ratio that has lifted the Viva Fresh event to the top of the convention list. In just two short years, the expo has catered to sold out exhibitor space and hotels, and increased buyer attendance by over 70 percent.   

Hugh Topper, Group Vice President, H-E-BH-E-B’s Group Vice President, Hugh Topper, shared his impression of the event’s impact with me, as the show draws near, “With only two years under its belt, Viva Fresh has become a great regional show. The mix of Texas and Mexico growers makes this a true international event. The venues have been great and with the event returning to Austin this year, everyone can experience the hospitality of the capital of Texas.” 

Back by popular demand, the theme for the Viva Fresh Expo is again celebrating the “Gateway to the Americas.” It’s no secret that Texas and the Rio Grande Valley play an important economic role in the distribution of fresh produce. From 2007-2015, fruit and vegetable imports from Mexico through Texas have grown an eye-popping 107 percent, according to the Texas International Produce Association (TIPA), and in 2015, Texas crossed 210,000 truckloads, with that number expected to grow to as much as 358,000 by 2023, according to analysis by the Texas A&M Center for North American Studies. 

Joseph Bunting, Produce Business Director, The United Family®Joseph Bunting, Produce Business Director, The United Family®, joined me and discussed his excitement around 2017’s Viva Fresh, “I am again looking forward to attending the Viva Fresh show in 2017. With the show moving back to Austin, it should be a great venue right in the heart of Texas. This will be the third year United Supermarkets has attended the Viva Fresh show and we are looking forward to another great show with the opportunity to strengthen our current Texas and Mexico partnerships while developing new ones.”

It is easy to see why Austin is such an ideal locale for the event. Not only is Austin known as the live music capital of the world, but it’s also a great foodie city. In fact, Travel & Leisure named Austin one of America’s Top Cities for Foodies as part of the magazine’s reader’s survey. Downtown Austin includes a vibrant shopping, dining, and entertainment scene. The famous 6th Street Entertainment District, Warehouse District, and 2nd Street District are all located within walking distance of the Austin Hilton Hotel and the Austin Convention Center. 

Keith Durham, Certified Category Manager, Fresh Foods, Brookshire’sKeith Durham, Certified Category Manager, Fresh Foods, Brookshire’s, spoke to me about the draw of the Viva Fresh Expo, noting, “What I like about this regional show is that it is like a mini PMA. Even though it’s getting larger every year, you can still walk the show floor and spend time with companies that can add to your business,” Keith said. “The educational sessions are quick and easy to attend; not to mention, the content is very good. With our company being based in Texas, Viva Fresh gives us an opportunity to find new vendors to expand our ‘Local Grown’ community.”

With the show just months away, TIPA has also announced a new Advisory Board, made up of 13 retail and foodservice individuals, to assist in executing the Viva Fresh Expo and beyond. Advisory Board members will serve a two-year term and provide input and feedback on educational sessions, keynote speakers, and the show schedule, just to name a few of their responsibilities.

Tommy Wilkins, Director of Sales, Grow Farms Texas & Member of the Expo Steering CommitteeTommy Wilkins, Director of Sales for Grow Farms Texas and member of the Expo Steering Committee, added that the return to Austin and the entertainment options the city provides should produce some good times, as we all well remember from 2015. This year, he noted that Viva Fresh is committed to educational sessions and speakers that challenge the status quo and excite participants to drive healthier choices while promoting consumption of the crops that are grown or travel through this corridor. 

“Produce buyers have lot of choices battling for their time,” Tommy said. “We want to offer retailers an event that will give all involved a wonderful experience that is well-worth the investment. Feedback from both the buy-side and supply-side of the industry tells us that this event is the place to be.”

Bret Erickson, President & CEO, TIPA Bret Erickson, TIPA President & CEO, shared, “We know we’re doing something right when buyer attendance has nearly doubled from year-one to year-two, and nearly 100 percent of those retail and foodservice attendees report they are satisfied or very satisfied with the event, with many commenting this is one of the best events they’ve attended. Additionally, over 90 percent of all attendees report that they plan on coming back to join us
again in 2017.” 

So, what are some highlights that attendees can look forward to at Viva Fresh 2017?

The Viva Fresh committee is planning several exciting educational seminars on Friday, April 21st, with a wide range of relevant industry topics and expert speakers. This will include developing more hands-on experiential learning with actual produce displays, sampling, and showcasing products for review. 

The Friday Night Welcome Reception on April 21st, will be held at Maggie Mae’s. Serving up tunes since 1978, Maggie Mae’s is a local legend in Austin with the largest rooftop view on 6th Street and the entertainment district. This venue is also within walking distance from the Hilton Austin Hotel.

Because everything is bigger in Texas, expect more big ideas and big flavors at the 2017 Viva Fresh Expo. Mark your calendars now, as the show is already filling up fast! 

See you all at Viva Fresh 2017 in Austin, Texas!