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Viva Fresh Produce Expo: Back in the Saddle

2019 ain’t the first rodeo for the organizers behind the annual Viva Fresh Expo. Now in its fifth year of hosting the event, the Texas International Produce Association (TIPA) has hit its stride and is ready to put on a show the produce industry won’t be able to ignore. Since its inception, TIPA’s dark horse expo has been steadfast in its commitment to highlight produce out of the Tex-Mex corridor. And as we gear up for the kickoff of this year’s show on April 25th at the JW Marriott Resort and Spa in San Antonio, Texas, rest assured that the folks at TIPA are champing at the bit to do it all over again.

Dante Galeazzi, President and CEO, TIPA“It’s been great knowing that our show is filling a need, connecting the supplier community from our fast-growing region with buyers all over North America,” reflects Dante Galeazzi, TIPA’s President and CEO. “Our group has received very complimentary feedback from our first four years. The growth we’ve had in such a short amount of time has been incredible. Last year, we had over 330 retail and foodservice buyers attend. That was a 110 percent increase since the expo began in 2015.”

 

Evening event at the Viva Fresh Expo 2018

 

Viva Fresh’s success is proving there was a niche in produce that needed to be filled. Texas growers are responsible for producing more than 60 specialty crops across the state and rake in nearly $90 million a year. More than $6 billion worth of fruits and vegetables were transported through the Tex-Mex corridor. Add those figures to the latest projections that Texas will account for over 50 percent of all U.S. produce imports from Mexico by 2025, and there’s little denying the staying power of the region’s importance.

"The Viva Fresh Produce Expo is a unique event that gives us access to many regional suppliers in the southwest and Mexico."

—Rich Dachman, VP of Produce, Sysco

Viva Fresh’s success is proving there was a niche in produce that needed to be filled. Texas growers are responsible for producing more than 60 specialty crops across the state and rake in nearly $90 million a year. More than $6 billion worth of fruits and vegetables were transported through the Tex-Mex corridor. Add those figures to the latest projections that Texas will account for over 50 percent of all U.S. produce imports from Mexico by 2025, and there’s little denying the staying power of the region’s importance.


Rich Dachman, Vice President of Produce, Sysco“The Viva Fresh Produce Expo is a unique event that gives us access to many regional suppliers in the Southwest and Mexico,” Rich Dachman, Vice President of Produce for Sysco explains when I ask why his buying team keeps coming back year after year. “We are provided with opportunities to forge new relationships and strengthen our existing networks with many of our national suppliers—both of which help us to provide our customers with high-quality produce. Overall, we get great value from the show and look forward to it every year.”

It’s not just big stats and bigger dollars that this effortlessly Texan expo will be highlighting, though. With the rise of first-of-their-kind produce innovations coming out of the Lone Star State, including the Rio Star red grapefruit and Texas 1015 sweet onions, organizers saw room to celebrate the visionary thinkers in the business. In 2018, organizers introduced a “Gateway to Innovations” award program to recognize excellence in innovation among every aspect of production from machinery and technology to food safety, merchandising, and new product development. And with that same eye on what’s new and next for Tex-Mex produce, Viva Fresh will once again host a strong education program focused on a wide range of the industry’s most pressing topics and designed to ready the region to take the year by the horns.

“Our educational committee is hard at work making sure the content is not only relevant, but offers tangible and practical takeaways as well,” Dante notes. “The educational content continues to be a key focus, and we’re spending a tremendous amount of time vetting and pre-qualifying our speakers. Our steering committee is constantly working and adjusting the different elements of the expo to ensure we provide an intimate, regionally-focused conference that highlights the widely diverse yet healthy fresh produce items traveling through the Tex-Mex corridor.”

Attendees connecting at the Viva Fresh Expo 2018

Maybe what diehard fans of Viva Fresh love the most, though, is that these Texans really walk the talk. From the organizers’ choice to exhibit a majority of companies that are actually based in Texas and Mexico to their celebration of empowering consumers to eat more fruits and vegetables through an annual Healthy Living Award, there’s a strand of authenticity that runs throughout the event. The show floor is also limited to 168 booths—an effort to maintain that real, intimate feel and to provide more manageable access to regional suppliers and growers who are often not able to exhibit at larger industry shows.

"I was floored by the unique experience this show brings retailers and suppliers.From local sourcing to growers from Mexico to national suppliers, this show really allowed me to branch out and expand my vendor pool."

—Caitlin Tierney, Director of Produce, 99 Cents Only Stores

Caitlin Tierney, Director of Produce, 99 Cents Only Stores“2018 was the first year I attended Viva Fresh. I was floored by the unique experience this show brings retailers and suppliers,” shares Caitlin Tierney, Director of Produce for 99 Cents Only Stores. “From local sourcing to growers from Mexico to national suppliers, this show really allowed me to branch out and expand my vendor pool. Viva Fresh is a show that allows you to have quality time with customers and vendors, while equally learning and having fun doing it! This is an expo that I won’t miss.”

Tommy Wilkins, an organizer of Viva Fresh as well as the Director of Sales, Grow Farms TexasTommy Wilkins, an organizer of Viva Fresh as well as the Director of Sales for Grow Farms Texas, sums it up for me when I ask him to give me his main points on why Viva Fresh is a must-attend show: networking with new and old contacts, learning about the industry and region’s most important topics, seeing exciting changes and innovations, and of course, enjoying great food and experiencing new flavors.

 



“We are very excited that the 2019 Viva Fresh will once again be a premier regional show, focused on the Texas-Mexico corridor,” he explains. “With the JW Marriott in late April as the setting, along with the finest growers from our region and enthusiastic retail support, Viva Fresh will provide a show we all are proud of.”

We’re now in the home stretch on the way to Viva Fresh 2019, coming up April 25th through 27th. If I were you, I’d make sure you were there to watch this dark horse cross the finish line.