Sweeter, crunchier, crispier

Viva Produce at Viva Fresh Expo: Highlighting the Rio Grande Valley

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think I can venture to say that just about everyone likes a good party. If you throw in that a certain Texas-based event by the name of Viva Fresh Expo celebrates a segment of the industry’s thriving growth, I’m sold. With the rapid growth of the Texas-Mexico corridor, this is the show not-to-be missed. Viva health, happiness, and fresh produce!

The folks at the Texas International Produce Association (TIPA) have tapped into the excitement that swirls around the business when news of a good time hits, as the organization’s Viva Fresh Produce Expo quickly approaches. Now entering its 4th year, the Expo runs from April 5th–7th, and it highlights and educates attendees on the fast-paced growth and importance of the Southwestern United States’ and Mexico’s growing regions and offerings.

Specifically pertaining to this Expo’s growth, buyer attendance has skyrocketed by over 140 percent, and sponsorships have increased by 71 percent. It appears the Expo is the place to be for industry know-how and regional expertise.

Since its 2015 inception, Viva Fresh’s roots have dug deep into the industry. The focus has now become crystal clear: to shine a light on the Rio Grande Valley as an emerging trade corridor and production zone. TIPA’s Retail & Foodservice Advisory Board, made up of 14 retail and foodservice contacts, has been the guiding force for the Expo’s exponential growth since 2016. As the event sings the region’s praises, it establishes Mexico, Texas, and the surrounding states as an increasingly crucial component within the industry at large.

“I’ve been impressed with the Viva Fresh Expo year after year,” says Joseph Bunting, Produce Business Director at United Supermarkets and also an Advisory Board Member for Viva Fresh. “It’s a true regional event and showcases Texas and Mexico as commanding forces for high-quality, year-round fresh produce. I always look forward to Viva Fresh to strengthen current relationships, make new connections, and stay up on all the regional trends.”

Case in point, this year’s event is pulling out all the bells and whistles to celebrate industry movers and shakers with the Viva Fresh Gateway to Innovation Awards exhibit. This is the first time there will be an exhibit dedicated to the region’s extraordinary packaging designs, new product developments, food safety efforts, machinery, software, and technology. Category finalists will shine brightly as they are displayed at the exhibit, and I can already feel the drum roll-like excitement when the category award winners and the Excellence in Innovation Award for Overall Best in Show are announced during the event. With such a fast-paced industry, the exhibit applauds the region’s most forward-thinking and eager innovators.

“Since the inception of the Rio Star red grapefruit or the Texas 1015 sweet onion, Texas has always been known for its agricultural advancements. But today, the accelerated growth of South Texas brings together a variety of multinational industries and talent and has made it a hub for technology. This has also resulted in the continued development of some of the country’s most innovative fruit and vegetable products and tools,” explains Dante Galeazzi, President and CEO of TIPA. “Our vision for this award program is to recognize excellence in innovation from this region in a wide range of important areas, including machinery and technology, in addition to new product development.”

To balance out the networking and business growth opportunities, the Expo is extending an invite to those looking for a better understanding of the industry’s processes. Educational seminar opportunities remind me of everything I love about learning—oh, and a virtual tour of a field, a packinghouse, and control measures? I’m so there.

These experiences grant business acumen in several areas of the industry, offering valuable insight into the best-in-class food safety initiatives and leading suppliers from Mexico’s efforts toward raising food safety standards. All in a day—or three’s—work, folks.

On this point, Frank Pagliaro, Vice President of National Produce and Floral Procurement at Loblaw Companies, shares, “I commend the Viva Fresh Education Committee for bringing us so many good ideas and relevant content to choose from and select for the Viva Fresh Expo audience. As a buyer, I know first-hand the responsibility I have to not only understand the mind of the consumer, but the challenges of the producers to bring high-quality, affordable produce to the market in an ever-changing and dynamic marketplace and my continued education is critical to my success as a valuable partner.”

To top off this unique experience, astute attendees will be able to walk away more aware of topics such as the multi-generational marketplace, as well as Amazon’s impacts in retail sales and marketing and the role private equity plays in the produce industry.

Maybe what I love best is the event’s promotion of the region’s backstory, which, in turn, has given the area strong legs from which to propel its business moving forward. An example of this can be seen in fruit and vegetable imports making the trek onto U.S. soil from Mexico through Texas. This sector of the industry alone has grown 107 percent between 2007 and 2015.

In addition to this tremendous development, according to Texas A&M, 2016 statistics show that about half of fresh fruit and vegetable imports hailing from Mexico—which, might I add, come out to a staggering $5.4 billion dollars of produce and equate to more than 220,000 truckloads—make their way to the U.S. through Texas land ports. Texas A&M also reports that while these stats are impressive, what takes the cake is the total economic impact that the region’s produce import industry offers, which is expected to grow from 2016’s $503.2 million to $794.4 million by 2025. With so much growth developing in the region, it comes as no surprise that projections show almost 3,000 new produce industry jobs will be created from the region come 2025.

The Viva Fresh Expo is certainly an experience to behold, with industry powerhouses hailing from the distinctive and active region gathering to celebrate climbing numbers and networking to strengthen them even further. The lively event’s quickly approaching date is made much more exciting when the event illustriously demonstrates everything we strive for in this industry: growth, both personally and professionally. That sounds like a party I wouldn’t want to miss, and neither should you.