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Leading through a pandemic

There are tens of thousands of trade associations in the United States. The COVID-19 pandemic forced each one to reexamine the ways they serve and represent their industry.

For United Fresh Produce Association, the more things change, the more they stay the same. United Fresh has used its voice throughout these turbulent times, to do what it has done for more than 100 years — unite businesses across the produce supply chain to build strategic partnerships and create long-term initiatives to solve unique business challenges.

The hallmark of any trade association, its annual convention is the largest gathering of the membership and prospective members for education, networking and business opportunities. When the pandemic restricted in-person events, United Fresh was determined to transition to an online platform. But how would a 400,000 square foot expo hall convert to a 20-inch computer screen? And what is the virtual equivalent of a firm handshake?

After 90 days of planning and preparation, United Fresh’s President and CEO Tom Stenzel kicked off the five-day virtual event by welcoming more than 8,000 attendees to the industry’s first-ever virtual trade show, just as he’s done on stage for nearly three decades.

Replacing the confines of a physical expo hall with the limitless bandwidth of an online platform was bound to produce new opportunities and 2,800 companies participated in United Fresh LIVE! — doubling past years’ attendance. Small- and mid-size companies jumped at the opportunity to participate, and with no budgetary limitations, sent larger teams.

International companies seized the opportunity too, growing their participation by 180 percent. More than 70 countries participated as exhibitors and attendees, up from 34 in 2019

Your biggest advocate
Advocacy is a year-round mission for United Fresh, but it took center stage during the pandemic. Through consistent communication with Congress and the administration on COVID-19 recovery, United Fresh collaborated with industry partners to drive solutions to help keep the supply chain moving and find financial relief for companies devastated by the crisis, helping drive more than $5.5 billion in government funding back into the industry.

With the pandemic posing unique legislative, regulatory, political and legal challenges threatening the industry’s growth and profitability, United Fresh called in reinforcements. More than 400 produce leaders convened for the annual United Fresh Washington Conference in September, virtually, hosting more than 60 online meetings with Members of Congress, the Administration and embassies of major trading partners. Programs like the Farmers to Families Food Box, and recent announcements from USDA and DOL on critical H-2A guest-worker rules, are direct results of United Fresh’s advocacy.

Business as unusual
Companies turn to United Fresh to build the relationships that grow their businesses and increase consumption.

September saw the return of United Fresh’s signature Partner X-Change – the matchmaking program which sold out in its 2019 debut. The speed-dating style event went virtual, as 26 buyers and 26 suppliers met in 15-minute sessions.

Leading by example
No association is successful without volunteer leaders —  passionate members who contribute knowledge to guide the association and industry. Each sector of the vertically integrated produce supply chain is represented by a United Fresh board or council, ensuring the 400-plus volunteer leaders provide a united voice. The value of engaging with United Fresh was not created through the pandemic; it was simply illuminated.

As companies seek new ways of doing business, United Fresh will be there to serve, just as it has for more than a century.

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