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NEPC celebrates 21st anniversary during conference and expo

By
Gordon M. Hochberg, editor emeritus and vice president

BOSTON — The New England Produce Council celebrated its 21st anniversary at its 2021 Produce, Floral & Foodservice Expo, held Sept. 29-30, here. After having to cancel last year's expo due to the pandemic, the council enthusiastically welcomed the fresh produce industry back, and those in attendance were equally happy to see and reconnect with friends and colleagues at the in-person event.

"The opening receptions, seminars and expo were a huge success. The enthusiasm and the energy were proof of the wants and desires of everyone to be back together in person," NEPC Executive Director Laura Sullivan told The Produce News toward the close of the event. "We were expecting a reduction in the number of attendees and exhibitors due to COVID, but we're happy with the participation on both the attendee side and the exhibitor side." There were about 115 exhibitors, she noted.

NEPC President Tom Murray (center) of Roche Bros. Supermarkets recognized Bob McGowan (left) of Affinity Sales and Anthony Sattler of C&S Wholesale Grocers for their longtime service to the council.
NEPC President Tom Murray (center) of Roche Bros. Supermarkets
recognized Bob McGowan (left) of Affinity Sales and Anthony Sattler of
C&S Wholesale Grocers for their longtime service to the council.

The conference got under way Wednesday afternoon, Sept. 29, when Matt Seeley, founder and chief executive officer of the Organic Produce Network, emceed two educational sessions at the Hynes Convention Center. In the first, Tom Barnes, founder and chief executive officer at Category Partners LLC, spoke on "How to Succeed in Organics with the Comparison Shopper." In the second, Suzy Badaracco, president of Culinary Tides, spoke on "How to Use Strategic Thinking to Navigate Trends for 2021 & Beyond: A Future Without Fear."

Later that evening, the council held a VIP reception and a cocktail reception at Kings Dining & Entertainment in downtown Boston, where a good crowd had the opportunity to try their skills at bowling, billiards and other games while also enjoying the excellent food.

On Thursday morning, Sept. 30, NEPC President Tom Murray of Roche Bros. Supermarkets welcomed everyone to the Keynote Breakfast. He called Bob McGowan of Affinity Sales and Anthony Sattler of C&S Wholesale Grocers to the stage, where he recognized the two former NEPC presidents for their dedicated and longtime service to the council.

Also at the Keynote Breakfast, Joe Watson, vice president of member engagement, retail, of the Produce Marketing Association, and Anne-Marie Roerink, president of 210 Analytics, co-presented "E-Commerce: Making it Work for You."

The majority of the day was devoted to the expo, where exhibitors from all over the country showed the latest items and products.

"We are so happy that we were able to have this show," Murray said during the expo. "From the receptions to the seminars to the expo, it was evident to me that everyone was happy to see one another face to face. People missed that person-to-person contact."

He added, "I thought the educational seminars were very good and on target. The keynote speakers were also very good. And there were quite a few buyers here. All the major retailers were represented. You have time to speak to everyone and review new items and programs at these regional shows."

NEPC President Tom Murray of Roche Bros. Supermarkets with co-presenters Joe Watson of the Produce Marketing Association and Anne-Marie Roerink of 210 Analytics, who discussed e-commerce during the Keynote Breakfast.
NEPC President Tom Murray of Roche Bros.
Supermarkets with co-presenters Joe Watson of the
Produce Marketing Association and Anne-Marie Roerink
of 210 Analytics, who discussed e-commerce during the
Keynote Breakfast.

The Produce News also spoke to some of the exhibitors during the expo to hear what they thought of the NEPC event.

"I think there was good retailer and supplier participation," said Tim Harrington of Stemilt Growers. "It's nice to be socially together again as an industry. The opening reception was a great gathering. We've been attending and exhibiting at NEPC for many years. It's a wonderful regional show."

Joe Atchison III of the New Jersey Department of Agriculture said, "The opening reception was very well attended. I was glad to see so many people that we have missed over the past year-and-a-half. And it was a good opportunity to see some new people. The New England show is very important to the New Jersey Department of Agriculture because outside of the New Jersey metro area, it is our second largest market. We appreciate the retail support of products grown in the Garden State."

Tammy Wiard and Meg Buchsbaum of the National Mango Board offered, "It's a great mix of retailers. We're really happy to be part of the show and see our industry and retail partners. It's been a nice flow of traffic. Some of the retailers have brought more staff, which is nice. We're thrilled to be getting back to some sense of normalcy. We think everybody wants the world to get back to normal."

Bob Catinella of The Pear Bureau liked the venue for the opening reception, saying, "I thought everyone felt very comfortable in the casual setting." He added about the expo, "It is turning out better than I thought in our current environment. I was pretty pleased with the retail turnout."

Bruce Klein of Maurice A. Auerbach Inc. stated, "The turnout is better than I expected. We saw a lot of decision-makers. I think the smaller number of booths gave buyers more opportunity to speak to exhibitors. The opening reception seemed to be really successful and very well attended. The amount of time and effort that Laura spends on the event really shows in the professional way that the show is run."

Doug Stewart of Giorgio Fresh said, "It's certainly good to see people in person again. It was nice to see friends and associates who we haven't seen in a long time. Things are getting back to close to normal. There's nothing like seeing people in person."

Tom Beaver of Sunny Valley International said, "First and foremost, it's just good to be back after not having this show last year. We're seeing a lot of people for the first time really since the pandemic started, so it's nice to be able to talk to people face to face again. For our company specifically, New England is a priority market. The vast majority of our products, especially from New Jersey, end up in New England. So it's great for us to be able to see a lot of those customers and thank them for their support this summer."

Top photo: Suzy Badaracco of Culinary Tides, Tom Barnes of Category Partners LLC, Matt Seeley of the Organic Produce Network and Tom Murray of Roche Bros. Supermarkets at the Education Seminars, part of the 2021 NEPC conference and expo.

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