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Organic Produce Summit to finalize schedule in February

By
Tim Linden

Officials for the 2021 Organic Produce Summit, which is currently scheduled for July in Monterey, CA, are expecting to finalize the dates and the venue in February.

Matt Sealey, the founder of OPS and the CEO of the Organic Produce Network which hosts the summit, said all options are being explored with an eye toward making a final decision by the end of February. “We don’t want to be tone deaf to what is going on around us and we want to be respectful of what people and the country are going through,” he said in late January.

Sealey noted that COVID-19 and the high level of infections and concerns across the country resulted in OPS being cancelled in 2020, and he is hopeful that will not be the case this year. “The safety of attendees is Job One,” he said, noting that no show will be held if it is not safe. “We are working with local and state officials to make sure we follow all the rules, regulations and protocols.”

And Sealey assured that OPS will not be held unless it can be a complete in-person show. “Under no circumstances will we hold a virtual trade show with virtual booths,” he said. “We believe there is little if any value to that for our exhibitors. There is a sense that educational sessions do lend themselves to some hybrid that could include a virtual component, but we do not believe that is true for the trade show. Without an actual trade show floor, we will not hold the Organic Produce Summit.”

Sealey did express a high degree of optimism that the show will go on. It is currently scheduled for July 14-15. “We think that June/July period is on the cusp,” he said, articulating two main reasons. “Will there be enough people vaccinated by then to allow for these kind of events? That’s the first question. Secondly, will retailers and our exhibitors be willing and able to travel. It appears as if there will be some travel restrictions through June.”

OPS officials have been surveying their community to gauge the temperature. Sealey said larger companies appear to be a bit more reluctant about opening and allowing their employees to return to their normal routines. As such, OPS is eyeing other options, including a switch to September dates. The weather is still very good along the California coast in late summer/early fall, and the extra couple of months may mean a world of difference to attendees and exhibitors, who are all anxious to return to normal.

Whenever OPS is held this year, Sealey said that it will follow the same format as the previous years but there could be some operational changes in deference to the coronavirus. He said OPS has always had some outdoor events, including farm tours, the lunch and a reception, and that will be more of a necessity this year. “Having outdoor components to the program will be very useful as we gauge the ability to hold the event this summer,” he said.

The OPS executive does maintain that whatever occurs in 2021, the show will return in 2022 in its full glory. “This is a different year, and we have to deal with those challenges. We are doing so in the best manner that we can. We see this as a one-year thing.”

He said the timing of the late February decision on date and venue is focused on giving the organic produce community the ability to come together as it wants to do, but also mindful that companies and individuals need sufficient time to arrange their own schedules to participate. An end-of-February decision will still give potential attendees more than three months to either make a July show or pivot to September.

The Organic Produce Summit held its inaugural event in July of 2016 in Monterey, CA, as the first industry trade show exclusively focused on the organic sector. The trade show and educational sessions were an immediate success with more than 70 organic exhibitors and about 800 guests attending that first year. The following three years the show continued to expand with the number of exhibitors and attendees almost doubling in that time frame.

Photo: The 2019 Organic Produce Summit show floor.

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