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Central California Life Magazine

2016 Fresno Food Expo, Nation’s Largest Regional Food Show

Aug 01, 2016 02:40PM ● By Melanie Heisinger

2015 Fresno Food Expo. Photo courtesy of their Facebook page.

Nation’s Largest Regional Food Show Garners International and Domestic Attention for Central California’s Diverse, Quality Foods

The 2016 Fresno Food Expo brought together 132 of Central California’s food and beverage growers and manufacturers  with nearly 950 pre-qualified regional, national and international foodservice and retail buyers, and nearly 1,000 members of the public looking to discover food and beverages made in Central California. 

This is nothing new to the nation’s largest regional food show, originally developed as an economic development initiative by the City of Fresno in 2011 to spur business and innovation among Valley-based food and beverage companies. Its mission is to act as a platform that increases the commerce and connectivity of these Central California companies, while creating a regional identity centered on the celebration of food production and the experience food inspires.

Jessica Laliberte and Brisa Silva of FreshPacific meeting with an international buyer at the one-on-one produce meetings.

“The innovation I saw here today at the Expo is remarkable. There were so many diverse, quality products that I had never seen before,” said Tracy Sellers, host of California Bountiful, produced by the California Farm Bureau Federation. 

In its sixth year, the Expo has evolved into a standalone 501c6 nonprofit organization under the oversight of a 13-member Board of Directors, which includes a collaborative group of top food industry leaders who have all witnessed first-hand the importance of food in the region. 

“Becoming a standalone entity is integral to the growth of the Expo,” said Agnes Saghatelian, Vice Chair of the Fresno Food Expo and President, Valley Lahvosh Baking Company. “We can continue to grow and foster beneficial relationships for the food and beverage companies in our region; a passion of our Board and why we are involved. We want to ensure the Expo remains an entity that will help and support them.” 

The Expo’s elevated attention drew big buyers with high levels of purchasing power from some of the largest and most recognized domestic retail outlets including ALDI, Costco Wholesale, Food 4 Less, Grocery Outlet, Save Mart Supermarkets, Walmart and Whole Foods Market, who walked the Expo floor looking to connect directly with companies from the region.

Complementing the domestic buyers were 37 qualified international buyers from Vietnam, Indonesia, Singapore, Philippines, Malaysia, Thailand, Mexico, Guatemala, Costa Rica and Ecuador who attended the Expo to meet one-on-one with qualified fresh produce companies, not only from the Valley but also the western U.S. These one-on-one meetings were made possible through a partnership with the California Centers for Trade Development and the Western United States Agricultural Trade Association in an effort to spur exporting, not only in California, but the United States as a whole. 

The Expo also garnered the attention of international export trading firms including CAS InterGlobal, Ichiban Kan, Leron Trading, Paramount Export Company and more. Both international and domestic buyers also toured grower and manufacturer sites from some of the region’s most distinguished food companies, including Fiore Di Pasta, Cardella Winery, Gerawan Farming and OK Produce, to gain a first-hand look at their production processes.  

“The international buyers really love the fact that they get to meet the owners behind each company, as they don’t get that experience at other trade shows,” said Alicia Rios, Director, California Centers for International Trade Development. “It helps them to better understand the processes behind their products and allows them to connect on a deeper level.”

New to the Expo this year was a culinary portion of Expolicious, the evening celebration, where 10 restaurants from throughout Central California prepared local bites using food found on the Expo floor to bring the flavors of the region to life. A new suite of awards were added to commemorate this event and were decided by world-renowned author, broadcaster and food advocate Simon Majumdar, who came to the Expo to further highlight the innovative and diverse foods found in the region. Restaurateurs who took home an award include Bella Luna from Merced for Best Integration of Expo Products, Me N Eds Victory Grill from Fresno for Best Food & Drink Pairing, and Tazzaria out of Visalia for Most Creative.

OK Produce meeting with a buyer at the Fresno Food Expo business-to-business trade show.

“Coming from a small town, I’ve always been one to seek out the hidden gems, and Central California is just that, a hidden gem with a rising food scene that people need to take notice of,” said Simon Majumdar. “Just because it’s not San Francisco or Los Angeles doesn’t mean the area can’t have amazing chefs and from what I witnessed tonight, it certainly does. With the vast amount of diverse, fresh foods available here, it is basically a chef’s haven.”

The region’s innovation is also celebrated through the New Product Awards presented by Baker Peterson Franklin CPA, LLP, which returned to the 2016 Expo with the debut of 33 new products from 28 different Central California companies. These products were introduced to the marketplace between July 1, 2015 and July 28, 2016, and ranged from freeze-dried organic fruits and craft beers made with locally grown ingredients to infused olive oils, craft chocolate, gourmet nuts and nut butters, healthy snacks and everything in between, even all natural dog treats, which showcase the diversity of quality foods and beverages made in Central California. The awards program provided Fresno Food Expo exhibitors an opportunity to enter their new food product, varietal or packaging concept to compete for the “Fresno Food Expo Buyer’s Choice Award” and the “Fresno Food Expo People’s Choice Award.”

Consumers voted for the “People’s Choice Award” by logging 3,954 votes during a two-week period via Facebook and the Fresno Food Expo website. ARO Pistachios was announced as the winner of the “People’s Choice” Award, having received 1,003 total votes for their ARO Gourmet Pistachios Grower's Reserve with Himalayan Pink Salt.“I first connected with SnackMasters Gourmet Jerky at last year’s Fresno Food Expo, which I attended to learn more about the food making process. To win the Buyer’s Choice Award just one year later for my unique jerky is very exciting,” said Aubrey Lim, Founder, Aubrey’s Jerky. “This is where it all began.” All 33 new products were reviewed, ranked and narrowed down to ten finalists by a panel of marketing and food industry leaders at the New Product Awards Preview event, “Taste, Tally & Tweet,” on July 13, 2016. These 10 products were then judged first-hand today on creativity, presentation, packaging and marketability by a Celebrity Judging Panel, including world-renowned chef Erna Kubin-Clanin, owner of 5-star Erna’s Elderberry House and Chateau du Sureau; Co-Founder and CEO, Forager Ventures, LLC, Harvinder Singh; Sales Manager – Pacific Divison Valley Coastal, United Natural Foods, Inc., Allan Grice; Direct Store Delivery Receiving Manager and Local Marketing and Merchandising Lead of Albertsons-Safeway Northern California Division, Sean Topping; and Division Manager at leading custom packaging  solutions company Landsberg Orora, Jim Jarosz. During the business-to-business portion of the Expo, Aubrey’s Jerky was crowned with the “Buyer’s Choice Award,” followed by Tioga-Sequoia 99 Golden Ale in second place and Lanna Coffee Co. Cold Brew in third place. 

“We’re ecstatic. As a small, sixth generation, family-owned pistachio farming and processing operation, it is extremely humbling to win the People’s Choice Award,” said Adam Orandi, ARO Pistachios. “This has been an incredible team builder for our company and all of our employees; we are so thankful to the Fresno Food Expo and our community for the opportunity.” 

Fresno-based Lanna Coffee Co. took home the Fred Ruiz Entreprenurial Award and the 3rd Place Buyer's Choice Award.

Returning to Fresno Food Expo for its second year, the Fred Ruiz Entrepreneurial Award honors an innovative Valley-based food or beverage company that demonstrates exemplary leadership and an entrepreneurial spirit, all while being an exceptional community steward. Named in honor of Fred Ruiz, founder of Ruiz Food Products, Inc., this award recognizes companies who have the same vision and qualities that took Ruiz Foods from a small, family start-up to the largest frozen Mexican food manufacturer in the United States. Lanna Coffee Co., a Fresno-based coffee company who sources its beans from Thailand to support economic stability in the villages where the beans are grown, was named the 2016 Fred Ruiz Entrepreneurial Award winner. 

“We are truly honored to receive this award as such a young company in the midst of so many other great companies that represent the Valley,” said Bryan Feil, owner of Lanna Coffee Co. “To have the opportunity to work with and learn from a pioneer like Fred Ruiz will be an incredible asset for us.”   

The Fresno Food Expo continues to be a strong economic development program for Central California companies as buyer numbers and purchasing power continues to grow, establishing our region as a global agricultural powerhouse. 

The 2017 Fresno Food Expo will be July 27, 2017. 

The 2016 Fresno Food Expo was made possible in part by the support of the following well-known Valley businesses that signed on as sponsors in support of the regional food show and its mission:

  • Baker Peterson Franklin CPA, LLP 
  • City of Fresno
  • California Centers for International Trade Development
  • California Grown 
  • Certified Meat Products
  • Cohen Communications
  • ENZO Olive Oil Company
  • Fowler Packing
  • Der Manouel Insurance Group
  • Landsberg Orora
  • J&E Restaurant Supply
  • Johanson Transportation Company
  • KMJ Newstalk 580
  • Lyons
  • MJR Creative Group
  • Nichols Farms
  • United States Cold Storage
  • Prima 
  • Tioga-Sequoia Brewing Company 
  • Saladino’s Foodservice
  • Valley PBS
  • Wawona Frozen Foods
  • Wells Fargo
  • Yrulegui & Roberts  

About Fresno Food Expo

Originally developed as an economic development initiative by the City of Fresno in 2011, the Expo has since emerged as the nation’s only exclusively regional food show bringing together growers, processors, manufacturers and industry service providers with buyers from around the world. Since its debut, the Expo has brought heightened awareness to the region’s food production industry as new, innovative businesses emerge and industry collaborations form as a direct result of the show. The Expo has introduced 226 different food and beverage companies to new customers and hosted 1,825 different qualified buyers, including over 100 strategically recruited international buyers. 

For more information, you can visit their website

Content courtesy of the Fresno Food Expo's July 28th Press Release