The Crosset Company 2019 Produce & Floral Conference marked the debut of a completely reimagined format and schedule, along with high-profile speakers, networking and sales opportunities with leading-edge produce and floral suppliers, and an unparalleled evening experience at venues unique to the Queen City. Nearly 500 attendees came to Discover, Share, and Dare to be Different, setting a new attendance record for this decades-long annual event. Retail customer participation increased 27% and represented over 50% of total attendees, while the 54 vendor exhibit spaces sold out in record time. Decision makers from both the buy-side and sell-side were present, leading to mutually beneficial interactions throughout the day.
“We rebuilt our signature event from the ground up for 2019, with the goal of redefining the value we bring to both our customers and to our suppliers,” said Greg Kurkjian, Crosset Company Vice President/General Manager. “From how we laid out the sales floor to the scheduling of cooking demos and speaker sessions, our intent was to spark conversation and engagement among all attendees, all day long. Great American Ball Park (GABP) offered the perfect backdrop for our vision. The windows and the open-floor design of the Fox Sports Club and Handlebar Room create a light, airy ambiance and the foundation for the flow and feel we set out to achieve. We eliminated the traditional “aisle-by-aisle” exhibitor floor plan, along with the physical barrier of a table between exhibitors and customers. The feedback I received today was that our approach really inspired a lot of exploration, and candid conversations.”
In addition to extended sales floor hours, the 2019 Conference featured the introduction of a new, full-automated, online “show book” and promotion ordering system, powered by Perenso. Conference-only promotions were available for on-line viewing a week before the event, allowing customers to preview deals and create a preliminary “shopping cart” prior to arrival at GABP. On-site, each exhibitor was provided an iPad on which real-time orders could be placed electronically. Over the course of the day, customers met with exhibitors to see the featured products, ask questions, and to confirm and place their final orders via the exhibitor’s iPad. At the close of the Conference, a total order confirmation was delivered to each customer. “Moving to the Perenso Show Management System allowed us to eliminate the time, cost, and potential for human-error associated with manually producing and distributing hundreds of printed show books, each of which contained literally hundreds of pages,” said Stephanie Smith, Crosset Marketing Manager and the lead Conference organizer. “Most importantly, however, it allowed our customers to spend time at the Conference interacting with our exhibitors, speakers, and other attendees instead of manually filling out page after page of order forms.”
Steve Lutz, Vice President of Insights & Innovation for Category Partners LLC, served as Emcee and Moderator for the day. He kicked off the educational series with the introduction of Keynote Speaker Jim Bonaminio, the flamboyant and notoriously adventurous founder of Cincinnati-based Jungle Jim’s International Markets, two of the nation’s largest and most unique grocery stores. “Jungle” shared stories of his early days in the produce industry and his passion for bringing a sense of adventure and fun to the shopping experience. He emphasized his commitment to constantly making store and assortment changes to keep things exciting and to meet ever-changing consumer tastes, and the importance of recognizing and rewarding talented employees and colleagues.
The second educational session addressed organic produce opportunities and challenges. Steve Lutz opened the discussion with an overview of organic produce growth trends and the drivers moving consumers from initial trial to committed organic produce users. Steve then moderated a panel of four leading retail produce executives, whose operations serve diverse geographies and shopper profiles: Greg Corrigan, former senior director of produce and floral for West Sacramento, CA-based Raley’s; Caitlin Tierney, senior director of produce for Commerce, CA-based 99 Cents Only Stores; Drew Sullivan, senior category manager for produce for Phoenix-based Sprouts Farmers Market; and Mimmo Franzone, director of produce and floral for Vaughan, Ontario-based Longo Brothers Fruit Markets.
The panelists discussed pricing strategies for organic produce, talked about the challenges of organic produce shrink, and provided their perspectives on produce packaging and the outlook for more sustainable alternatives. They all agreed that the growth potential for organic produce remains high, particularly as more shoppers enter the organic category. “My demographic is highly Hispanic—it’s close to 50 percent,” noted Tierney. “We also have a large older demographic and a large millennial demographic, so it’s really spread out. But what I would say to any smaller retailer or region is that we [99 Cents Only Stores] are in big cities, we’re in rural areas, we’re in food deserts, we have small stores and large stores—the one message we get is that they want organics,” she continued. “So, it doesn’t matter what size store you have, what your demographics are, what the age of your customer is, or the location—organics is an area of growth for your store. Once you learn that and put the backing behind it, you’ll see it in sales.”
The third and final education session looked at the current and future make-up of the workforce and what it will take to retain the next generation of talent, specifically those in the Millennial and Gen Z cohorts. Bonnie Curtis, chief human resources officer for Castellini, set the stage and then moderated a lively discussion with two young professionals at the Millennial/Gen Z cusp. The high-energy panelists were unafraid to share their perspectives or answer questions from the audience. They both expressed a keen desire for their employers to give them new experiences, new challenges, and continuous learning opportunities throughout their career.
Between educational sessions, professional chefs Shelly Thompson (Club Chef), Dave Munson (Progressive Produce), and Gary Davis (Executive Chef of the Cincinnati Reds on behalf of Lakeside Produce) demonstrated preparation of delicious, produce-based recipes that attendees sampled as they continued to shop the exhibits and listen to the speakers.
The Conference closed with a produce-infused happy hour. While attendees sipped on Krissy Farms Three-Berry Lemon Drop, Fresh Origins MoTito, Zespri Sungold Kiwitini, and Rhinegeist Brewery Wowie Fruited Ale (pineapple with apple and passionfruit) and Truth India Pale Ale (tropical fruit, grapefruit, and mango), winners of the inaugural Innovation Awards were announced. Congratulations go to:
Best New Package Design: Chiquita Apple Bites
Best New Fruit Product: Chelan Fresh Rockit™ Apples Shuttle Pack
Best New Vegetable Product: Club Chef Stew Kit
Most Innovative Snacking Solution: Crispy Green Crispy Fruit
Following the conference, attendees adjourned to the Anderson Pavilion, where they enjoyed dinner, carousel and Skystar Wheel rides, and a beautiful view of the Cincinnati waterfront. The “Discover the ‘Nati” evening experience concluded with a private party at The Rhinegeist Brewery Tap Room in Cincinnati’s historic Over the Rhine brewery district.
Our sincere and heartfelt thanks to the speakers, sponsors, vendors, retailers, attendees, and staff who helped us dare to be different and make the Crosset Company 2019 Produce & Floral Conference such a success.
We look forward to seeing everyone again in 2020!