The Evolution of the Fresno Food Expo: From A Vision to A Movement
By Amy Fuentes,
Fresno Food Expo Manager
We live in the Food Capital of the World, known for our Mediterranean climate, long summers, and abundant fertile land. For Central Valley natives, food is intrinsically woven into our everyday life. For those not from our region, many are in awe at our access to incredible produce and diverse product offerings. These differing perspectives have led me to wonder… Is it because we are so intimately connected to the foods we grow and produce that we never take a step back and feel proud about all that we do here in food?
Now, thanks in great part to the Fresno Food Expo, Central Valley natives are starting to enjoy the sense of pride when we're referred to as the Food Capital Of The World, but that's not how, or why, it all started.
2011: IT ALL STARTED WITH THE MAYOR'S VISION TO INCREASE ECONOMIC ACTIVITY
In 2011, Mayor, Ashley Swearengin proposed that we invite our region’s food industry companies to exhibit their products to national retail and foodservice buyers. The concept was simple, and if viable, would help increase economic activity for our region's largest export oriented industry. With the help of local agency partners, including Cohen Communications, MJR Creative Group and David Nalchajian, Inc., her vision became a reality. After pulling on the heart strings of the Presidents and CEOs from some of our region’s most prominent food companies, including Wawona Frozen Foods, Busseto Foods, Certified Meats & JD Food, La Tapatia, OK Produce, Enzo Olive Oil, Fowler Packing and Valley Lahvosh Baking Company, the date was set for the inaugural Fresno Food Expo – March 11, 2011.
From left to right: Pat Ricchiuti (President, P-R Farms), Ashley Swearengin (Mayor, City of Fresno), Brady Matoian (CEO, OK Produce), Mike Grazier (President, Busseto Foods), Mark Ford (President, JD Food), Dan Soleno (Export Manager, La Tapatia Tortilleria)
SHOWCASING OUR GOODS
The inaugural Expo in 2011 featured 65 exhibitors, 198 buyers, and 450 public attendees.
From the onset it was immediately clear - THIS is what the “Food Capital of the World” looks like.
From gourmet chocolates and craft beer, to cured meats and dozens of different kinds of produce, we clearly saw what makes us unique.
“I don’t know what it was about today, whether it was the Raisels, the dancing taco, or just the energy
in the room, but something changed in our City tonight, and it will forever change how we think and
talk about ourselves.” Mayor Ashley Swearingen, 2011
Now in its 7th year, the Expo has over doubled in size, with last year’s show including 132 exhibitors, 920 buyers and almost 1,000 public attendees.
2015: THE EXPO’S TRANSITION TO AN INDEPENDENT ENTITY & REGIONAL MOVEMENT
With the support of the City of Fresno, in 2015 the Expo officially launched its own 501c-6 non-profit, governed by a Board of Directors comprised of our region’s most prestigious food industry company leaders, with executive management services provided by David Nalchajian, Inc.
As a non-profit organization, the Expo had the opportunity to expanded its mission to become not only the nation’s largest regional tradeshow, but also a year-round platform for Central California food industry companies to connect, do business and most importantly, be celebrated for the foods they grow and produce every day.
Having had the opportunity to manage the Fresno Food Expo since its inception with Mayor Ashley Swearengin, this transition also took me to work for David Nalchajian, Inc. where I would be afforded more time to develop the Expo’s platform, with the hopes of growing it into what would one day be the food version of the World Ag Expo.
OPPORTUNITIES TO CONNECT AND LEARN
Our year-round platform started building early on, and gained momentum as new business ventures and impactful connections were being made as a result of bringing together our region’s food industry.
We launched the Exhibitor Training Series in 2012 which has evolved from a Q&A with food industry leaders, to a series of focused trainings on topics ranging from packaging solutions, to public relations strategies and production methods.
New York Times Best Selling Author, Gregg Lederman, March 22
This year, as an expansion of the training series, the Expo is bringing New York Times best-selling author, Gregg Lederman, to Fresno on March 22, 2017. Mr. Lederman has a proven track record of guiding companies to financial success through teaching effective management and leadership skills that engage employees and customers. All of Central California food companies are invited for the first seminar from 8:00 AM – 10:00 AM, “Essential Habits of Trusted Leaders,” followed by an in-depth workshop, “Increase Engagement, Increase Profits,” exclusively offered to Fresno Food Expo Exhibitors and Sponsors. Registration is now open for this event, and all Central California food companies are highly encouraged to attend and send their leadership teams.
SITE TOURS & VIP PREVIEW
As part of its expansion, the Expo also added site tours and a VIP event, giving buyers an exclusive preview of everything our region has to offer.
NEW PRODUCT AWARDS
In 2013 with the support of industry partner, Baker Peterson Franklin, CPA, LLP the Expo launched the New Product Awards, which to date has put a spotlight on over 180 new products and packaging concepts and provided over a dozen companies with industry recognized awards.
2016 Buyer's Choice Award Winner, Aubrey Lim, creator of Aubrey's Jerky
FRED RUIZ ENTREPRENEURIAL AWARD
In 2015 one of our region’s most talented and celebrated entrepreneurs, Fred Ruiz, founder of Ruiz Food Products, the nation’s largest Hispanic frozen food manufacturer, partnered with us to launch the Fred Ruiz Entrepreneurial Award, which recognizes food entrepreneurs in our region and provides a priceless mentorship opportunity to one lucky company, annually.
From left to right: Mayor Ashley Swearengin, Bryan Feil, President of Lanna Coffee Co. & 2016 Fred Ruiz Entrepreneurial Award Recipient, Fred Ruiz, Co-Founder & Chairman Emeritus, Ruiz Foods
EXPOLICIOUS - It's not just delicious, it's Expolicious
Our evening celebration opens the tradeshow floor to the public, and gives them a chance to see, taste and experience our region’s thriving food industry. In 2016 the Expo transformed this event into Expolicious, incorporating local chefs and restaurants into the show floor to bring the flavors of our region to life in small bites for attendees to enjoy.
BECOMING THE VOICE OF THE REGION
As the Expo has become more active on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter, we are using these platforms to celebrate who we are and spread the good food news happening in our region. The addition of our blog this year is allowing us to further activate a voice for our region’s food industry and tell the stories behind the people, foods and companies that make us the “Food Capital of the World.”