The Fresno Food Expo Celebrates with Agricultural Tour

Taylor Hillman General

Fresno Food Expo Launch Photo at Nichols Farms
More than 45 agricultural, political and educational leaders, as well as trade and regional media, took part in a unique regional agricultural and economic impact tour on Tuesday, January 13, receiving a firsthand look at the diverse food and beverage industry that makes up California’s San Joaquin Valley. Tour attendees also celebrated the formal launch of the 2015 Fresno Food Expo presented by Union Bank, the nation’s largest regional food show now in its fifth year, as City of Fresno Mayor Ashley Swearengin and Fresno Food Expo exhibitors shared successes and growth over the past five years.

“When the Fresno Food Expo first began in 2011, we had a vision for what it could do for Valley food and beverage producers and now five years later, we have exceeded those first expectations,” said Mayor Ashley Swearengin, City of Fresno. “Today, we celebrate the growth of the Expo which, over the past five years, has introduced 197 different Valley food and beverage companies to new customers and hosted 1,467 different buyers, including 100 international buyers. More importantly, we celebrate the success of our exhibitors, many of which have been with us since the beginning and who return annually to launch new products, further expand their business and expose their products for the world to experience. This tour provides the rare opportunity for us to tell the story of the San Joaquin Valley’s prolific food industry, focusing on our dynamic assets and its economic impact, and reinforcing the importance of the Fresno Food Expo’s support of the region’s economy.”

The agricultural tour included stops at Nichols Farms in Hanford, one of the region’s largest grower-processors of pistachios; followed by SunWest Fruit Company in Parlier, one of the Valley’s largest tree fruit and citrus operations; and concluded at Tioga-Sequoia Brewing Company in Downtown Fresno, a hyper-local craft brewery, for a private luncheon and final toast to the 5th anniversary of the Fresno Food Expo. Additionally, proclamations and resolutions were presented to Mayor Ashley Swearengin and Fresno Food Expo advisory committee members from U.S. Congress (Representatives David Valadao and Jim Costa) and California State Senate (Representatives Andy Vidak and Tom Berryhill), Assembly (Representatives Devon J. Mathias and Jim Patterson) and local (Fresno County Board of Supervisors, the City of Fresno and the City of Sanger) political offices honoring the Expo’s fifth anniversary. The day’s event connected ag and political leaders with Valley food producers as they saw and celebrated the many facets that make up the Valley’s food industry, hearing firsthand the individual stories and successes of Valley food industry leaders and entrepreneurs.

Participating speakers discussed innovation, leadership, entrepreneurial ambition and economic development strategies that have helped their businesses flourish, providing a unique outlook on the true economic impact of the Valley’s food industry known for feeding over one third of the world. Speakers included Helen Chavez-Hansen, Owner of La Tapatia Tortilla Company; Paul Gillum, Vice President of Operations at Busseto Foods; Chuck Nichols, Owner of Nichols Farms; Denver Schutz, Technical Services Manager at Gerawan Farming; Suzanne Palazzo, Vice President of Marketing and Production at Cardella Winery; Doug Sankey, Marketing Manager and Dean Thoneson, Vice President, SunWest Fruit Company; Bill Smittcamp, President and CEO of Wawona Frozen Foods; Michael Cruz, Marketing Manager of Tioga Sequoia Brewing Company; and Mike Girazian, SVP Regional Manager, Branch Banking at Union Bank.

“We’re honored to be a stop on this agricultural tour launching the 5th annual Fresno Food Expo – helping to share the story of the food industry in California’s San Joaquin Valley,” said Chuck Nichols, Owner of Nichols Farms. “This industry is all about supporting our neighbors and the growth of their operations knowing that mutual success will benefit us all. Fresno is the heart of the San Joaquin Valley and the San Joaquin Valley is the heart of specialty food production. The economic vitality brought to this region through this world-class food show is something worth recognizing and something we’re very proud to be a part of.”

Over the past five years, the Fresno Food Expo has evolved into a powerful platform for Valley-based food and beverage producers to network, share industry relationships, create new business contacts and increase exposure to broaden their markets, all leading to increased sales opportunities for Valley companies. The Expo’s participation and interest has increased by over 400% – a 93% growth in number of participating exhibitors, 37% of which were new to the show, and a 250% growth in buyers since 2011. Another year of growth and success is expected for this year’s Expo.

“To be on a bus for this type of agricultural tour with your peers not just from the wine business, but from every type of business offering the consumer products from fresh to finished – is simply amazing and that’s what the Fresno Food Expo is all about,” said Suzanne Palazzo, Vice President of Marketing and Production for Cardella Winery. “Last year was our first time participating in the Fresno Food Expo and we’re excited to already be signed up again for the 2015 show. We were able to make two new meaningful buyer contacts last year, which resulted in two new locations that are now carrying Cardella Wines for people to purchase. It’s the ultimate opportunity to network and share industry connections, broaden existing markets through the introduction of key buyers, and get your product out there directly in front of the consumer. It’s an invaluable opportunity.”

The 2015 Fresno Food Expo will take place July 22-23, 2015 with site tours for pre-registered buyers and a trade show. Registration is currently open for buyers and exhibitors. More than 150 exhibitors and 750 key pre-qualified international and domestic buyers are expected to participate. Registration forms and additional information is available at Exhibitors can take advantage of early bird discounts, a 40% savings available until February 21, with public ticket sales launching in the Spring.

Also returning to the 2015 Fresno Food Expo are the New Product Awards, presented by Baker, Peterson, Franklin. Award categories are “Buyers Choice” and  “People’s Choice” and are open to all registered exhibitors who have a new food or beverage product or packaging concept that has or will be introduced to the market between July 25, 2014 and July 23, 2015. Applications will be made available to interested companies in the Spring. In the past two years, more than 100 new products have been showcased as part of these awards.

The Fresno Food Expo is 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:

       Major Underwriting Sponsors:
·   Baker Peterson Franklin, CPA, LLP ·   Mid Valley Disposal
·   Busseto Foods ·   The Produce News
·   California Center for International Trade Development ·   Saladino’s
·   Certified Meat Products ·   State Center Community College District
·   City of Fresno ·   Tioga-Sequoia Brewing Company
·   ENZO Olive Oil Company ·   Union Bank
·   Fowler Packing Company ·   United States Cold Storage
·   Gerawan Farming Prima® Brand ·   Valley PBS
·   Johanson Transportation Service ·   Wawona Frozen Foods
·   KMJ Newstalk 580 ·   Wells Fargo