With more than 100 exhibitors showing off peach moonshine, baby bell peppers, spicy gouda and other locally made foods, Thursday's Fresno Food Expo will be bigger than ever.
In its third year, the show has more buyers -- including a large contingent of international buyers for the first time -- new awards and other changes that are designed to spur growth in the Valley's food industry.
The San Joaquin Valley is already the richest agricultural region in the country, with an estimated $105.8 billion economic impact from the farms that grow food to the trucking and packaging firms that get it to customers.
But organizers want to grow the industry even more, and they hope the expo will do that.
"The Fresno Food Expo is all about helping Fresno-area food businesses have the resources they need to expand here in the Valley," said Mayor Ashley Swearengin.
So far, 106 exhibitors -- 21 more than last year -- from the eight-county region have signed up to display their food and drink at the show, which will be at the Fresno Convention Center's New Exhibit Hall.
There will be drinks such as downtown Fresno's Tioga-Sequoia 99 Golden Ale, root beer-flavored milk from Rosa Brothers in Hanford and the all-natural energy drink 51 Fifty, created by a Livingston-based group of race car drivers.
Some of the vendors displaying their wares include Traver-based Vintage Cheese Co. with its chipotle beer-battered cheese curds, microwaveable bags of roasted garlic carrots from Grimmway Farms of Bakersfield, and fruit-flavored balsamic glazes that can be used on desserts and appetizers from STAR Fine Foods of Fresno.
Organizers expect 525 to 550 buyers will check out the products. Trader Joe's and Sam's Club representatives will be at the show for the first time.
Many exhibitors are excited about the presence of international buyers this year. While a few such buyers have attended in the past, this year 25 representatives from Canada, Mexico, Central America and Pacific Rim countries such as China and Hong Kong will attend.
Food expo organizers partnered with the Center for International Trade Development in Fresno to cover the costs for the buyers to attend the show. They'll also take the buyers on visits to Valley companies and host one-on-one meetings during the show with exhibitors.
As the middle class in countries such as China grows, exporting could be a source of new customers for Valley food producers. The expo and the trade center trained exhibitors interested in exporting and provided international contacts during a seminar in January.
It's a move that could grow both established and new businesses.
Valley Lahvosh, the 91-year-old maker of Armenian bread products, is participating in the food expo because of networking and export opportunities.
The Fresno-based company has dabbled in exporting to Canada and New Zealand but was looking to expand its export markets, said company president Agnes Saghatelian.
Several foreign buyers in Mexico and Asia have expressed interest in the company's line of heart-shaped cinnamon flavored crackers, she said.
"If successful, this could really take us into an area that we have not really tapped into," Saghatelian said. "And the amount of business potential out there is huge."
Another first at this year's expo are new product awards, including the People's Choice Award.
The public can sample 55 new products -- along with many others -- during the public portion of the expo from 5 to 8 p.m. Attendees can cast their ballots for their favorite new product at the show, on Facebook or the food expo's website.
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