The Fresno Food Expo is already one of the largest regional food shows of its kind and organizers are expecting it to grow even bigger this year.
If organizers meet their goal, they will attract 140 companies, more than double the number of exhibitors in 2011 when the show was launched.
Also expected to grow are the number of buyers, who represent some of the largest chain stores across the country. This year, organizers are hoping for 700 buyers, up 200 from the first year.
Conceived as a way to connect food producers from the San Joaquin Valley with national and international buyers, the show has also caught on with the public.
The 2013 expo drew more than 450 people for an evening of food and beverage sampling. And that number could top 1,200 this year, said Fresno Mayor Ashley Swearengin, a key player in creating the food expo.
"If we hit all our goals, we will be making a real difference in the local economy," Swearengin said.
The mayor gathered with members of the expo's advisory committee on Tuesday at Fowler Packing to announce the start of the expo's registration period. The show opens on July 24 at the Fresno Convention Center's New Exhibit Hall.
The expo was moved from spring to mid-summer to allow for more participants from the fresh fruit industry -- a mainstay of the San Joaquin Valley's agriculture industry.
Representatives of the tree fruit and grape industry applauded the move.
"We want to be able to share our products with consumers and buyers," said Denver Schutz, technical services manager for Gerawan Farming. "It also allows us to provide the breadth of what is grown in the Valley."
Leland Parnagian, director of real estate operations for Fowler Packing, said the expo is valuable to small producers and major ones like his company -- one of the largest shippers of fresh produce in the nation.
"This allows companies to connect with buyers and industry professionals to build on existing relationships and create new ones," Parnagian said. "It also helps us build greater awareness of our products."
Past expo participants say they are eagerly looking forward to this year's show.
Managers of Islamic Meat & Poultry from Stockton were pleasantly surprised at the response from buyers and the public. The 30-year-old company processes goat, lamb and poultry.
Prior to the expo, the company had never exported any of its meat until it connected with a buyer from Japan. Now the company is shipping free-range turkeys overseas.
"We had tremendous feedback from the public and retailers," said Walid Mesallem, managing director of Islamic Meat & Poultry.
Also gaining special attention was Rosa Brothers Milk Company in Hanford. The company won the expo's first "People's Choice Award" for its glass-bottled milk.
Nicole Schott, who handles sales and marketing for the dairy, said the expo was invaluable for raising public awareness about its regular and flavored milks.
"It really has helped us grow our business," Schott said.
Rosa Brothers glass-bottled milk is sold in 25 Save Marts and 14 Vons locations in the Valley.
Registration for the expo is free for qualified buyers and exhibitors can receive a 40% savings on registration through Feb. 15. Public ticket sales will be launched in the spring. For more information, visit the expo's website: www.fresnofoodexpo.com.
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