The two local food companies were just getting their start, but today they are thriving. Lanna is in the running for the expo’s new product award for the sweet coffee milk drink it created with Tulare-based Rosa Brothers Milk Company. And P*DE*Q has expanded into a line of gluten-free products, including partnering with a major Clovis food company to make gluten-free mini fruit pies.
The partnerships are one example of the unexpected outcomes of the expo, back this week for its seventh year. Local companies collaborating with each other was not a goal of the first expo in 2011, but a happy surprise.
A few other unexpected things have come out the expo, too, including booming sales of tickets for the public portion – 1,000 people are expected – and the involvement of local chefs.
The expo happens Wednesday and Thursday at the Fresno Convention and Entertainment Center in downtown, with the main trade show and public event on Thursday. From 5 to 8 p.m. that day, the public will get to sample new products and take home some freebies. The $50 tickets are still available online.
The expo has accomplished many of its goals since the first show. Back then, 66 local vendors connected with 130 buyers representing major retailers, specialty grocery stores and institutions. This year, five times as many buyers will be checking out 145 local food companies pitching vodka, olive oil made with Fresno chiles, pistachio bourbon and sour strawberry flavored raisins.
The more we’re all exposed to the great food of the region, the more pride we create in the region.
David Nalchajian, Fresno Food Expo
Although the primary goal of the expo is connecting buyers and sellers, local food companies are getting to know each other, too.
That’s led to partnerships like the one between Lanna Coffee and Rosa Brothers, said David Nalchajian, the food expo’s general manager.
“That’s not something we envisioned in the beginning,” he said. “Some of the partnerships and collaborations that are happening are really special.”
Bryan Feil, of Lanna Coffee, said the two companies met at the expo last year and soon began talking about working together. Noel Rosa, an owner of Rosa Brothers, said he was impressed with the quality of Lanna’s roasted coffee and its cold brew, a relatively new product on the market.
Rosa Brothers, one of a few local dairies that bottles its own milk, is also known for its small-batch premium ice cream. Rosa said that after several conversations, research and sampling, the two companies came up with Cold Brew Milk Coffee.
The core ingredients of the new product are 2 percent milk from Rosa Brothers combined with Lanna Coffee’s cold brew concentrate. The milky cold brew became available in late June.
Another partnership born out of the food show was P*DE*Q and Wawona Frozen Foods, both based in the Fresno area.
When P*DE*Q owner Flavia Takahashi-Flores started her business, she was making the rounds of gluten-free bread by hand and selling them at her little cafe at the corner of Echo and Weldon avenues.
“Costco came by and said, ‘We love your product, but we highly recommend you to find a co-packer,’ ” she recalls.
A co-packer is a food manufacturing company that has the equipment to mass produce other companies’ recipes. It’s a good way for fledgling companies to assure big buyers like Costco that they meet buyers’ quality standards and can produce large orders.
Takahashi-Flores met the head of Wawona Frozen Foods, Bill Smittcamp, at the food expo.
“The stars were aligned where he had … all the equipment to mass produce the P*DE*Qs and the freezing capacity,” she said.
Without that partnership, “I don’t think I would be a brand right now,” she said. “Or I would have to be raising a lot of money to build a plant.”
Wawona also used Takahasi-Flores’ expertise to create a line of gluten-free “Sweet Gems” now sold under the P*DE*Q name. The peach, triple berry and apple take-and-bake desserts should be in Save Mart stores by October.
Along with a growing number of buyers and vendors, the public has also embraced the expo. The number of people attending the public event has more than doubled from 450 to the estimated 1,000 this year. At the event, the public can sample many of the foods and drinks showcased during the day by expo vendors.
The public portion, known as Expolicious, has become one of Fresno’s can’t-miss food parties. Expo officials say the public event has paid off in many ways, including exposing to the community the many food and drink products made by San Joaquin Valley companies.
“For the past seven years, the Fresno Food Expo has been bringing together Central California’s San Joaquin Valley region and harnessing its collective voice to put a bigger spotlight on our diverse food and beverage companies and further elevate public perception of our award-winning area,” said Nalchajian. “We have the most agriculturally rich region in the nation, which has spurred the creation of innovative food companies and products that are unique to our region. It just feels right to talk about that, to brag about what we do and what we have here; and the Fresno Food Expo gives us a local, national and international platform to do so.”
Local chefs are also getting increasingly involved in the expo.
For the second year in a row, 12 restaurants will compete to create the most delicious dishes using local products during the public portion of the show. The restaurants range from Ampersand Ice Cream to Sam’s Italian Deli and will be judged by chef, author and TV personality Simon Majumdar.
The expo also paid Majumdar to visit with about 35 local chefs last month. Nalchajian said he hoped the networking session would inspire chefs to creatively use more local food on local menus.
“I want to see more names of local product, regional products, on menus,” he said. “You see it more outside of our region than we do here, yet we’re producing most of it.”
If you go
Fresno Food Expo’s public session, called “Expolicious,” allows the public to sample new products and take home some freebies.
When: Thursday, July 27, 5-8 p.m.
Where: Fresno Convention and Entertainment Center, in downtown Fresno.
Cost: $50 per person.
More information: www.fresnofoodexpo.com/