Business

Valley companies find success at Fresno Food Expo

Whitney Wang, 5, followed by mom Suzanne, explore the Fresno Food Expo held in July in downtown Fresno. In its fifth year, the expo is the largest regional food show of its kind. The event was created to give local food makers – many who operated on a small scale – the opportunity to expand their sales and grow their companies.
Whitney Wang, 5, followed by mom Suzanne, explore the Fresno Food Expo held in July in downtown Fresno. In its fifth year, the expo is the largest regional food show of its kind. The event was created to give local food makers – many who operated on a small scale – the opportunity to expand their sales and grow their companies. jwalker@fresnobee.com

Brett Wade, marketing manager for Heart Ridge Farms, had modest expectations as a first-time exhibitor at Fresno Food Expo, a gathering of buyers and San Joaquin Valley food makers held this summer.

The Madera nut grower and processor recently launched a line of flavored almonds and was eager to get some exposure. What he got from the July 23 event was more than he expected.

“We were surprised at the number of buyers who attended and the international contingent that came. We did not anticipate that at all,” Wade said. “We not only got the exposure we were looking for, but we also made some important contacts that are going to help us grow.”

In its fifth year, Fresno Food Expo is the largest regional food show of its kind. The event was created as a way to give local food makers – many who operated on a small scale – the opportunity to expand their sales and grow their companies.

As the dust settles from the event, organizers and exhibitors recently reflected on the deals they struck during the show and other successes.

This year’s event set a record for the number of buyers: 914. The previous year, the show attracted 702 buyers representing major retailers, restaurants, school districts and foreign buyers. Wade said the time he spent with importers proved to be the most successful.

“There is a huge demand for California-grown products overseas in places like China, Korea and Malaysia,” Wade said. “And those came from contacts we made at the expo.”

We have really started to pique the interest of more and more buyers, and that speaks to the quality of the companies that we have, from the start-ups to the brand names.

Amy Fuentes, Fresno city economic development initiatives manager and director of the Fresno Food Expo

Amy Fuentes, the city’s economic development initiatives manager and the expo’s director, said this year’s event was a success on several levels. She was pleased with the record number of buyers, the public attendance, and the growing reputation of the event among buyers and exhibitors.

“We have really started to pique the interest of more and more buyers, and that speaks to the quality of the companies that we have, from the start-ups to the brand names,” Fuentes said.

A survey of buyers and exhibitors also yielded some important data. Fuentes said one-third of the buyers wanted to see more companies than the 122 who attended in July. Also telling was the number of contacts exhibitors made. About 25 percent said they made five to eight new contacts, 62 percent made one to four new contacts and 98 percent said they found companies they will be following up with.

“Those numbers are all very promising,” Fuentes said.

The expo has really opened a door for us, and we are have started to think about financing, buying equipment and hiring employees.

Yohanes Makmur, co-founder of Molucca Chocolate

Along with meeting new buyers, Fuentes said, several new companies made valuable connections with other exhibitors.

Tommy Caprelian, owner of local brewery House of Pendragon, attended the expo for the first time and was excited about meeting several restaurants that want to carry his craft beer and local companies whose ingredients he is using in his brews.

Caprelian was buying coffee and cacao nibs from vendors outside the area until he met Lanna Coffee Co. and Molucca Chocolate at the expo. The two Fresno companies are now supplying Caprelian with their products.

“We like to use local products and what a benefit it was to find these two companies,” Caprelian said. “I was buying those products from companies out of state.”

Once those beers are finished, Caprelian plans a tasting event.

Yohanes Makmur, co-founder of Molucca Chocolate, said that as a result of the expo, his company’s chocolates will be sold at Peeves Public Market on the Fulton Mall in Fresno. The expo also gave him and his business partner, Radinal Latuconsina, the chance to talk with several retailers, including Whole Foods, about stocking Molucca Chocolate.

“We knew it’s a process and we are taking one step at a time,” Makmur said.

The company’s short-term goal is to add new specialty retail stores to sell its hand-crafted gourmet chocolate bars.

“We want to be able to quadruple our production to meet the demand,” Makmur said. “The expo has really opened a door for us, and we have started to think about financing, buying equipment and hiring employees. It’s exciting – 2016 is going to be a big year for us.”

Next step: Expanding expo’s footprint to include Central Coast?

Fuentes is also thinking about the future. One possibility is expanding the expo’s footprint to include a larger region such as the Central Coast. The expo could also include a larger number of companies that provide services to food manufacturers, including box makers or equipment dealers.

“We like to say that we started out playing T-ball and are we ready to go into the minor leagues with the show?” she said. “What are the next steps for us going into 2016 and beyond? There is a lot of potential.”

Robert Rodriguez: 559-441-6327, @FresnoBeeBob

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