I’m writing this on my flight to PMA's Fresh Summit Conference in New Orleans. My first Fresh Summit was in Anaheim 12-13 years ago when I worked for the Northwest Cherry Commission (@nwcherrygrowers). Under the tutelage of Ken Severn, Bruce Hinson, Eric Melton and BJ Thurlby I got shown the ropes of Fresh Summit. I was new to this side of the industry and it was an eye opener. I distinctly remember two things from my initial Fresh Summit. The first was the overwhelming volumes of names and people that would come by our booth. I gathered piles of business cards as I met the teams from the Northwest Cherry industry and from the retailers that I’d be visiting to set up cherry programs with. I’d been to several trade shows before, but none were as large as Fresh Summit and I was amazed by how large the produce industry really was. My second distinct memory was the speakers. I was inspired! Speaker after speaker had positive messages and I was gobbling up every word that was said - frantically writing notes and sketching down details of their talk so that I’d empower myself to improve. I’d call my wife (with my calling card from the hotel each evening…) and tell her what I had learned that day, excited about this industry I had stepped into. Both the motivational style speakers and celebrity speakers have left their mark with me, although I primarily recall the names of the celebrities I’ve seen such as Colin Powell, Condoleezza Rice, General Norman Schwarzkopf, Jack Welch and many more. Currently, the speaker I remember the most is Steve Young, he delivered a great message and I’ll never forget Andy Nelson of The Packer streaking down the side of the banquet hall to catch a touchdown pass from Steve Young himself.
Twelve years later, my excitement for the industry still exists and I look forward to Fresh Summit. I’ve made countless friends and contacts in the industry and work hard at the show to make sure I’m providing my company an ROI on another trip to Fresh Summit. It can be easy to get into rut and take Fresh Summit for granted, but each and every year there are so many new and innovative things happening that I find myself departing Fresh Summit with an urgency to do and be more. I think I’m one of the few people disappointed that Fresh Summit is now a 2-day show instead of a 3-day show. I know the final day was slow for many people, but that was the day that really allowed me to talk to friends and peers on the media side and to have quality planning meetings with them. In the two day format, everything feels a bit rushed. The final day was often the only day that I’d have the opportunity to really walk the floor and make sure I didn’t miss a new packaging opportunity or a new product that I could share with our team. I miss the 3-day format.
I also have a lasting legacy with my family that started with the first Fresh Summit I attended. Fresh Summit was the launch of more travel in my career and I had two young girls at home and a third child on the way. I missed them (and my wife!) dearly and wanted to let them know that Dad was still there. So I started writing them letters and poems and even drew some comic strips. Initially, I’d never miss a day, but I’ll admit, that has slowed down considerably over the years, especially as they’ve gotten older. But you know what? They’ve kept the majority of those letters and have them stored in boxes and on occasion I know they’ve pulled them out and read them again. It is something we talk about from time to time and in hindsight, I’m glad I decided to take the time and effort to do that for my children. It’s funny, my parents are now retired and travel extensively throughout the U.S. and my Mom has started a tradition of mailing us postcards from virtually every stop they make along the way. I love getting them. All of the postcards are proudly hanging on a magnetic clip (from Fresh Summit) on our refrigerator at home. Plus, who doesn’t like receiving personal mail these days!
I have a busy several days lined up at this year’s Fresh Summit and am anxious to get started. We have a full allotment of meetings and dinners arranged and I look forward to connecting with old friends and meeting new ones. I also enjoy the PMA Fit 5k and the energy at this event. It will be interesting to see if it fills to capacity again on a Sunday morning in New Orleans – I have a friendly wager with one of my friends on the attendance. We’ll see, I have faith in those that want to get up and start their day with a little exercise!
If this is your first Fresh Summit, I hope you find it as exciting as I did 12 years ago. If you’re a veteran of this event, I hope you find the new inspirations that make the event worth your time and effort and keep you coming back for more. You can usually find me sampling all the different goodies that are being handed out during the day, and I’m definitely going to stop and get Joe Theismann’s autograph at the Tasti-Lee booth (@TastiLee), #1129. I always enjoy meeting the celebrities that appear at the various booths and my family enjoys when I send pics of me hanging out with Shrek, the cast of Gilligan’s Island, Denise Austin, Dorothy Hamill, the cranberry guys and so many more, it is certainly my ‘guilty pleasure’ at Fresh Summit.
Hope to see you on the floor.