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One tell-tell sign that someone has been to a produce field is by the type of shoes they are wearing. If the shoes are clean, the person probably has not walked the dirt furrows between rows of romaine. If they are in sneakers and / or shoes that can get dirty, they are no longer a field rookie. If they are in boots, they have experienced mud and know how to shuffle through heads of lettuce.

You can also spot the foodservice buyer that knows the produce industry; coming equipped with the right shoes for the field and a jacket for the cooler. Each year many of our customers join us at PMA’s Foodservice conference to connect in-person and go to the fields and plants to check on operations and fine tune their produce programs. I followed along with one of our customers during PMA, stepping into their proverbial shoes and seeing from behind the camera what customer interaction is like with the Fresh Avenue team.

Field Tour

It’s little things like the misty marine layer that settles over the Salinas valley creating a big greenhouse that everyone should experience first-hand. You then realize how special the area is and why it aptly supplies so much of our nation’s fresh produce. We want our customers to experience and know exactly where their product comes from and to visit regularly. PMA Foodservice provides such an invaluable opportunity for customer to connect to the soil, environment, crews, and growers from which their product originates.

Plant Tour

Plant tours provide more opportunity to see the commitment to food safety and operational expertise of our partners. Again, there is a value to seeing product traveling through the production lines transforming from whole product to cut and going through the wash, safety checks, bagging and packaging. Its always a flurry of activity as the processing facilities prepare product that is distributed nation wide to the customer’s restaurant locations.

Question and Answers

The real value of face-to-face interaction at PMA with our customers is time spent on questions. For one, we oftentimes can point them to the person at source that can best answer, or by seeing the operations, questions pop up that can be quickly answered. This allows us to monitor the viability of existing programs and make any necessary adjustments to optimize.

Show Time

PMA Foodservice’s show floor is a great place to make new connections and see what our industry peers are doing. However for our customer, this is the time we can make introductions in our network or with other grower / processors we work with. For the customer I followed, we stopped by a grower we work with on processed onions. So many times a customer needs more than just a few produce items, and by working with multiple growers along with the expanded network from our consolidation program, we can facilitate connections that bring more value to our customers.

The Fun Stuff

Our industry’s foodservice conference is in a beautiful place made famous by Steinbeck and the countless names and movies filmed in this region. There is the time where all can enjoy the golf, food, and night life that Monterey has to offer. There are many dinners, but our team also hosts a happy hour to connect away from the buzz of the show. This year it took place after the show so we all had a chance to take a deep breath after a busy day and compare notes on our flights, anxious to get back to our loved ones back home.