As a relatively new transplant into the produce industry from the alien world of security software, I entered my first PMA Fresh Summit with a certain set of expectations. Some of those expectations held up (for example, I’ve been hearing for nearly a year that “PMA is BIG”) while others were off base. Overall, it was a wildly different experience than the “BIG” shows I was accustomed to in the software world.

After some time reflecting, I’ve compiled some of my takeaways from the show:


1. Everyone is nice.

Seriously, where are the jerks in the produce industry? In an industry as competitive as produce, it’s shocking for me to see how eager people are to help one another, collaborate, and oh, show the new girl the ropes. After discussing this “nice” phenomenon with a colleague, I wondered if it might have something to do with the fact that even stiff competitors help each other out in a pinch. Someone who is a competitor today may be a customer tomorrow if you have what they need (and they’ve run out). No offense to my old software buddies, but I think I’ve found my home.


2. Yes, it’s BIG. But not in the way that I expected.

As I mentioned, I’ve been hearing how big PMA is for nearly a year. But I’ve been to massive trade shows before. What made an impact on me were the investments at PMA. I’m no stranger to trade shows that fill up every inch of the Sands Expo Center in Las Vegas, but in my experience there has been a much higher small booth to large booth ratio than I saw at PMA.

So many of the booths at PMA were huge. Massive booth footprints, combined with massive hanging signs (seriously, did everyone have a hanging sign? It was like looking up in an overcrowded kite store) and massive display units all point to some serious investments in the show.

As I took all this in, I couldn’t help but question the ROI. Coming from software marketing, I am conditioned to measure and show ROI for everything. I can’t help but wonder if these investments truly yield a high enough ROI to justify themselves. If so, I am looking forward to riding a live unicorn through a sea of glittery grapes at next year’s PMA.


3. There’s plenty of tech in produce.

In the past year, I’ve gone on tours of fields, test farms, orchards, packinghouses, warehouses and more. The more I pull back the curtain, the more I learn that there’s a lot more that goes into food production than putting a seed in the ground. I wasn’t surprised to see a fair amount of new tech at the show, but I think that consumers are still wildly unaware of all the moving parts that come together to get an apple on the shelf in their supermarket. That’s probably okay, but when I tell my non-produce industry friends about it, they’re FASCINATED.


4. Exhibitors are willing to experiment.

I saw a lot of different solutions to the age-old booth traffic quandary. How did marketers at PMA work to attract booth visitors? Here are a few of the more memorable tactics…


  • I saw more mascots (we’re talking big furry suits) than I’ve seen at any other show. Some were totally bizarre, and may have had the opposite effect on me. Maybe I’m just not a mascot person ¯\_(ツ)_/¯.
  • Food. Arguably the best tactic to attract people to your booth. Does it get them to stay? Depends how delicious it is!
  • Games! My personal favorite, games can be a huge draw for passersby. See someone else failing at giant Jenga or an oversized ring toss? It’s almost impossible to resist the urge to see how you stack up.
  • Booth Babes. I’m going to try to stay off my soapbox here, but… seriously, can we be done with booth babes? Amid the discussions about gender equality, representation in the workplace, and wage gaps, booth babes are an antiquated reminder for all women that there are still some people out there who prefer our objectification to our participation.
  • I’m always surprised not to hear more music at trade shows. Sure, there are restrictions on how loud your music can be, but it sets a vibe and creates instant emotional connection. The trick? Picking what to play. I walked by a booth rocking Radiohead on vinyl and honestly just wanted to hang out there, rest my feet, and eat Peatos all day (high five, World Peas – favorite booth at the show!).

5. Storytelling wins.

The best booths I saw were ones that told the company story through creative visuals, and made the viewer FEEL something. Telling your story visually can be tricky – how much information should you convey? What emotions do your typeface and imagery evoke? Which stories should you tell? There are a myriad of factors to consider when creating show graphics, but an emotional connection to a brand will always win over a cerebral one. I saw a number of exhibitors at PMA who were doing it right.


6. Produce is a good place to be.

My biggest takeaway was “Wow, this is fun.” For anyone who is passionate about food, PMA is a dreamscape of flavors, stories, and opportunities. I even tasted something I’ve never seen before, which for me is a big deal (message me and I’ll tell you what it was!).

I’m already looking forward to next year!

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