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Huge Trade Event in Chicago Brings Jersey Foods to the World


(TRENTON) – From the famous Jersey tomato and succulent sea scallops to lesser known foods like pretzel crisps, New Jersey food products were on display for the world at the 2005 FMI Show in Chicago, May 1-3.

Combining five exhibitions into one mega-marketplace, the FMI Show includes its namesake section, the U.S. Food Export Showcase, Fancy Food Show, United Produce Expo and Conference and All Things Organic, all under the roof of the behemoth McCormick Place convention center in the Windy City.

New Jersey companies filled an entire pavilion at the Food Export Showcase, with two Jersey Shore seafood companies, Viking Village and Black Tiger, drawing many visitors. Of course, the three Chicago-area chefs cooking up sea scallops for sampling didn’t hurt.

“We got these chefs in from The Fish Guy Market, which is one of our customers here in Chicago,” said Ernie Panacek, general manager of Viking Village. “I think the show was worth the trip because we bonded with some of our existing customers and made some connections to open up some new markets.”

While exporters to Asia were looking for more quantity at the sacrifice of quality, Panacek said, “I think our exporting will be more to Europe and, possibly, the Middle East, because they’re looking for the higher quality.”

The familiar “Jersey Fresh” logo could be seen in several locations, especially at the Produce Expo, where Cumberland County farmer Bruce Cobb was showing off produce from the Garden State.

“We’re really here putting a face on Jersey Fresh and getting these guys out here to learn about marketing in the real world,” Cobb said. “Every grower should have the opportunity to come out to these trade shows. Some farmers will tell you they can’t afford to take three days at this time of year. But I’ll tell you, they can’t afford not to do this.”

Rick Feighey of Procacci Brothers Sales Corp., owners of the largest tomato farm in New Jersey, said the shows definitely help to broaden the market for New Jersey products.

“We’re always looking for new customers who haven’t heard about us or seen us before,” Feighey said. “You get to network with other growers and shippers, and you’re always looking for new ideas for wholesale distribution. This trip, it’s been very strong with New England people and a lot of retailers from the Midwest. This is the place where you’re looking to see the CEOs and the top people.”

Two trends tended to dominate the shows this year, convenience and health. America’s and the world’s consumers continue looking for ways to combine their desire for healthy foods with their time-crunched schedules.

Marji Marrow, Salad Segment Director for Ready Pac, which has a processing plant in Florence, Burlington County, said the trend plays perfectly into the company’s diverse line of bagged and prepared salads and pre-cut produce.

“The strongest interest is coming from the quick-service restaurants, who are very much responding to consumer demands for healthier choices,” Marrow said.

Other, lesser known, products with a New Jersey connection also could be found at the show, including beach plums. The white-flowered plums -- about the size of a cherry with a sweet-tart flavor -- grow wild on beaches of the Atlantic Coast from Delaware to Maine, or, as Cornell University’s Bob Weybright puts it, “from Cape May to Cape Cod.”
Al Murray with Ready Pac's Pamela Donnelly

The plums have a short harvest season, from mid-August through mid-September. Sweeter than the larger plums found on most supermarket shelves, they are drawing intense interest from chefs at high-end restaurants in major East Coast cities, who use them for jams, jellies and sauces, Weybright said. They are being developed for more commercial growth by a partnership of Cornell University, Rutgers University, the University of Massachusetts and the Long Island Agricultural Experiment Station.

“It’s still very much a cottage industry,” Weybright said. “We asked the chefs in New York for $6 a pound and they didn’t even bat an eye. Then I knew I should have asked for $8 or $9 a pound.”

Some food products offered new twists on old favorites. The Snack Factory, a Mercer County company, showed off its Pretzel Crisps, thin slices of hard pretzels marketed as the “first spreadable pretzel cracker,” as part of the Export Showcase.

Al Murray, Director of Marketing and Dvelopment for the New Jersey Department of Agriculture, said the New Jersey Pavilion at the Food Export Showcase offers smaller companies a chance to reach a global market they might otherwise not have the resources to connect to.

“This gives them a great opportunity to be out here where the people who make buying decisions from all over the world have gathered,” Murray said. “It puts New Jersey’s fresh- and processed-food producers on a more equal footing with the large, worldwide corporations.”

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