FreshEx, a fresh food expo and collaborative trade show, is designed to bring together foodservice and retail in Wisconsin for product sourcing, equipment, services, networking moments and discovering that “next fresh game changer.”
“This is a brand-new tradeshow, a brand-new event,” said Brandon Scholz, president and CEO of the Wisconsin Grocers Association. “It is what the name is – it’s all about fresh.”
A collaborative effort between WGA, the Wisconsin Restaurant Association and the Wisconsin Bakers Association, the event is set for 10:30 a.m.-4:30 p.m. on April 12 at the Alliant Energy Center in Madison, Wisconsin.
Scholz said the idea came about when looking at the different channels between grocers, convenience stores, restaurants, bakeries – anybody in retail food, “who all were looking at what they offer their customers, how they offer their customers, how they prepare price for their customers – all realizing that for a large part, regardless of the demographic, their customers are moving to a different type of what appeals to them.”
He said the COVID-19 pandemic helped create this move to fresh and healthy, with more people cooking at home and learning to bake.
“You tap into the move to provide more fresh food, fresh products – not just fruits and vegetables but different preparations, whether it’s a hot case or wherever it may be. You look at convenience stores and their move to prepared meals, prepared foods. They’re more than just gas and cigarettes these days. They’re all about fresh food,” Scholz said. “Our friends in the restaurant industry have just had a hell of a two years, trying to find a way to survive. And so they obviously want to move from just menu preparation and in-dining experience.”
Scholz noted that the days of the small, hometown baker are changing. “It’s not that bakeries are out of business, but their models are changing as well,” he said. “…We’re all moving to this kind of fresh world.”
In mid-October, Scholz said that he and Cheryl Lytle, events director for the WGA, met with the Wisconsin Restaurant Association and then brought in the bakers and the three associations have been collaborating on the FreshEx.
“Now, on a daily basis, we are building this event from scratch,” Scholz said. “We’re all used to running trade shows that are established, that the vendors and the attendees know about, the speakers know about; we know how they work, where they work and what to do; what the pressure points are and how to make people come and go. But on a brand-new one, you’ve got to scratch your head a lot to figure out how to make something that appeals and to let people know it’s different than what we usually do.”
Lytle said it has been “a ton of fun” working with seasoned professionals from the restaurant and bakery associations.
“I think the concept is really what has been motivating us, and it’s been putting the energy behind this show,” she said. “The whole concept, the blurred lines of food – where you’re picking your food up and providing for your family is changing. And so that’s what we’re trying to capture with this event.”
A morning session at the event will include a panel of experts who will share “what fresh means in the world today on an international level,” Lytle said.
“So we’re going to get our members into Madison and learning from some leaders in our industry right away. We’ll then open up the FreshEx trade show, where we’ll have 200 booths of a variety of products that you’re sampling and testing and learning about that you can bring back to your company and help your bottom line and keep your store, your business, fresh, too.”
There also will be on-the-floor segments called Fresh Bites, 20-minute educational opportunities throughout the day.
“We will have an app that we’re working on that will provide some gamification, where members can build points and be in a raffle to win some money,” Lytle said. “There will be more interactive things on the show floor than what any of our organizations have ever done before, so we’re excited to learn from each other and then to provide for all our industries at this event.”
The event is targeting Wisconsin companies but is open to others that may be looking to demonstrate products of appeal to FreshEx attendees.
“Again, this provides an opportunity to take a look around and figure out what the next year or two is going to look like,” said Scholz, adding that it offers a chance to take a step back and try to figure out how fresh becomes part of the daily offering in any of the foodservice venues.
FreshEx booth sales started Jan. 3 and are 40 percent sold, Lytle said. Registration is open for attendees and people are signing up daily.
“For people to sign up for a food show this far in advance, for me, is a great sign,” Lytle said. “It’s good to see the traffic come through every day of people registering…we’re definitely seeing positive signs, and it’s just adding to our excitement for the whole event.”
To register for a booth, to attend or for more information, visit FreshEx.org.