Fresno CA Food Fair Highlights Local Food and Beverage
Locally made salsa. Citrus based gin. A robot that delivers food.
Dozens of local food and beverage manufacturers and service providers showcased their products this week at a trade show in downtown Fresno.
The Made in Central California The show took place Wednesday and Thursday at the Fresno Convention & Entertainment Center with all manner of food and service vendors hoping to connect with shoppers. An evening was open to members of the public, who were able to taste all kinds of locally prepared dishes.
Everything from fruits, vegetables and nuts to caramel sauce, cookies and beer was available to taste. The companies that made or grew them hoped to make contacts and strike deals with buyers in attendance, including Walmart, Costco, several school districts, Stanford University, and various wholesalers across the state.
At its heart, MADE is a business-to-business trade show. But the show also gives locals a taste of food being prepared in their own backyards.
Here are some key takeaways from the show and why it matters to audiences.
1. New name?
If this show sounds familiar to you, there’s a reason why. For years, the city of Fresno has hosted the Fresno Food Fair.
He died in 2020, his organizers citing “financial and organizational constraints”.
But now it’s back. It has a new host, the Fresno Chamber of Commerceand a new name.
The concept is the same, with the goal of promoting local food businesses and connecting them to shoppers, said Rebecca Sustaita-Toledo, director of MADE and special events manager for the Fresno Chamber of Commerce.
But there are some changes, like speed dating between sellers and buyers. A new product showcase was revamped into a “Shark Tank” style competition where companies showcased their most innovative new products.
Keep reading to see who won this, as well as which food won the Foodie Favorite Award.
2. We are a “powerhouse”
“We are a powerhouse. The Central Valley is a powerhouse,” when it comes to food production, Sustaita-Toledo said. “We really need to highlight that and make sure everyone knows your food is from central California.”
About 60% of the country’s fruits and nuts and 30% of its vegetables are grown within a 100-mile radius of Fresno. It exports more than $14 billion worth of agricultural products every year, according to information distributed at the show.
With all these farms, companies are turning what they grow into products that are sold on store shelves. Many of them process and package food sold under other major brand names, such as Trader Joe’s or At Newman’s.
Such “private label” production often operates under the radar, with some companies contractually prohibited from sharing the brands they make food for.
“We’re a low-key producer in Fresno. We are a dormant business,” said Mike Grazier, president of Bussetto Foods.
He used to joke that “we’re better known in Manhattan than in Fresno,” he said, though that’s changing.
In addition to salami and other private label meats, the company was promoting its DIY deli kit. It comes with all the meats, cheeses, nuts and olives needed to compose a charcuterie board.
3. Marketing in Fresnans
Many exhibitors at the show are trying to make deals with domestic stores or global exporters. But there is also marketing in Fresnans and the Central San Joaquin Valley at the show.
Valley fig growersfor example, makes fig concentrate from figs grown and processed in Fresno.
He sells it to breweries in places like Milwaukee who make fig beer from it. But no local brewers use it, said marketing and sales coordinator Stephanie Soto.
“We work with many breweries across the country, but … we’re trying to get more local businesses,” she said.
Based in Kingsburg The ugly society has a huge presence in Southern California stores.
It turns blemished peaches, nectarines, kiwis, apricots, and cherries that would otherwise be tossed into dried fruits under the “Hello!” I am ugly “.
It sells in nearly 700 stores, many of which are small LA-area health food stores. But in Fresno, they’re only at Kristina’s Natural Ranch Market, said Rylan Carter, vice president of western sales.
“There aren’t a ton of healthcare markets here,” he said. “We want to be local as much as possible.”
The company is applying to sell at Whole Foods and also hopes to be in Sprouts.
Unlike other trade shows, MADE offers an evening open to the public. Dubbed TASTE Central California this year, the Thursday night event allowed people to check out exhibitors, try their food and take home goodies.
This is local marketing in action, noted organizer Sustaita-Toledo.
When these people try and like products, they will talk about them. They kind of become brand ambassadors, she said.
“We’d like everyone who comes to the show to go to their local grocery store…and ask for these products,” she said.
4. Innovation and robots
The show is also an opportunity for companies to present their new products and has placed more emphasis on innovation this year.
That is why Robotic Bearwith an office in Fresno, rolled his Servi robot down the aisles with a plate of fake food.
The robot is already in use at Denny’s restaurant across from Fashion Fair on Shaw Avenue and Pho Le 777 in Clovis.
It can deliver food to a table, where customers grab their dishes or a waiter puts them on the table. He can also act as a host, guiding people to their tables. And workers can fill its trays with dirty dishes and send them back to the kitchen with just the press of a button.
“Really anything to help the staff. Our robot is just an extra hand,” said Territorial Account Manager Breyn Hillman. “We want people to know that we don’t want to take jobs, we’re just looking to help.”
What about that “Shark Tank” style contest? It’s called the Caglia environmental pressure cooker.
“You have to be new, but now you have to be innovative,” Sustaita-Toledo said. “It could be anything from a crazy new flavor to some type of food product… It could be anything with environmental sustainability.”
The winner? Dogs dig them treats made by the Fresno-based St. Francis Homeless Project.
Dog biscuits are made by women who have gaps in their resumes due to drug or alcohol addiction, mental health issues, or human trafficking. They get paid for their work, get their food handler card, and take courses in things like resume writing.
The program is expanding. The dough is now made by Wawona Frozen food and the women bake it in a commercial kitchen in Clovis.
Katherine McCoy shared her own story of substance abuse before she was part of the program’s first class. She is now the General Manager of River Park Panera.
“It honestly saved my life,” she said. “It’s a great program. Every Panera in the city is now hiring outside the program.
The $10,000 prize will be reinvested in the non-profit organization and used to hire more women and buy more equipment.
5. Who won the “Gourmet Favorite” award?
During the public event, people could vote for their favorite dish. The Foodie Favorite Award Winner: Ortega meat distribution and its chorizo.
The Fresno Company has been selling beef, pork and chicken to restaurants, grocery stores and convenience stores for over 25 years. Low-fat chorizo tubes are its newest product.
“We’re looking for someone to handle retail – Costco, Save Mart, department stores,” said Vice President Manuel Ortega Jr.
This story was originally published September 2, 2022 2 p.m.