Fruit Attraction, an international trade show for the fruit and vegetable industry, will celebrate its 10th year Tuesday, 23 October. This year’s slogan, “Where fresh produce and innovation meet” promises to look at some of the challenges and opportunities that lie ahead in the world of fresh produce.
1,600 exhibiting companies and 70,000 professionals from 120 countries will gather in Madrid for the three-day conference, which will include discussions ranging from packaging to vegetable e-commerce to the challenges facing agriculture to the future of soils and irrigation maintenance.
In an exclusive preview of the show, Produce Business UK chatted with Fruit Attraction's director, Raul Calleja, to find out more about the event's strategic direction, new challenges facing the world of produce at large and some of the processes that will facilitate its growth.
As a publication focused on produce, can you explain the strategic direction of the event and how that pertains specifically to the produce industry?
Fruit Attraction is based on three main strategic lines. One is marketing. The fair is a tool for facilitating the commercial meetings between supply and demand necessary for both import and export. Another is innovation. The show has become a space to discover all the most recent market developments. A growing number of companies use Fruit Attraction to present their latest innovations. Lastly, there is knowledge. Over the three days that the event is held, it hosts a wide-ranging professional programme of technical conferences and parallel activities, characterized by a great diversity of topics, as well as by the high level of the participants and speakers.
The organization’s challenges for the future remains to be able to offer a profitable commercial tool, continue to expand the event's international dimension, and to make Fruit Attraction the space for the future, and of course, for trends!
What are you witnessing as some of the fruit and vegetable trends in 2018? Would you say that there are more innovations or challenges facing the industry currently?
The sector is in good shape, but in a permanent state of alert and revision, especially due to all the new disruptive changes that will hit the market over the next 10 years: the emergence of biotechnology, the new value chain, the profiles of the new consumers, the entry of online commerce into the fresh produce sector, to name a few.
Maintaining the top positions requires that the business infrastructure invest in updating and modernizing horticultural farms, incorporating improvements to the processes to reinforce the sector and ensure its sustainability in the future. It is necessary to deepen the diversification of sales abroad and speed up the removal of existing phytosanitary barriers in many countries that impede access to their markets. The innovation process must likewise be accelerated by bolstering funds and operational programmes, mainly aimed at financing investments in farms.
Of course, producers are also aware that they must adapt agricultural activity to the new environmental conditions. It is necessary to develop methods and tools so that companies and producers from the fruit and vegetable sector can adapt to this situation.
I would like to highlight Fruit Attraction as a dynamic element in the fruit and vegetable sector in Europe. The harmonious relationship between IFEMA [the trade institution of Madrid] and FEPEX [the Spanish federation of producers and exporters of fruits, vegetables, flowers and live plants] has enabled the development of a project tailored to the needs of this sector. Added to that is the ability to attract participants at the international level, encouraged by the actions carried out by the exhibitors themselves and by the fair at large.
How did the conference start? What was the basic idea and initiative around it?
It was in 2009 when the sector itself, through FEPEX identified the need to develop a business project that would help it continue to strengthen its leading position in international markets. IFEMA then proposed a very profitable commercial tool, which guaranteed an influx of first-rate international visitors. Now, a decade later, we can say that all our efforts have paid off over the years.
The key to the success of this conference lies in a combination of factors: First, Spain is, without doubt, a key country in the fruit and vegetable sector, from the point of view of marketing, and this makes it a powerful attraction for buyers, for its variety, quality and for our reputation: We have always been seen as the garden of Europe.
Second, the fair is held in October, a key month for planning supply campaigns for the distribution channels in the run-up to winter. This makes it a real commercial meeting point. We see that this isn’t a fair for seeing things, but to seal agreements, and plan supplies and campaigns.
Third, the cooperation and coordination between FEPEX and IFEMA is a remarkable success. FEPEX have the market know-how, they know what needs to be discussed in the technical workshops, and IFEMA are professional trade fair organisers who have successfully designed a fair tailor-made for the industry, involving a very modest outlay for participating companies.
Likewise, hard work has been done over the past few years on the demand side, particularly on the visiting professional, with a lot of money invested through the international buyer programme.
Today, we can say that Fruit Attraction does not only receive domestic and European visitors, but visitors from all over the world.
As your official statement outlines, this year’s fair will launch new areas such as Organic Hub, which produces organic fruits and vegetables, the Smart Agro area, which focuses on the use of new technologies and connectivity to increase agricultural productivity, and The Nuts Hub, where the spotlight is on nuts. Could you describe these areas and the thinking behind them?
These are areas that we are promoting in this edition. The Organic Hub area is dedicated to companies that make organic horticultural products. This year the Biofruit Congress will be held in this same area next Wednesday. It is the first European Congress on organic fruits and vegetables. The fresh organic produce markets face new challenges and opportunities with the launch of new European regulations and another round of double-digit growth in consumption. Renowned experts and leading distributors will analyze the latest data and trends in organic fruits and vegetables with other "value chains."
The Smart Agro area is also being strengthened, focusing on the application of new technologies and connectivity, with the aim of increasing the productivity of horticultural farms. This will focus on experiences, innovation and internationalization opportunities in Smart Agro. Among other issues, it will address opportunities for internationalization with the participation of CDTI, which will expose the ICT-Agro opportunities of H2020 and give some insights into Horizon Europe.
The Nuts Hub area is aimed at nuts, expanding the capacity of the fair as a stage to discover the reality of different sectors. This area will allow organic fruit and vegetable producers to showcase their latest offerings and enter into contact with the entire industry and distribution chain. In addition, this will be followed up with the Walnut Attraction day on Tuesday, where the walnut industry in Spain and in Europe will be analyzed.
You mention several other conferences. Can you explain a little about those as well?
The fair, in addition to the exhibition offering, will be topped off by a very strong programme of technical conferences, which will follow. Among the most notable is the World Fresh Forum, a business and institutional networking space to take advantage of opportunities in the Arabian Peninsula and Canada.
There is also the Biofruit Congress, which will debate the future of ecological markets; the International Kaki Congress, Kaki Attraction; the 5th International Congress of seedless table grapes, Grape Attraction; Digital Attraction, dealing with experiences, innovation and internationalization opportunities in Smart Agro; and Technology Attraction.
The conferences are organized by FEPEX and other powerful industry associations — the ICEX, Port Authorities, the international media, as well as other different companies.
Do you think Smart Agro has an important role to play for the future of the industry?
It is essential to incorporate technology in the fruit and vegetable sector. At Fruit Attraction, we understand that the value chain of fruit and vegetable marketing is not only understood with the product but also with a series of services that allow one to place a product on the market in the best conditions and in the shortest possible time. It is necessary that the exhibitions coexist with commercial meetings between producers and auxiliary industries, and to incorporate technology.
The conference facilitates the dialogue between positioning proposals and technological solutions. In this way, it is committed to promoting digital transformation and technological innovation throughout the agri-food chain.
For this reason, we are introducing Smart Agro, with the goal of obtaining more efficient production with higher levels of quality and control, but with lower environmental impacts. The Smart Agro area is a space surrounded by innovation and knowledge, with very practical talks and workshops. It will also accommodate innovation in logistics and transport, with more advanced visibility and traceability systems that enable, for example, the temperature of the product to be monitored and controlled in real time.
In general, what can people expect from the conference this year?
Fruit Attraction is essentially a commercial event to facilitate the bringing together of international fruit and vegetable supply and demand. The fair has consolidated its position as a highly anticipated event for the industry to showcase its excellent products and for European distributors to bolster their network of contacts in the fruit and vegetable markets among consumers and producers.
This year, we have observed an increase in international participation by EU countries like the Netherlands, Italy, Portugal, Poland and Greece, with particularly strong growth from France, as well as from non-EU countries like Chile, Brazil, Peru, Costa Rica, Colombia, Argentina and South Africa. In fact, the Southern Hemisphere this year has now been assigned its own area of the exhibition in Hall 10. In addition, Angola, the United Arab Emirates, Finland, India, Iran, Mali, Malta, Russia and Serbia are participating for the first time in the hall. This year, international participation accounts for 24 per cent of the total.
We are also offering a series of initiatives to facilitate relationships with other markets. For example, our guest importing countries which, this year will be Canada and the Arabian Peninsula zone. This event proposes to encourage trade relations between these two non-EU markets and the European Union, and will be accompanied by a full programme of roundtables and B2B sessions. Alongside this initiative, the fair will once again make a significant investment in the International Guest Programme, which will attract 1,000 retail purchasing managers, importers and wholesalers from all over the world.
In terms of numbers, has the conference grown over the years?
Yes, in all its parameters. And this year, in particular, is a very special one for Fruit Attraction since, in addition to turning 10, it will be presenting its most complete edition, with 70,000 professionals. It is a magnificent evolution if we compare it with the 8,400 professionals that attended the first edition in 2009.
Already a substantial endeavor, how would you say this conference compares to the other conferences you put on?
Each fair has its own idiosyncrasies. It is essential to have direct contact with the organizing committee of each of them to understand the real needs of a sector. As experts in organizing fairs, we must offer a useful commercial tool that empowers the sector.
Fruit Attraction is a young and very dynamic event, in a fantastic city like Madrid, where work is done throughout the fair's open hours in a real international business environment.