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Bad weather canceled flights and kept some away from United Fresh in Chicago this week, but still some 7,000 attendees thronged McCormick Place for the FreshMKT, FreshTEC and new SmartFood expos.

U.S. Secretary of Agriculture and keynote speaker Sonny Perdue was fresh off Farm Bill victories in the House and Senate and pledged the Trump administration will make boosting fresh produce consumption a top priority.

Here are some highlights from the show:

2018 Produce Innovation Awards Winners

Seven Produce Innovation Award Winners were recognized at United Fresh. This year’s honorees were selected by show attendees from a total of 36 finalists across seven categories.

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Toner

“This year’s Innovation Awards winners won from a field of excellent and qualified competitors,” said United Fresh’s Vice President of Convention & Industry Collaboration John Toner. “The exceptional creativity of these seven winners helped them stand out at United Fresh 2018, the home of fresh produce innovation.”

“Innovation starts at United Fresh,” said Tom Stenzel, United Fresh’s President & CEO. “The innovation of our member companies shape the entire produce industry and show attendees have the unique opportunity to see that ingenuity up close at United Fresh. Congratulations to this year’s winners and thank you to all participants for showcasing your creativity.”

Best New Food Safety Solution: Natures Natural Solutions LLC, Industrial Size Food Freshness Card

Best New Fruit Product: Apeel Sciences, Apeel

CuteCumbers

Best New Packaging: Mucci Farms, CuteCumber Poppers

Best New Packing/Processing Equipment: Volm Companies, Inc., Volmpack Pouch Bagger

Best New Vegetable Product: Mastronardi Produce / SUNSET, SUNSET® Aloha™ Peppers

Best New Indoor Growing Technology: IUNU, Luna

Best New Field Technology: Food-Origins, Food Origins Data Collection Platform

United Fresh 2018 Retail Produce Manager Award Winners

There were 25 finalists recognized in Chicago for the United Fresh Retail Produce Manager Awards; five went home as grand prize winners.

Grand Prize Winners

This year’s grand prize winners are:

  • Mike Martin, Tops Friendly Markets;
  • Shelly Carlock, Foodmaxx/The SaveMart Cos.;
  • Heather Gengler, Hy-Vee Inc.;
  • Mandy Aniciete, Brookshire Grocery Co.;
  • Gustavo Cadena, Grocery Outlet.

Fresh Start Foundation Launches New Initiative

The United Fresh Start Foundation announced the launch of a three-year fundraising campaign that aims to secure $5 million in commitments to support the foundation’s mission of increasing children’s access to fresh fruits and vegetables.

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Jewell

United Fresh Chairman of the Board Cindy Jewell kicked off the new campaign during the United Fresh 2018 Opening General Session.

The Foundation is best known for its flagship Salad Bars to Schools Program, which has placed over 5,000 salad bars in schools in all 50 states, benefitting nearly three-million children.

The Foundation’s Community Grants Program, now in its second year, has provided $100,000 to community organizations that increase kids’ access to fresh fruits and vegetables after school, on weekends, and throughout the summer.

Image result for United Fresh Start Foundation“As a non-profit, we’re dependent on the generous funding of our industry and other contributors committed to children’s health,” said Phil Muir, Chairman of the Foundation’s Board of Trustees. “Long-term financial commitments will not only allow us to grow our impact today, but also build multi-year collaborations with other organizations that will grow and deepen our impact for years to come.”

Image result for Kate Olender, Senior Director of Health & Wellness
Olender

“The United Fresh Start Foundation focuses on three core mission areas where it can make the most impact on our nation’s children: in schools, in communities and connecting our businesses to make a difference in local communities,” said Kate Olender, Senior Director of Health & Wellness. “What makes our Foundation successful is that we harness the power and passion of our entire industry to ensure kids can eat fresh fruits and vegetables.”

United Food Safety Staff Expands

Dr. Emily Griep has joined the United Fresh staff as Manager, Food Safety, reporting to the Vice President of Food Safety & Technology, Dr. Jennifer McEntire.

Griep recently received her Ph.D. from Cornell University as a USDA National Needs Fellow in the area of ‘food safety for a global economy’, focusing on food science and technology and minoring in international agriculture & rural development as well as nutrition.

24th Industry Leadership Program Class Announced

The 24th class of the United Fresh Produce Industry Leadership Program was also announced. The program was launched in 1995 and has graduated more than 200 participants.

The new Produce Industry Leadership Program class is comprised of:

  • Daniel Corsaro, Indianapolis Fruit Company, Indianapolis, IN
  • Shanan Cox, Sam’s Club, Bentonville, AR
  • Heather Fuller, Braga Fresh Family Farms, Bakersfield, CA
  • Jason Frost, Apio Inc., Hanover, PA
  • Brett Grimm, Grimmway Farms, Bakersfield, CA
  • Lacy Litten, Innovative Produce, Santa Maria, CA
  • Matt Roy, US Foods, Rosemont, IL
  • Brianna Shales, Stemilt Growers, Wenatchee, WA
  • Leslie Simmons, Dave’s Specialty Imports, Medley, FL
  • Olivia Storvik, NatureSweet Tomatoes, San Antonio, TX
  • Lori Taylor, The Produce Moms, Indianapolis, IN
  • Ross Williams, Titan Farms, Ridge Spring, SC

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