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Fresno Food Expo highlights local producers, industry innovators

It’s no secret that the Central Valley is the breadbasket of the world and this year light has been shed on the region’s innovative ability through a range of unique local food products — from new craft beers to uniquely flavored tamales — showcased at the fifth annual Fresno Food Expo.

In July, representatives from 126 food and beverage companies from the eight-county San Joaquin Valley met with 700 national and international foodservice and retail buyers, restaurant chefs, and institutions as well as members of the public at the Fresno Food Expo to celebrate local food and innovation in the industry.

With products ranging from savory to sweet, locals and judges perused the diverse selection of food product several of which hailed from the northern Central Valley such as Bella Viva Orchards Pure and Natural Dried Apple Slices from Denair; Sweet Potato Spirits sweet potato vodka from Atwater; and Sunrise Fresh Dark Sweet Dried Cherries from Stockton.

“The Fresno Food Expo has put a spotlight on our region, highlighting the fact that we are truly the breadbasket of the world attracting buyers from all over the globe who are looking to find our own local products to purchase, as well as connecting these businesses to industry partners who can provide all the tools they need to grow,” said Mayor Ashley Swearengin of the City of Fresno.

Last year Bella Viva submitted dried persimmons, peaches, pears and oranges as part of their Pure and Natural line and the company was awarded for its pioneering efforts alongside Modesto based company Cold House Vodka with the Industry Award, a nod towards the company’s unique and innovative approach.

“Our Pure and Natural product line was inspired by consumer demand for cleaner ways of eating,” said Bella Viva Sales Representative Brean Bettencourt, demonstrating the synergistic relationship between the consumer and the producer on which the Expo capitalizes. “Our product line is all-natural dried fruit, so there are absolutely no additives. This not only makes it extremely nutritious and wholesome, but it also makes it ideal for exporting because of the strict sulfur limits abroad.”

This year the Industry Award was replaced by the Buyers' Choice Award, which evaluates products on diverse criteria, with innovation and creativity weighing 20 percent, presentation and packaging weighing 30 percent and marketability weighing 50 percent. While Bella Viva once again made it to the top 10, it was Fresno based company Casa De Tamales that took the gold this year for its unique pepperoni tamales, and chicken and bacon tamales alongside Handford based L.T. Sue company for its San Joaquin Valley tea.

While many locals attending the Expo went to try new products and celebrate the industry for which the region is known, a celebrity judging panel was also present to evaluate each product, including: Chef, Restaurateur and Hotelier Erna Kubin-Clanin of The Estate by the Elderberries and Erna’s Elderberry House; Local Sourcing Guru Harv Singh of Whole Foods; and Kroger buyer Matt Jones. With the judges hailing from across the country to taste locally grown and produced products, the Fresno Food Expo showcases not only the products which companies have created but their importance in the Valley’s role as a producer on a national scale.

“San Joaquin Valley food companies are mission-driven, community-focused organizations who value revitalizing the community,” said Singh. “Each year, the quality of those exhibiting at the Fresno Food Expo gets better and better and as the San Joaquin Valley continues to set the trend in healthy food products – the public positively responds.”

The 2015 Fresno Food Expo will be July 23, and companies and buyers are encouraged to register now.