Pre Con

Pre Con: Potato Expo Keeps Growing

Potato Expo 2013, hosted by the National Potato Council (NPC) on Jan. 9–11 at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas.

The five-year-old event brings together every sector of the potato industry, from fresh potato farming to chips and processing. This year’s meeting, held in Orlando, drew just over 1,500 attendees.


Five years ago, Mark Szymanski, the NPC’s director of public relations, and Hollee Alexander, the organization’s director of meetings and industry outreach, wanted to do something to unite the potato industry. “The potato industry is very state-by- state organized,” Szymanski said. “Each state and region have their own expo, and there was no real one central place where the potato industry was coming together as a whole.” Alexander added: “The industry said, ‘We all want to minimize travel.’ There was some overlap, too, and people were going to multiple meetings.”

That first year, Potato Expo saw 911 attendees and 63 exhibitors. The annual show has grown every year since. “Our biggest challenge has been to manage the growth,” Alexander said, “and to be able to plan ahead for that growth.” In 2012, attendee numbers were so high that NPC had to move the trade show from inside the convention area to a tented space outdoors. “We are kind of bursting at the seams at our trade show,” Szymanski said.

Another challenge for 2013 comes from Potato Expo’s location. While Las Vegas is convenient for attendees – much of NPC’s membership is located in the Pacific Northwest – the city is also hosting the 150,000-attendee International Consumer Electronics Show at the same time. Szymanski said: “It’ll be a challenge to work around a much bigger show that takes over the whole city.”


Putting a new spin on the traditional show floor, Potato Expo 2013 will have moderated panel discussions taking place on stage in the exhibit hall, covering everything from consumer perspectives to pesticides to crop-production practices. “There will be smaller discussions that will appeal to a broad audience,” Szymanski said. “We’ll cover topics and problems that everyone’s dealing with.”

An added networking benefit at next year’s expo will be smaller receptions for “more niche groups,” Alexander said. In addition to opening and closing receptions – the opening reception next year, “Potato Royale,” is James Bond–themed – NPC will include more intimate gatherings for women in the industry and young leaders, and will host a steering committee reception. “With over 1,500 people participating at the big receptions, it can be difficult to network,” Szymanski said. “We’d like to introduce them to people they wouldn’t have otherwise connected with.”

NPC also would like to feature a more international outlook – expanding on the 12 countries that were represented in 2012. “One thing we’re trying to do is appeal to Mexican processors and grocery stores there,” Szymanski said, “and spread word that this is an important segment for both U.S. and Mexican companies.” International trends will be discussed on stage at the trade show and in breakout sessions. Alexander said: “We see real opportunity in reaching out.”

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Convene’s Pre-Con/Post-Con series asks meeting planners about their challenges and how they intend to address them (Pre-Con), and then circles back around after the meeting has occurred (Post-Con) to see how well they worked out.

Sarah Beauchamp

Sarah Beauchamp was formerly assistant editor of Convene.