The local Fresno foodie event went big this year.
It’s no longer the Fresno Food Expo, going with the expansive California Food Expo title instead.
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Approximately 1,000 vendors, buyers, and exhibitors lined the floor of the Fresno Convention Center Tuesday. Another 1,200 people were expected to attend the evening session. On Day One of the expanded two-day event, exhibitors had the chance to attend many seminars.
The Difference Between New and Old
Booths distributing meat and beer, like longtime favorites Harris Ranch and Tioga Sequoia, were arguably the most popular.
While the number of booths remains the same, there are more exhibitors from outside the Valley.
Longtimers, like Tioga Sequoia Brewing, said they show up year after year to support the community and help continue a tradition they helped start.
Newcomers said they came to Fresno to help get their name out and connect with other food makers and buyers.
Facing Fresno in Real-Time
Just a few days removed from a nightmarish PR flap, Firestone Walker Brewing Company President David Walker manned his booth and greeted the public.
“If there was a location for a food expo, it should be here,” Walker said of holding the event in Fresno. “It’s a pretty positive vibe, which is indicative of the California brand.”
For Walker, it was a chance to connect with vendors he’s been working with for years. It was also a chance to meet the Fresnans face-to-face. He said some people mentioned the weekend tweet, where the company’s communications director insulted Fresno on Twitter.
“I got kicked in the pants a couple of times. It’s just nuts,” Walker said. “People have been really human about it. We have 500 employees. Every now and then, one employee kicks off a late-night drunk tweet. It’s a learning moment for us.”
Walker shared a photo taken with Mayor Lee Brand.
Keto and Low Carbs Are the Hot Trends
“Keto is one of the trends I’m seeing a lot of,” Food Network celebrity chef Simon Majumdar said. “What we are seeing now is people developing something around the new ways people have to manage their lifestyle and their food consumption. I think that is one of the more interesting things.”
Keto is a diet that reduces, if not eliminates, carbs in favor of proteins and healthy fats, like meat and cheese.
Majumdar pointed to a new entry at the Food Expo, Kalifornia Keto, a maker of cookie products based in Orange County.
“You will have sustained energy, less brain fog, less inflammation. It’s really great,” Kalifornia Keto owner Stacey Chilcoff said.
She sells mixes with an almond-flour base. Combine it with butter and eggs, and you have some decent tasting cookies.
Spending her first year at the Expo, Chilcoff said she already exceeded her goals in getting the word out about her product and getting on retail store shelves.
“We are excited to be at a California-centric trade show and network with our manufacturers,” Chilcoff said.
And, while beer can never really be considered keto, Randy Pearson at the Lagunitas Brewing Co. booth peddled a new label, Daytime, a low-carb adult beverage.
“It’s the world we’re living in now,” Pearson said of the low-carb marketing. “With the popularity of Michelob Ultra, we wanted a low-carb IPA.”
Mayors Past and Present and the Expo’s Future
One of the founders of the Expo, former Fresno mayor Ashley Swearengin, talked with the vendors while sampling the food.
“It is so exciting. The baby has grown up. This is now a full-fledged, statewide trade show,” said Swearengin.
She also said expansion was the goal.
“We are the food capital for sure of the U.S., if arguably not the world. The Food Expo puts that all on display,” Swearengin said.
Current City Hall boss Lee Brand wants to see the show continue to grow.
“I think we keep expanding. It is a regional type of deal. We want to attract more buyers, more entrepreneurs,” Brand said.
He also liked the full hotel rooms from more out-of-town vendors.
The David Choice Awards
Food: the pastrami at Certified Meat Products.
Meaty, salty, fatty, with that perfect crust. Awesome.
Beverage, non-alcoholic division: Rosa’s Brothers Salted Creamer with Lanna Coffee
Sweet, caffeinated and makes you want seconds.
Beverage, alcoholic division: Nitro Merlin Milk Stout
What better way to apologize to Fresno than a creamy delicious pint from Firestone Walker?