HANFORD –- Hoping for a slice of Kings County at the upcoming Fresno Food Expo on July 24? You’re in luck.
No fewer than nine local businesses will be hawking their wares to commercial buyers and the general public at the fourth-annual event.
They include the L.T. Sue Co., Rosa Brothers Milk Co., Dairy Goddess, Nichols Farms, Farmer’s Fury Winery, Crisp California Walnuts, Summerhill Dairy, Homegrown Organic Farms and Pa Paw’s Killer BBQ Sauce.
Some, like Lemoore-based Dairy Goddess, have been there before. Others, like Nichols Farms, are making their debut.
The expo has two parts. During the day, businesses meet with retail buyers to discuss possible deals and contracts. In the evening, the public shows up to sample and buy the products on display.
The growing expo, designed to showcase the range of Valley food products, is expected to draw 125 exhibitors, 700 national and international buyers and 1,200 visitors.
Nichols Farms, an operation that processes 20 million pounds of pistachios a year at its Kings County packing plant, will be at a booth displaying its own-label consumer products.
For the first time, the company is offering organic pistachios with the Nichols Farms label directly to the consumer. The organic, roasted, salted variety has been entered into the expo’s new product contest along with 42 other entries.
Currently, the product is in third place with 140 votes.
Rosa Brothers ice cream is in second with 175 votes. The Kings County dairy operation added the freezer item after it launched a glass-bottling milk business in 2012.
Rosa Brothers won the People’s Choice Award at last year’s expo with its line of regular, chocolate, strawberry and root beer milk in glass jugs.
Co-owner Noel Rosa said the publicity the award gained for his company caused a spike in interest. The number of stores offering Rosa Brothers milk products jumped from 20 to 70 stores in the weeks following expo recognition.
“I don’t know if it would have been that pronounced if we hadn’t won that award,” Rosa said. “When consumers ask for the product, then that really encourages retailers to offer it.”
The number-one spot in the People’s Choice voting is occupied by a line of San Joaquin Teas from L.T. Sue Co., which has recently revived the famous L.T. Sue brand from Hanford’s China Alley history.
The L.T. Sue entry, with 439 votes, is far ahead of second-place Rosa Brothers.
“We’re hoping that the food expo can expand our reach,” said co-owner Steve Bannister. “It would be nice if we could get a chain [retailer]. We were thinking it might be appropriate in specialty stores, gift stores.”
Barbara Martin, the woman behind Dairy Goddess, doesn’t officially have a new product in the contest, but she’ll be offering expo visitors a taste of cheese curds, an experimental offering she’s considering.
Martin, in her third year at the expo, has seen the number of stores selling her products expand significantly since she started attending. Expo contacts helped her ink a deal to put her spreadable cheeses and lightly-pasteurized milk in dozens of Whole Food stores.
“It definitely gets you out there with some of the bigger chains,” she said. “It’s another great way to be in touch with your customers and build that public [interest] to start requesting your product in the stores.”
Crisp California Walnuts, a Stratford-based processor, is in its second year at the expo. Owner Jim Crisp said he learned a lot about marketing to buyers from all over the world as well as spreading consumer awareness of different walnut varieties and their benefits.
“You’ve got to get your feet wet,” he said. “I think we’ll go back [this time] a lot better prepared to give the people a presentation.”
All of the presenters couldn’t help recognizing the visibility and popularity of the Kings County contingent scheduled to attend this year’s edition of the expo.
“There’s kind of a camaraderie between the different companies,” said Bannister. “We’re proud to be a part of that.”
“I guess Kings County is becoming the mecca of artisan food products,” Rosa said.