Refrigerated Foods Association event prepares members for life in a hot category.

Although it might not be safe to expose perishable foods to prolonged warm temperatures, there’s nothing wrong with refrigerated food company executives meeting in a warm climate.

That’s exactly what Refrigerated Foods Association (RFA) members will do when the organization hosts its 28th annual RFA Conference & Tabletop Display March 2-5 in Tuscon, Ariz. In fact, the convention’s theme is, “The Heat is On: Succeeding in Today’s Sizzling Refrigerated Foods Marketplace.”

Refrigerated prepared food sales are on the rise - particularly at supermarket in-store delis and take-out areas. Moreover, the wider retail industry is talking about Tesco’s U.S. debut with Fresh & Easy Neighborhood Markets, a new retail format dedicated to fresh products.

To better equip members for life in such a fast-moving and competitive marketplace, RFA’s conference agenda covers everything from in-plant food safety to new product development and market trend analysis.

Market trends / new product development.Bruce Peterson, a 38-year veteran of the retail supermarket industry and Wal-Mart’s former senior vice president of perishables, will outline how prepared food processors can best capitalize on emerging consumer demand. Today, Peterson is president and CEO of Naturipe Farms, LLC, Naples, Fla.

Market trends / new product development.How can processors improve new product success in retail and foodservice channels? A panel discussion examines everything from broad market trends and analysis to details of clean product labels, organic formulation and packaging optimization. Panelists include Jane Griffith, director of quality assurance and food safety for Wawa Inc., a convenience store operator based in Wawa, Pa.; and Kirsty Grieve, head of business development for NPD Direct Ltd., a Pinchbeck, U.K., firm specializing in creative new product development. A third panelist is fresh-cut fruit and produce industry veteran Dave Adams, now a product development consultant in Monterey, Calif.

Food safety issues. RFA will present findings from a technical research project on safe use of fresh-cut produce in a refrigerated foods manufacturing plant. The project involves a guidance document prepared by the University of Georgia (UGA) Center for Food Safety. UGA examined best practices to prevent microbial contamination of fresh-cut vegetables used in refrigerated foods. Presenting study findings will be Martin Mitchell, RFA’s technical director, and the UGA Extension Food Science Outreach Program’s Dr. William Hurst.

Ingredients / market trends.Because grains - including wheat, corn and soy - are vital to all members, RFA asked Rich Torres, Cargill Inc.’s vice president of corn milling, to address global commodity market trends. Torres will discuss supply-and-demand models in the past, present and future and offer an outlook on pricing and costs.

Ingredients / market trends.Increased use of foreign ingredients is bringing increased regulatory scrutiny. Martin Mitchell, leads a panel to help members better understand ingredient imports in regard to sourcing, food safety and other topics. Panelists include Bob Bauer, president of the Association of Food Industries; and Dr. Barbara Blakistone, director of scientific affairs for the National Fisheries Institute.

Fast Facts

What:28th Annual RFA Conference & Tabletop Display
When: March 2-5
Where: Hilton Tucson El Conquistador Golf & Tennis Resort, Tucson, Ariz.
Sponsor: Refrigerated Foods Association