Chadwick Boyd, Melanie Hansche, Kristen Hartke, Carla Hall and Debra Puchalla discuss their respective roles with mainstream media brands including Food & Wine, Food Network, the Washington Post and more. (Photo by Ashley Nickle)

AUSTIN, Texas. — Attendees at this week’s BrandStorm conference found value in sessions on topics ranging from influencer marketing to consumer media to sales-marketing collaboration.

The United Fresh Produce Association organized the event, which for the first time was in Austin, Texas, instead of San Francisco.

“Looking at the audience and considering Austin as a home for this year’s BrandStorm was a really nice touch,” said Charlie Eagle, vice president of business development for Pompano Beach, Fla.-based Southern Specialties. “The city has an energy that is great for this event.

“The location works well for those visiting from both the East Coast and the West Coast,” Eagle said. “You have accessible flights but you don’t have the time delays to deal with, the change in hours, that people from the East Coast typically have coming to the event, so I’m hopeful that more people in the industry will be enticed to send people from their companies because they can get here quicker and they can return home quicker.”

Megan Jacobsen, vice president of sales and marketing for Gills Onions, listed the digital strategy presentation, the consumer food media panel and the Exhibitor Storm Surge program as a few of her favorite sessions at the event, but she mentioned that the overall nature of the event is also valuable.

“What I love most about BrandStorm ... is the networking component and working together as an industry, so that is the biggest takeaway every year, and it’s why I came back to BrandStorm for a second year,” Jacobsen said.

“Oftentimes in marketing we are always pouring into other outlets and other people, and at BrandStorm we’re invested in and people are pouring into us, and I always feel very refreshed leaving a session in BrandStorm because you’re with like-minded people in the room.”

Amber Gray, digital marketing manager for Produce for Kids, mentioned speaker Todd Dewett’s message about authenticity in marketing as one relevant for the industry.

“Everyone wants to show the perfect produce, the perfect field, the perfect recipe, and so really just being authentic and showing that real life ... was pretty impactful,” Gray said.

Madison Stahly, marketing coordinator for NatureSweet, mentioned the podcasting session featuring The Produce Moms founder Lori Taylor as one of her favorites.

“We’ve gotten really comfortable with the social media space and learning about that and paid versus organic, but there’s so many different elements of the digital realm that produce is going to have to start getting into, like podcasting, where we can just tell a deeper story and have our story really resonate with different audiences,” Stahly said.

“That one really stuck with me mainly being, as a brand at NatureSweet, we’re so story-focused that ... to have a platform where we can tell a full story to an audience, that’s gold for us.”

Stahly also referenced a discussion on social listening — paying attention to what consumers are talking about related to a company’s brand or product on social media.

“That really resonated with me because I thought, ‘You can talk, talk, talk to your audience, but are you listening to what they’re saying? Are you listening to the conversations, what’s trending, what’s happening?’” Stahly said. “So just being more tapped into your audience and learning more about them and what they’re interested in, that really stuck with me.”

Stefanie Cousins, director of marketing and communications for Brighter Bites, mentioned the food media panel — which included content leaders for Food & Wine and Food Network — and several others as sessions that inspired some ideas to explore.

“I really enjoyed hearing how they’re looking at produce and how they’re featuring produce in all these different media outlets that they’re working in — in television, in digital, newspapers. I thought that was fascinating,” Cousins said. “I also really liked the program yesterday where Liz (Caselli-Mechael) from Nestle was talking about social.

“It was interesting to hear about this influencer marketing piece this morning with Cuvee Coffee,” Cousins said, referencing the Austin-based specialty coffee brand’s use of the “Just a Construction Guy” Instagram account as a key influencer.

“I thought that it was an amazing story. It made me think about how we might be able to utilize something like that.”

Mary Coppola, vice president of marketing and communications for United Fresh, mentioned the Exhibitor Storm Surge program and the location as new elements of BrandStorm this year. She noted that many of the sessions, though varied in the medium being covered or the perspective being shared, pointed in a similar overall direction.

“The couple of pieces of inspiration that came out and seemed to be a thread throughout the week — people like real,” Coppola said. “That was the authenticity message that we were hoping people would pick up on, and it came out in every single session.

“That’s the concept people are going to take with them, and we look forward to seeing what this group of marketers does,” Coppola said.

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