Food producers at the first Maryland food trade show yesterday presented a taste of their wares and were rewarded with nibbles from buyers, distributors and importers.
"Dollar for dollar, this is the best show I've been to," said David Harper, owner of Maryland Gourmet Foods Inc. on Kent Island, who met food store owners who agreed to buy his company's crab cakes.
Robert Walker, secretary of the Maryland Department of Agriculture, said trade shows such as yesterday's are important to a growing processed-food industry grows. Precise figures were not available, but according to estimates from the state's Department of Economic and Employment Development, Maryland exported $62.3 million worth of processed food products last year.
The 33 exhibitors ranged from Brian M. Aull, president of a 2-week-old Baltimore company, Chesapeake Cottage Inc. who was trying to market his mother's pepper relish, to Showell Farms, an Eastern Shore chicken-processing company and one of the state's largest food exporters.
Most, like Walter Bennett, who produces Really Raw honey in Baltimore, were looking to export.
The show at the Holiday Inn downtown was sponsored by the Maryland Food Exporters Association Inc., a non-profit trade group.
Stephen Phillips, president of the group and of Phillips Foods, said 1,800 invitations were sent to food distributors, supermarket chains, foreign buyers and restaurants in hopes that 250 would attend.
More than twice that number attended yesterday, including a delegation of foreign ambassadors and commercial attaches in town for World Trade Week events. Browsing through the booths, they sampled Lee's Ice Cream, Maryland wines, Saval Foods meats, muffins made from Wilkins-Rogers mixes, salad dressing from Martin Gillet & Co. Inc. and other Maryland made products.
Noticeably absent were McCormick & Co. and Perdue Farms Inc., two of Maryland's largest food processors. The show's organizers said the show was aimed more at smaller companies.
Leon Gleaves, vice president of marketing and sales with Wilkins-Rogers in Ellicott City, called the show a "first step." "It's a way to grow and keep the economy vital, growing and dynamic," he said.