This year’s theme of the annual Marrone’s Inc. Food Show was Survivor. Decorations played up the tropical reality show theme, while the signs scattered throughout the show read: “Outsmart. Outsell. Outlast.”

This year’s theme of the annual Marrone’s Inc. Food Show was Survivor. Decorations played up the tropical reality show theme, while the signs scattered throughout the show read: “Outsmart. Outsell. Outlast.”

But the ongoing lesson from the show is not that food vendors and manufacturers are surviving, but rather that they are thriving and striving to get their product to the customer. Perhaps nothing symbolizes that more than the growth of the food show itself.

“There are more than 75 vendors at the 50 booths, and that’s more than has come before,” said Terry Cunningham, Ron’s event manager. “We’re growing, and that’s good. The thing is, we’re all survivors in this economy.”

But surviving connotes a sense of desperation. And with so many vendors offering so many flavors, there did not seem to be any desperation on Tuesday. The show, held at Pittsburg High School, brings the numerous food and food supply vendors that work with Marrone’s in direct contact with the 300+ buyers, chefs and owners from local school districts, restaurants, hospitals and correctional facilities.

And that’s good news for the vendors and manufacturers.

“Every day, when we’re working in the field, we can visit five to 10 groups a day. At food shows, we get to talk to 200, 300 people. It’s a lot of fun,” said Katie Cecil, Hormel territory manager. “We also get to cook for them instead of them cooking for us. We can show off different ideas.”

And there were plenty of ideas to be had at the food show. A wide range of foods were available to taste and sample, including seafoods, meats, ice creams, salad dressings, beverages, cereals, chili and more.

Organizers noted that the vendors and the visitors come from far away for the Marrone’s Food Show. One group came from Idaho to the show.

“Our customers come from Missouri, Oklahoma and Kansas,” said Albert Marrone, Marrone’s co-owner. “We’re fortunate to have a number of loyal customers that have been with us for a number of years. This is our way of giving our appreciation for their business. There’s some vendors here from far away.”

His brother Ron said that people drove from more than 100-150 miles just to attend the show, which also helps put extra people in local restaurants and hotels.

But the event is not all about free samples and meeting customers. It’s also about learning the newest products, new uses for products, and even informational sessions.

“We’ve added several new foods to our menu,” said Linda Swope, owner of Swope’s Drive-In in Rich Hill, Mo. “Our menu has gotten huge.”

Many were talking about new federal regulations that limit the amount of sodium in school lunches, and a frequently asked question of the vendors was “How much sodium is in this?” Others asked about health content, such as whether breading was whole grain.

But while many left with new business leads and full stomachs, there were still challenges to be met. And Albert Marrone said these sort of food shows help fight those challenges.

“It’s a way to see new products. The purpose is to give people new ideas. In this tough economy, people are looking for new wayst to sell better products for the best price right now,” he said. “It helps us all compete against the chains. But there are a lot of chains around.”

Andrew Nash can be reached at andrew.nash@morningsun.net or by calling 231-2600 ext. 140.