Kohl Wholesale’s food show returns after 2 1/2-year absence to pleasure the palate and test the stamina of stomachs

Kohl Food Show

Kohl Wholesale chefs were preparing samples for those who attended the Kohl Food Show.

QUINCY — Some have referred to the show as a cornucopia of culinary creations. Others simply label it the World Series of Food, an event that can pack a mouth-watering punch to the paunch while serving as a multi-dimensional pleasure for the palate.

Whatever the title or description, prior to the pandemic the Kohl Wholesale-sponsored spectacular in April had always one of the harbingers of spring for the regional food industry. This year’s show, hosted Thursday inside a packed Oakley-Lindsay Center, brought together 156 vendors who are clients of Kohl Wholesale, which is a broad-line food service distributor that has been headquartered in Quincy since 1873.

“It’s exciting to see a lot of our customers again,” said Andrew Romano, marketing director for Kohl Wholesale. “We had an overwhelming response to the show. It’s a good mix (of food representatives).”

Romano said said more than 2,000 would visit the show during the course of the day-long event.

“This was the first one we have had since the pandemic,” Romano said. “It had been 2 1/2 years.”

This year’s spring show carried a BotanoKOHL theme, following similar motifs as Rock ‘N Kohl and LocoKOHLmotion from years ago. The Kohl’s shows — there’s also one in the fall — date to the 1980s and are designed to provide the company’s customers an opportunity to learn about industry trends and sample a wide variety of products.

Kohl officials estimated that about 2,000 people attended Thursday’s food show.

Kohl’s provides about 14,000 food-service products and works with more than 3,500 customers in Illinois, Missouri and Iowa. The show allows Kohl’s current and potential customers an opportunity to showcase their newest and most favorite delicacies for potential clients to examine — and taste. The OLC was filled with the rainbow of aromas that ranged from sausage to salsa, from tenderloins to lasagna. Those attending were destined to test their stomach’s stamina.

“For a manufacturer, this show allows us to show our products to new customers,” said Jeff Evoila of Food Sales Midwest in St. Charles, Mo. “Ultimately, our goal (of being at the show) is to sell more product, and this show is a good opportunity to see a lot of (potential) customers.”

Evola said the Kohl Wholesale show(s) also provide the opportunity for individuals like himself to sample a variety of new ideas, from serving to packaging.

“This is our biggest show of the year,” Evola said.

Like most in the trade, Evola is optimistic the business world is returning to more of a “normal” way of existence following the pandemic-plagued recent past.

“Who knows exactly what the new normal will be,” he said. “You take the good with the bad, but things have really been picking up again this spring. This is our first show 2 1/2 years.”

Kohl Wholesale provides products to restaurants, hotels, supermarket delis, schools, hospitals, nursing homes, retail grocers, caterers, taverns and similar businesses. Commodity-priced items, equipment and supplies, plus beverages, produce and center-of-the-plate items were all prominently displayed for individual, regional and national brokers.

Being offered at Thursday’s show were samples of meats, cheeses, breads, pastas, pastries and just about everything in between. From mini-tacos to mouth-watering turkey breast, from colas to coffee, very few — if any — taste buds went unsatisfied.

Brenda Neumann, the district business manager of KeyImpact Sales System in Bridgeton, Mo., has been a regular at the Kohl Wholesale shows for more than a decade and has been in the business for more than 40 years.

“It would take me a year to see as many customers as we do in one day at the Kohl’s show,” said Neumann, who is optimistic the worst is behind as far as the pandemic limitations on businesses are concerned. “It’s getting better, but there are still the ups and downs because of the supply-chain issues, but overall business is booming again.”

Neumann, who brokers a dozen different manufacturers, said there is a definite appeal to a mega-show like the Kohl’s extravaganza.

“This is a one-stop shopping opportunity,” said Neumann, whose principal targets are all food-service entities.

In recent years, the Kohl’s Wholesale show has has also moved to targeting specific markets that cater to individual health needs. Kohl’s corporate chef, Kelsey Dean, conducted seminars about trends heading toward 2023 that illustrated the importance of “providing food for all”.

“We need to provide foods for all needs, including vegan, plant-based, low carbs and traditional (diets),” said Dean, who emphasized “healthy food” no longer needs to be “bland” and stressed the importance of food education. “We need to be fed, but we have to think about what we’re putting in our bodies.

Gluten-free choices, food allergies and intolerance (such as lactose) were also singled out.

“We’re seeing more and more food allergies,” Dean said. “About 2.5 percent of the global population now has some sort of food allergy.”

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