Executive editor Marina Mayer snags a front-row seat at dairy processors’ booths - and at Joe Montana’s speech - at the 2011 Dairy-Deli-Bake Seminar & Expo last week.

Often times when I attend tradeshows, I tend to skip the pre-show seminars and head straight to the showroom floor. It’s nothing personal. It’s just that I enjoy meandering from booth to booth, meeting new people and learning about new products versus sitting in a stuffy room listening to someone I don’t know talk about stuff I know nothing about.

However, the 2011 Dairy-Deli-Bake Seminar & Expo, which is hosted by IDDBA, Madison, Wis., and took place June 5-7 in Anaheim, Calif., is known for bringing the best of the best to the center stage to deliver presentations on everything from management and vision to supermarket marketing tips and brand positioning. This year’s conference was no exception to the rule. Between Condoleezza Rice, Guy Fieri, Sinbad and Captain Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger, to name a few, this all-star cast took turns wooing the crowd and driving home key remarks about life, business and the future of tomorrow.

Yes, even I succumbed to putting my handmade Excel spreadsheet of appointments and contacts on hold to get up close and “personal” with the “cast of IDDBA.”

On the last day of the show, I, like most of the attendees, headed in to the conference room early to score prime seating to see the most talked-about celebrity to grace the stage at this year’s show.

Mr. Joe Cool himself, Joe Montana. (Yes ladies, he is just as good looking in person as he is on paper and TV).

While strategically moving from row to row, I finally nabbed a front-row seat, perfect for taking pictures with my Blackberry and posting on Facebook (primarily to make the men in my life-husband, brother and father-jealous).

Halfway through his speech though, after the shock and awe wore off, I began to really listen to what he had to say. Montana spoke of the fundamentals of business, trust and preparation. He believes that “sports teach life lessons without saying words,” and that “people are more motivated by losing because winning is what you’re supposed to do.” I even learned that he’s turned down ABC’s Dancing With the Stars four times, saying that the show would need to be renamed “White Guy Dancing Ugly.”

While I was unsuccessful at tackling him for an autograph (or even a hug would’ve sufficed), I thought to myself, you know what, he’s right. Nobody likes losing. In fact, yes, we’re all programmed to do the right thing, and that’s win. Not the Charlie Sheen kind of “winning,” but being the best we can be at all times. As my late grandfather would say, “life is a game, play to win.”

That being said, I gathered up my chicken-scratch spreadsheet (and my composure) and headed out to the show floor to win at my own game, otherwise known as my job.

In addition to sparkling commentary and an outstanding host of famous faces, IDDBA 2011 was home to 1,500 exhibitors, more than 8,000 attendees and a 10,000-sq.-ft. retail merchandising center featuring new products, innovative merchandising ideas and action themes.

The show provided competitive insight on new products, packaging and services, enabled visitors to receive first-hand interaction with businesses and displayed the Show & Sell center, which encourages attendees to seek out new ideas and products, create merchandising programs and teach retailers how to use these concepts to sell more products and satisfy customers. It’s no Joe Montana, but nonetheless, is still a pretty cool creation.

The expo also helped dairy processors introduce a slew of new flavors, packaging concepts and line extensions.

For example, Finlandia Cheese Inc., a division of Valio USA, Parsippany, N.J., presented Finlandia Lacey Swiss, which is an all-natural, reduced-fat cheese made with milk from cows raised without the use of rBst or other growth hormones.

BelGioioso brand Ricotta Salata cheese from BelGioioso Cheese, Denmark, Wis., now comes pre-crumbled and packaged in 5-ounce retail containers, perfect for adding to salads, pasta or other side dishes, or just for snacking. The Provolino line also now comes in an 8-ounce, already pre-sliced log of Mild Provolone, perfect for pairing with crackers or as a complement to most dishes.

Nicasio Valley Cheese Co., Nicasio, Calif., showcased its team of certified-organic farmstead cheese, including Formagella, a bloomy rind-table cheese; Loma Alta, a semi-soft cheese aged three to six weeks in 8-inch wheels to give a buttery, yet firm undertone; and Foggy Morning, made from fresh cow’s milk and perfect for sprinkling on pizza, pasta, salads, olive oil, fruits, jams and cracked pepper.

Heading overseas
International processors also displayed a flurry of new items.

Lye Cross Farm, Somerset, England, for instance, debuted new British Farmhouse cheese flavors - Mango Dale, which is a combination of Wensleydale cheese, juicy mango and papaya slices; Smoked Cheddar, which is classic cheddar cheese smoked over oakwood; and Pepper Red, a fusion of red Leicester cheese, red peppers and cracked black peppercorns.

The Ambriola Co. Inc., Caldwell, N.J., imports a full line of hand-crafted Italian sheep’s milk cheeses for its Locatelli brand, which come in whole and quarter wheels, wedges, grated and shredded pack sizes.

From the looks of the home-run attendance and the onslaught of new products, Mr. Joe Cool isn’t the only one winning. This year’s IDDBA was a hit all around, and yes, it even enticed me to see a few seminars along the way. I’d say, that’s winning.