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Big Show, Kudos and Another Pledge to Eat More Fresh Produce

Observations from the world’s largest fresh produce stand – PMA Fresh Summit:

Packed Floor
Reports from the floor indicate this year’s trade show was the association’s largest in its 60-year history with more than 20,000 attendees.  Some think it’s an indicator of an economy on the rebound, considering the expense for scores of marketers and sales folks to set up shop on the trade show floor.  Add to that the costs of the customer dinners, lunches and receptions, and from the looks of the morning hangovers (I’m fighting a combo sinus infection and allergy attack, so my consumption was a two-beer max), there were plenty of good times and cash flowing.

The prevailing theory, however, is consumers are turning to fresh produce more often in this economy – choosing to dine at home and forego family dinners out on the town.  Couple that with the national dialogue on health and swine flu scares, it’s more likely consumers are taking the bounty of fresh produce health benefits to their own kitchens and dinner tables.

Food Safety
Food safety was the dominant discussion on the floor and even outside the Anaheim Convention Center.  The fresh produce industry is well known for its very high self-regulation of an unregulated industry.  The challenge is our political administration is under the gun from various interest groups to establish standards and policies on an industry the administration has very little knowledge of.  What’s more, those on the floor say, it’s highly likely the administration will push down standards and policies with little regard for what the industry, grocery retailers and foodservice operators have done together to affect change.  Fortunately, leaders of the three channels have spent ample time in D.C. trying to bring our elected officials up to speed.

Social Media
Given all the talk and lightening-speed momentum in social media over the past year, it was astonishing to see what little (emphasis on minuscule) has taken hold in the fresh produce industry.  There were exorbitant amounts of discussions and displays about engaging with consumers, but you have to wonder if the industry is still grappling with what social media is and how it can bring consumer engagement to the next level – well beyond the product giveaways and numbers of friends/followers and the like.  The industry is missing a phenomenal opportunity in building true relationships and loyalty with consumers and in creating ROI for their customers.  It all hinges on strategy.

NST Cited in State of the Industry
Nuffer, Smith, Tucker’s Food Foresight trends anticipation collaboration with California Institute of Food and Agricultural Research at University of California, Davis was cited by PMA CEO Bryan Silbermann in his state-of-the-industry address Saturday morning. PMA is a long-time partner and client with NST. Earlier this year, the firm helped PMA design and facilitate a foodservice think tank with the National Restaurant Association and International Foodservice Distributors Association. The event, sponsored by Markon Cooperative, another NST client, brought together leaders from foodservice chains, distributor companies and produce suppliers together to identify collaborative opportunities for increasing produce usage at foodservice. The group put forth a plan to double usage of fresh produce in foodservice by 2020.

Great Food
I’m woefully inept when it comes to cooking with fresh produce.  The sights and smells of the fresh produce, and the amazing cooking demonstrations, kept me starving for hours on end.  Each year, I make a pledge to eat more produce, and today for lunch I had two burgers from the fast food joint down the street.  But I do have my sights set on making a mean stir fry this weekend.

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