Planting the seeds

Within a stone(fruit)’s throw of the Sle­ep­ing Beauty Castle at Disneyland, the Ne­wark, Del.-based Produce Marketing Assoc­iation (PMA) celebrated its 60th anniversary with the most successful Fresh Summit International Convention & Exposition show in its history. The convention, held in early October, set an all-time attendance record, drawing more than 19,000 attendees and 800 exhibitors from 58 countries to the Anaheim Convention Center, according to PMA officials.

Keynote speakers addressed a number of topics, including advice on leading during tumultuous times from former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, President Obama’s campaign strategist David Plouffe on using grassroots outreach successfully in marketing and author and consultant Kevin Carroll on the importance of creativity to business innovation.

PMA president Bryan Silbermann paid tribute to the men and women who helped build the PMA in his annual “state of the industry” update. Silbermann’s update also addressed the changing retail landscape as it pertains to produce industry, highlighting emerging trends while challenging the industry to think differently during these times of turmoil.

“Who could imagine a year ago that we would embrace the financial concept that flat is the new positive with such enthusiasm,” said Silbermann. He later added that he does see signs of rebirth, noting that concepts such as “locally grown” and innovative packaging can be part of the solution. “Shoppers respond to alternative pack sizes,” he said. “Consumers have specific ideas to what packaging is acceptable and sustainability is driving many of them.”

As he has done in the past, Silbermann once again addressed food safety, emphasizing the constant evolution of food safety and how everybody in the supply chain must embrace the challenges and changes.

“PMA is tackling food safety on three fronts,” says Silbermann. “We are focusing our efforts on enhancing and interpreting the science of food safety, providing the tools to integrate food safety into business models and working to enhance collaborative relationships with the government.”

Of course Fresh Summit also provides those within the produce industry with three days to put their best foot forward. For the Idaho-Eastern Oregon Onion Committee—which represents more than 300 growers and 36 shippers in Southwestern Idaho and Malheur County, Oregon—that meant using one of the biggest stars on the Food Network to promote its onions.

The Parma, Idaho-based organization kicked off the show with celebrity Chef Tyler Florence in its booth, where he prepared three menu items featuring Idaho-E. Oregon onions (homemade chips with onion dip, ultimate onion rings and pizza with caramelized onion, rosemary, garlic and fresh mozzarella) over the course of two demonstrations throughout the day—followed by a book signing. 

“He was able to talk about applications and techniques for onions and that of course is important to us,” said Sherise Jones, marketing director for the Idaho-Eastern Oregon Onion Committee. “We also like that he is working with American products, developing American menu items.”

Jones added that exposure on the Food Network can go a long way toward influencing consumers, who often try to replicate recipes demonstrated by the stars of its shows.

“You need to do more than just merchandise a product today,” she said. “You really need to entice consumers. If you look at popular retailers, they are doing those things. It may take a little more effort, but that’s where groups like the Idaho-Eastern Oregon Onion Committee can help and we have funds for those kinds of things.”

Some of the biggest brand names in the industry continue to develop innovative ways to engage consumers and promote trial. Under the Green Giant Fresh name, Potandon Produce, based in Idaho Falls, Idaho, introduced a line of fresh, microwavable steam-in-a-bag, value-added potatoes. Green Giant Whole Baby Potatoes in Sauce come in four flavor profiles: Roasted Garlic, Four Cheese, Mesquite bacon and Three Chile.

Prior to the nationwide rollout, the product was sampled in several test markets throughout the U.S. to excellent reviews, according to David Wheeler, new product and marketing manager for Potandon. Each steamable bag is packed with a butter sauce puck and is ready to eat after 4.5 minutes.     

As consumers continue to focus on healthier eating, it would make sense that the bagged salad category would enjoy positive gains. That has not been the case, however, and the category has been in decline for several years. Looking to reignite the category, Dole Fresh Vegetables upgraded its bagged salad line. The re-imaging includes the Dole Salad Guide, an on-pack scale ranging from one to five, designed to measure specific taste and texture characteristics of each blend. 

“Our plan is to reshape the prepackaged salad category,” said Ronda Reed, vice president of marketing for Dole Fresh Vegetables, based in Westlake Village, Calif. “We want people to feel comfortable experimenting in the category. If they usually buy a product that rates a two and a four on the scale, but it is sold out, now they can try a one and three or a three and a five without getting completely burned.”

The packaging also includes a “pairs well with” feature that uses blend-specific information developed by Dole chefs to actively encourage consumers to spruce up their salads with the purchase of blend specific dressings, fruits, vegetables and other fresh accompaniments. 

Coral Gables, Fla.-based Del Monte Fresh Produce launched its Controlled Ripening Technology (CRT) banana packaging. The proprietary CRT packaging helps improve the ripening and handling process, which Dennis Christou, vice president of marketing for Del Monte Fresh Produce N.A., said should help retailers increase banana sales while at the same time reduce shrink, thus growing the bottom line.

“Innovation is rare in the banana category,” said Christou. “We are excited to be the first to introduce this product to the industry. Our objective was to create new packaging that would improve quality while at the same time help retailers reduce labor costs and shrink.”

When the PMA’s Silbermann spoke about sustainability and packaging, he may have had Andrew & Williamson Fresh Produce in mind. The San Diego-based company is switching from clamshell packaging to what vice president of marketing Mark Munger called “grab and go bags” for its grape tomatoes. The bags are resealable plastic with a zip lock top and are offered in three sizes, the 7-ounce snack pack, a 1-pound pack and a club oriented 2-pound pack.

“We like that the grab and go bag is more sustainably focused,” said Munger. “It has 60% less packaging so we are reducing our materials, which is lowering our total cost, making us more efficient while also offering what we think is a more consumer centric package.”

A hydroponic grower of produce, Village Farms, based in Eatontown, N.J., has developed its “Barefoot Plan” which is designed to help build awareness of the company’s green agricultural practices. “The great thing about greenhouse and hydroponics is there are a lot of resource efficiencies built into the system,” said Helen Aquino, marketing manager.

While Aquino said Village Farms has been following the practices outlined in the “Barefoot Plan” for several years, alerting retailers is a new initiative. In addition to the unveiling of the plan at PMA, Village Farms plans a package redesign that will incorporate the icons used in the program.

As more consumers look to supermarkets for their floral needs, the show featured a noticeably larger commitment from floral manufacturers than in past years. The Sun Valley Group, based in Arcata, Calif., displayed a wide array of offerings in its booth. Along with its product line, Sun Valley featured the POP materials for its “Feel Great” campaign. Based on research done by Rutgers University, materials in the campaign emphasize the positive effects flowers have on peoples’ feelings and behaviors. Included are also instructions on how to care for each particular type of flower.

“Of course it’s up to each retailer to decide if they want to use the materials,” said Lane DeVries, president and CEO for Sun Valley. “But the fact that the materials and the study will ultimately stimulate more demand for flowers is being received quite positively.”  

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