A fresh take

United Fresh addresses some of the top issues of concern to the produce industry, including transportation costs, technology and social media.

By Deena M. Amato-McCoy

Despite rising oil prices, civil unrest overseas and drastic weather conditions worldwide, produce and fresh categories continue to produce strong sales across the supermarket industry. Eager to continue this trend, supermarket executives will attend the United Fresh 2011 convention next month to sharpen their skills in effort to keep their fresh departments as signature destinations.

The 40th United Fresh convention, sponsored by the United Fresh Pro­duce Association, based in Wash­ington D.C., is about to set up shop at the New Orleans Ernest N. Morial Convention Center, May 2-5. The show will welcome 5,000 attendees—a group comprised of executives representing growers, shippers, retailers and food service and hospitality companies.

While many trade shows have felt the negative impact of the recession, United Fresh credits the economy for boosting the event’s reputation.

“We believe the economy has improved the show’s attendance over the last couple of years,” says John Toner, the association’s vice president of convention and industry relations. “Companies are eager to grab nuggets of value from the show that they can apply to their businesses.”

It is no wonder attendance is on the rise, as grocers are looking for tips on how to keep their fresh departments as their key competitive differentiator. “Research proves that produce departments are a major factor in why consumers choose one supermarket over another,” he says.

Another factor boosting produce department sales is that “more consumers are striving to lead healthier lifestyles, a factor that continues to fuel consumption of nutritious foods, such as fresh produce,” says Dionysios Christou, vice president of marketing for San Francisco-based Del Monte Fresh Produce.

Containing costs
However, chains are very mindful that shoppers still continue to guard their precious discretionary income. This trend will likely continue as average gas prices are on the rise across the nation—costs are slowly filtering through the supply chain.

“Retailers are already seeing the increased cost of fuel in surcharges on their transportation bills and transportation and shipping will undoubtedly be further impacted as oil prices increase,” says Jay Alley, vice president of Fresherized Foods, based in Saginaw, Texas.

As a result, retailers and suppliers “will need to re-evaluate how they ship product across the nation and how these costs will impact the shopper,” explains Scott Owens, vice president of sales and marketing for Paramount Citrus, based in Delano, Calif.

United Fresh plans on addressing these issues during the session, “Man­aging Transportation Costs and Quality Control.”

Emphasis on cost containment will undoubtedly remain a constant theme and this trend is driving the importance of how to deliver value among fresh categories.

Follow the fruit and veggies
The show has built its reputation by addressing relevant business trends and their impact on fresh categories. That said, it is not surprising that grocers are eager to educate themselves on traceability and food safety issues.

“Produce traceability is no longer far away, it is right here,” says Joe Sbrocchi, vice president, sales and marketing, Mastronardi Produce, based in Kingsville, Ontario, Canada.

Food safety is of paramount im­portance to consumers, retailers and shippers, and as a result, many companies continue to take measures to ensure peace of mind among shoppers. “The industry was under in­tense scrutiny during the past year due to concerns raised by policy makers and national consumer groups,” says Bob Moore, chairman of Intelligent Global Pooling Systems (iGPS), an Orlando, Fla.-based pallet company.

Attendees can learn more about the topic during the sessions, “What Does Traceability Really Mean to Whole­salers-Distributors?” and “The New Food Safety Law and Impact on Fresh-Cut Processors.”

High-tech supply chain
Traceability technology is only one solution that will keep fresh categories flourishing. To keep attendees in the know, United Fresh is sponsoring a full-day seminar, The Global Con­ference on Produce Technology & Innovation, on May 5 at the Hilton Riverwalk New Orleans.

“The event will focus on how innovation can help trading partners bring merchandise across the supply chain, from production of fruits and vegetables, to final delivery into stores for consumers,” explains Toner.

Observers say that growers and retailers are looking for ways to create transparent supply chains and gain 24-7 feedback on their products and services from trading partners and consumers.

“Our industry is just realizing that word of mouth advertising is the best there is and social media plays a role in that,” says Anthony Totta, director of marketing and business development, Clifford Produce, based in Ruthven, Ontario, Canada.

Attendees can learn more about social media at the session, “Social Media for Marketing and Reputation Management.”

Showcasing innovation
Attendees in search of product innovation don’t have to look any further than the Featured Item Showcase on display at United Fresh 2011.

Here is a sneak peek at some of those new concepts that will be on display:

Del Monte Fresh Produce
The complete line of whole and fresh cut fruits and vegetables from Del Monte Fresh Produce will be on display at its booth. One of the Coral Gables, Fla.-based company’s main features will be its new MAG-nificent melon. Developed to meet consumers’ growing demand for a cantaloupe that is consistent in quality, flavor and aroma, this melon variety features a golden outer shell color, a smaller seed cavity and a sweet taste and aroma.
Del Monte will also be introducing single-serve items within its fresh-cut line and its new Four-Pack Fresh Fruit Cups.

Clifford Produce
There will be several tomato varieties on display at the Clifford Produce booth, including a large, multi-color cherry tomato that is part of its Fusion brand. The Ruthven, Ontario, Canada-based company will also feature its new teardrop tomatoes and mainline beefsteak tomatoes. It will also display its resealable bag of seedless cucumbers.

Paramount Citrus
The acquisition of a 10,000-acre lime farm in Mexico by Delano, Calif.-based Paramount Citrus will complement the company’s existing 6,000 acres, further boosting the grower’s reputation. The company will control all growing, shipping and packaging of produce in the new territory, as well as integrate all food safety solutions and policies it already uses domestically.

“We will also be exhibiting our lemon category, as well as promotional events that retailers can implement to promote the category for the upcoming summer months,” says Scott Owens, the company’s vice president of sales and marketing.

Fresherized Foods
Executives from Fresherized Foods are focused on helping grocers “build a destination category and increase their sales with dips and salsas,” says Jay Alley, vice president for the Saginaw, Texas-based manufacturer.
Promoting the healthy aspects of guacamole and salsa, Fresherized Foods officials are reminding grocers that its salsas and dips have 20 vitamins and minerals, all-natural ingredients and no preservatives or additives.

The company is also using the show to discuss its partnership with the television program, The Biggest Loser and how this can boost the category’s marketing.

Mastronardi Produce
At the Mastronardi Produce booth, the grower’s northern production of Sunset tomatoes, peppers and cucumbers will be on display. “We are also using the show to satisfy pent-up demand for many of our specialty items that we premiered last fall,” says Joe Sbrocchi, Mastronardi Produce’s vice president, sales and marketing for the Kingsville, Ontario, Canada-based company.

The company is re-introducing its Tomatoberry, a sweet, red heart-shaped tomato; and its Zima tomato, which is a sweet, snacking variety.

Driscoll’s
On the heels of updating the look and feel of its brand last October, Watsonville, Calif.-based Driscoll’s will re-introduce its new logo and label design on the exhibit floor.

The supplier expects the new design to unify and strengthen the look and power of its destination Berry Patch displays being used in grocer’s produce departments.

“Fresh berries are the No. 1 produce segment in terms of dollar sales and retailers appreciate the value that fresh berries bring to their overall store produce sales,” explains Doug Ronan, the company’s vice president of marketing.

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