By Jason Stemm @NYCubsFan
This year’s Fresh Summit, the largest U.S. industry show for produce and floral hosted by the Produce Marketing Association (PMA), highlighted the innovation that can help impact the flat trends in produce consumption. My Fresh Summit began with the launch of red celery and radish mini sticks from Duda Farm Fresh Foods. One is a new product resulting from nearly 20 years of selective breeding and the other, an innovation in convenience saving time for home cooks. Lewis & Neale, the food division of CRT/tanaka, orchestrated the media event on the show floor to the trade, as well as to mainstream outlets. Much of the national media coverage of Duda’s launch focused on the potential for exciting kids about produce by offering a twist in color to the celery sticks that were a part of my youth snacking.
Duda wasn’t the only company showing innovation in making fresh produce more accessible to children and adults. Del Monte Fresh Produce had its new vending machine on display, dispensing fresh fruits and vegetables that can be placed in schools, businesses or transportation hubs to offer healthy alternatives to the typical vending fare. Fresh produce vending is also an integral part of Bolthouse Farms’ attempts to reposition baby carrots as the new “junk food” for mid-meal snacking.
Some companies offered other steps toward improvement with a natural, dried fruit alternative to sour jelly candy and portable packaging trying to eliminate excuses for not making healthier choices in our everyday lives. There were also new products such as the MAG*nificent melon and petite sweet potatoes in microwaveable steam bags. Despite all these strides to produce better, more consistently delicious food, the fresh produce industry continues to need consumer education and understanding how nature delivers inherent inconsistencies that processed foods eliminate. While Mother Nature cannot turn out identical widgets, we can help people enjoy more fresh fruits and vegetables at their best.
Education is a central theme in any of our marketing efforts, starting with growing and food safety, to selection and handling, and preparing and serving. Aiding the consumer to have the best experience out of your product has added challenges with fresh produce. It isn’t quite the same with a candy bar or can of soda, and without education from the farm to the fork the potential for pitfalls may be greater for produce more than any other commodity. Others have simple instructions for temperature and storage, such as meat, dairy and seafood, and while there is always the potential of being left on a loading dock in July, no other commodity provides the variation in product and handling needs like fresh produce. Temperature, humidity and light can all impact quality during transportation and holding.
One of the industry’s strongest allies is communicators that carry on this information to their readers. They let them know what’s in season, what to look for in the market and how to prepare it at home. The prevalence of online food forums, recipe sites and food blogs speaks to the interest and need for this education on food and cooking. The industry is making new efforts to reach out to these influencers, by inviting them to the trade shows and see the innovation first hand. At the upcoming New York Produce Show, food communicators are being invited to attend the show to meet industry members and learn about all the effort behind getting the best and safest fruits and vegetables on our plates at home and in restaurants. Hopefully this effort will be continued next fall at Fresh Summit in Atlanta.
Of course the show and industry is too diverse to cover in one post, so I’ll delve deeper into some of the tactics on display including social and mobile media, and other marketing innovations to reach all demographics and move the needle on fresh produce consumption in the U.S. With the increased volume of fresh fruits and vegetables available domestically and abroad, and some of the lowest prices, we seem poised for success. With continued innovation and education, I am confident we can get there.
Lewis & Neale is the food division of CRT/tanaka and works with fresh produce companies and groups including Duda Farm Fresh Foods, Del Monte Fresh Produce, North Carolina Sweet Potato Commission, Avocados from Mexico, US Highbush Blueberry Council, Chilean Fresh Fruit Association, Florida Sweet Corn Exchange and Florida Tomato Committee.
Photo Credit: Del Monte Fresh Produce N.A., Inc.