Fresh Food

What’s Hotter Than Plant-Based?

Five trends setting the table for 2020
Photograph courtesy of PMA

The Produce Marketing Association’s (PMA’s) Fresh Summit 2019, held recently in Anaheim, Calif., boasted a record-breaking 24,000 attendees, a star-studded education lineup and a packed and energizing trade show featuring more than 1,000 exhibitors from around the globe.

Kicking off this year’s Fresh Summit, PMA CEO Cathy Burns talked about leading trends affecting produce sales in her Forum for the Future—State of the Industry address. Out on the sprawling show floor, new product introductions, initiatives and partnerships underscored the undeniable force behind these five hot topics.

1. Plant-based. The momentum of plant-based foods continues, Burns said, pointing to major CPG players such as Perdue and Hormel, who are also getting into the game. “Everyone wants to be part of our health halo,” she said. Plant-based foods are expected to reach $85 billion in sales by 2030.

During the show, FoodStory Brands’ Fresh Cravings of Phoenix debuted its new line of dairy-free dips made from almonds or cashews in both savory and sweet varieties. “We pushed ourselves to accelerate our innovation process, as we see tremendous opportunity to deliver healthier alternatives at highly competitive prices to all consumers,” said FoodStory Brands President Jay Whitney.

Bella Sun Luci of Chico, Calif., sampled its plant-based tomato jerky in three flavors: Teriyaki, Hickory Smoked and Sriracha. Atlanta-based Odwalla featured inspired plant-based nutrition with its 100% Juice Shots in three varieties: Ginger, Ginseng Apple Cider Vinegar and Turmeric.

2. Sustainability continues to resonate. Consumers worldwide are demanding more socially and environmentally responsible practices from businesses, Burns said in her State of the Industry address, citing a study that found that 72% of consumers expect socially responsible commitments from their grocery retailers. “It’s now up to us to deliver on those expectations of responsibility and sustainability throughout the food supply chain,” Burns said.

Del Monte Foods Inc. of Walnut Creek, Calif., unveiled its Fresh Del Monte Produce’s 2018-2019 A Better World Tomorrow CSR (corporate social responsibility) report, citing accomplishments such as a 12% (per ton of product) reduction in energy consumption at the end of 2018, the 2015 carbon neutral certification of its Costa Rican banana operations, and plans to have pineapple and other operations follow suit. Del Monte also preserves more than 26,000 acres of its land to biodiversity and wildlife protection.

“The growth is in companies with a purpose-driven strategy,” said Priscila Stanton, VP of marketing for Bonduelle Fresh Americas/Ready Pac. The Irwindale, Calif.-based company is on a mission to create a better future through plant-based foods. To deliver on its mission, Bonduelle has developed a long-term CSR strategy based on five objectives, said CEO Mary Thompson. Those objectives: the promotion of sustainable agriculture; a reduction in environmental impact; the encouragement of all employees to drive a culture of CSR; a commitment to feed people well and sustainably; and fostering the well-being of its employees and communities.

The Wonderful Company of Los Angeles—known for its iconic Wonderful Pistachios, Wonderful Halos and POM Wonderful brands—discussed the recent $750 million pledge by co-owners Lynda and Stewart Resnick to Caltech to support its cutting-edge environmental sustainability research.

Columbus, Ohio-based startup ProteoSense was selected as the winner of the Thrive Fresh Summit Challenge focused on accelerating companies with the best emerging technologies to advance the future of food and agriculture. ProteoSense earned $100,000 in investment from SVG Ventures and a coveted spot on the Thrive VI Accelerator Program. Los Gatos, Calif.-based SVG Ventures selected four finalist companies—Intello Labs, ProteoSense, SolGro and Space AG—from a pool of global startups developing ag-tech and agri-food innovation focused on sustainability, digital solutions, food waste reduction and food safety solutions.

3. CBD. The inclusion of CBD in food and beverage is exploding, with Nielsen predicting it will soon be a $6 billion industry. “How will it play out in produce?” Burns asked attendees of the State of the Industry forum. Given the surge in CBD product introductions, it’s a question that demands an immediate response.

A little less than six months since Bolthouse Farms was bought back from Campbell Soup Co., the energized Bolthouse team—including VP of Marketing AJ Bernstein—was out in force to showcase and sample more than 20 new plant-powered products, including line extensions, new flavors and new categories. Front and center were a line of CBD Functional Infusions; ready-to-drink keto protein beverages; and Bolts, a line of functional shots that are grounded in the nutrition of carrots.

4. Organic. Today’s increasingly sustainably minded consumer seeks organic options, and they are willing to pay more for them. Organic fruits and vegetables represent 14% of total produce sales, or $17 billion, Burns said.

Scores of companies, including Sunset/Mastronardi Produce of Ontario, launched new organic offerings. In addition to its new Organic Wild Wonders tomatoes, Sunset also unveiled its new Sunset Cares sustainable packaging line. 

Shenandoah Growers of Rockingham, Va., introduced a new line of Organic Pepper Purees in a variety of heat levels under its That’s Tasty brand. Stemilt Growers of Wenatchee, Wash., featured its Artisan Organics line. Cece’s Veggie Co. of Austin, Texas, served up samples of its Fresh Veggie Ramen in two varieties that are made with organic vegetables. Los Angeles-based Joolies, which was named Best First-Time Exhibitor by PMA, showcased its Pitted Organic Medjool Dates in colorful packaging.

5. Emotional connections. While produce enjoys a halo of health, the good-for-you factor alone doesn’t drive sales. The industry needs to make an emotional connection with the consumer, Burns urged. “Consumers are looking for brands that align with their values,” she said. They are demanding that companies make decisions that better the world.

NatureSweet of San Antonio is making an emotional connection with consumers every time they open the seal on a package of its Cherubs tomatoes. The underside of the label reveals the opportunity to meet one of the company's “amazing associates.” About 18 different agricultural workers are profiled each year on the labels, which include a link to a website with more information and videos.

“We’re putting the people before the product,” said Lori Castillo, VP of marketing. Profiling the lives and contributions of its hardworking team lets associates know that they are a valued member of the supply chain, she said.



More from our partners