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PMA CEO Cathy Burns Urges Industry to ‘Create the New Extraordinary’

Virtual Fresh Summit delivers messages of hope for future of produce and the world
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“Don’t wait for a new normal. Join PMA and its members as we create the new extraordinary,” Produce Marketing Association CEO Cathy Burns said in her annual State of the Industry address, delivered virtually for the first time.

cathy burns
Cathy Burns

PMA’s Virtual Fresh Summit from Oct. 13-15, featured most of the usual players in a venue and manner with which the industry is still getting accustomed. But though the industry and the world misses in-person meetings, thanks to a renewed interest in health and wellness and a surge in online grocery orders, produce has fared well during the pandemic.

While prior to the pandemic, only half of shoppers included produce in their online orders, now produce is outperforming in e-commerce, said Burns.

Other highlights of Burns’ address included a tribute to the entire supply chain—from farm to fork—for valiant contributions made in the age of COVID, acknowledging the world’s newfound appreciation and respect for people working in the industry. The phrase essential workers emerged—essential to life, essential to health and essential to our future, continued Burns, who then asked, “Why do we only celebrate heroes in the midst of a crisis?”

Burns also called out for an end to hunger in a country blessed with abundance, as well as the additional work to be done in diversity and inclusion. “Lives and communities continue to be shattered,” said Burns, noting the new diversity and inclusion taskforce created by PMA and Center for Growing Talent (CGT) over the summer hopes to change that. “Its mission is to create opportunities for everyone, not just a few,” she asserted.

No Burns-delivered State of the Industry address would be complete without touching on the industry’s up-and-coming trends. She highlighted in-store urban farm installations, personalized nutrition (expected to grow globally from $8 billion to $16 billion in the next five years), and retail telehealth services like those offered by Kroger Co. and others, as signs of fundamental change.

“We need to dwell on what is possible, not what worked in the past,” noted Burns. Otherwise, the future is the past.

Her address also featured video segments from industry representatives who talked about what they’ve learned during the pandemic and how this knowledge is changing their businesses. Chris Veillon, chief marketing officer of Pure Flavor, discussed the need to “rise up and deliver fresh fruits and vegetables to people in need.” Meanwhile, Carlos Oramas of The Gems Group, shared that we have all “emerged more human” from the pandemic.

WGB asked other powerhouses in produce who were in “attendance” and “exhibiting” at the virtual Fresh Summit to weigh on the topic.

“While the COVID-19 pandemic has stretched resources across the industry, it has only strengthened our ability to adapt to a rapidly-changing market,” said Eric Proffitt, SVP of sales and marketing for Grimmway Farms. “Close communication has been vital toward adjusting operations to suit shifting demand and meet our customers’ needs while addressing the safety of our team and supply chain.”

“During the pandemic we have continued to realize the importance of being ever more flexible and creative with our marketing programs to reach our consumers and help our target customers as their business needs change,” said Jan DeLyser, VP of marketing for the California Avocado Commission. “We continued with our advertising campaign, ‘The best avocados have California in them’ during the pandemic because it’s upbeat positivity and strong tie to our brand worked as well throughout the pandemic as it did before.

“This year we have seen social upheaval as well, and the Commission is continuing to be very flexible with what we show and say on social, and when we participate. The pandemic has made of us aware of our ability to jump on social opportunities, as well as to stop on a dime when change is needed and those are important qualities that we will carry forward.”

“We’re very fortunate that The Wonderful Company brands have performed well during this difficult time,” said Adam Cooper, SVP of Marketing, The Wonderful Company. “We’ve seen an uptick in consumers looking for functional benefits from their food and beverages… Our biggest learning is that we should hold true to our mission to make healthy snacking easy and continue to reinforce this focus moving forward.”

“We’ve always known that we are an essential business as we get to share fresh fruit with the world, but the pandemic really brought that to life,” said Brianna Shales, senior marketing manager, Stemilt Growers. “We’ve always had a great team environment at Stemilt and ‘cultivating people’ is half our mission here. Now more than ever, we see building ourselves internally as a great way to strengthen our brand. We recently achieved our first Equitable Food Initiative certification and will be keeping on a path to expand that great program among all our work areas and teams.”

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