The produce industry continues to grow as consumer demand for fresher, healthier food options skyrockets.
The produce industry is planting roots—but not in the traditional sense. Many of the industry’s suppliers are making strides toward improved messaging regarding where their products come from, and the people behind them, as well as toward supporting local causes. In accordance with the natural and local movements, greater transparency is also being promoted with new forms of packaging.
All of this was made clear at the Produce Marketing Association’s Fresh Summit Convention, which took place from Oct. 23-25 in Atlanta, attracting thousands of growers, suppliers and shippers from across the country and beyond. The exposition floor was filled with high energy as the industry worked toward future growth.
A major highlight of the convention included a congratulatory video from First Lady Michelle Obama, which played during the state of the industry address. She particularly recognized those involved with eat brighter! and FNV.
“Thanks to you, we aren’t just growing healthy foods, we are growing a movement that has changed the conversation about healthy eating in this country,” Obama said. “Together we are making the healthy choice the easy choice for families.”
The First Lady’s kind words kicked the Fresh Summit off on a high note, and exhibitors and attendees rode the momentum for the rest of the weekend. For those who missed the convention, or just want to review some of the best parts of the jam-packed event, check out what some of the industry’s strongest players shared on the showroom floor:
California Sun Dry
Following up on a soft launch at the 2014 Fresh Summit, California Sun Dry officials fully introduced two flavors to its line of bagged sun-dried tomatoes. Now in Italian-style and Southwestern-style flavors, the product is designed for snacking, to be used as an ingredient in salads, or an ingredient in side dishes and center plate entrées, say officials for the Danville, Calif.-based company.
“These items join our popular Smoked Sun Dried Tomatoes, the first and best selling flavored item in the fastest growing segment of the category, flavored dried tomatoes in a bag,” said Bill Riley, executive vice president, sales and marketing.
“Washington State is an incredible place for growing apples,” said Kathryn Grandy, marketing manager for Chelan Fresh. Grandy was stationed at Chelan’s booth showing off the latest from the Chelan, Wash.-based company, including new packaging that displays the farmer’s mark.
Before the end of 2015, Chelan will launch a new website, featuring farmers who will tell their stories as well as share growing practices. All of the company’s operations are through family farms, and many of the farm owners were on hand to chat, like Steve Stamps, a grower from Chelan, Wash.
Stamps showed off the Rockit Apple, which now comes in a three or four-pack tube. While originally from New Zealand, Chelan has the North American distribution rights of the apple, which Grandy described as a cross between Pacific Rose and Crab Apple. They are kid friendly, she added, because of their small size and soft core.
Lucky PMA attendees were also able to sample Chelan’s exclusive new apple, the Sugar Bee. There is currently a limited supply, but officials expect it to be in national production by 2020.
CMI is promoting its Kanzi apple, a new variety imported from Belgium that features a strong sweet/tart taste. According to Steve Lutz, vice president of marketing for the Wenatchee, Wash.-based company, the apple has been in the ground for four years and is now finally ready to have a crop.
“We wanted to make sure that we had this right,” he said. “So we took our time and did not rush it to the market.”
CMI is supporting Kanzi with a strong in-store promotional effort, designed to get as much information into consumers’ hands as possible and boost sales. “Often retailers don’t have the labor available to do more than put the name of the apple and its price out there,” Lutz added. “We have come up with various in-store tools to help retailers explain to consumers what this apple is and how it is different. It will help build awareness and sales.”
Lutz said that CMI is offering 2- and 5-carton self-contained displays that retailers can set up on the floor and feature information to spur consumer interest and trial. A 2-pound pouch bag also contains product information and is designed to help increase awareness.
Del Monte Fresh Produce
Del Monte Fresh Produce showcased its fresh and fresh-cut fruit and vegetable lines, as well as some of its newest products. These included the Pure Earth juice line, available in 100 percent Pineapple, Pineapple Lime, Pineapple Banana Coconut and Pineapple Blueberry Blackberry flavors; Fresh Guacamole; and Del Monte Fresh Cut Spear Multipacks.
“We received great feedback on the Del Monte fresh cut grab-and-go fruit and vegetable items as well as our single finger bananas packed in our proprietary CRT (Controlled Ripening Technology) packaging,” said Dionysios Christou, vice president of marketing for the Coral Gables, Fla.-based company. “The 100 percent natural, individually packaged CRT bananas are designed to satisfy consumer demand for premium quality Del Monte bananas in the non-traditional retail channels. These bananas experience less scarring and bruising and retain moisture that gives them a brighter, shinier yellow color for an extra day or two, which make it the perfect product to take on the road.”
Dole’s booth, which consisted of Dole Fresh Fruit and Dole Fresh Vegetables,displayed Get Up and Grow!, a multiyear initiative designed to make the world a happier, healthier place by encouraging North Americans to eat more fruits and vegetables, said Bil Goldfield, director of communications for the Westlake Village, Calif.-based company.
Goldfield added that one of the highlights of the year was the Get Up and Grow! North American Tour, a multi-caravan tour that brought fresh fruit and vegetable recipes, hands-on activities and other surprises to 464 supermarkets across the U.S. and Canada. Officials revealed that plans are in motion for the return of Get Up and Grow! in 2016.
Dole also displayed its newest products, which were released in November. Dole Take Aways Salad Meals with Grains are available in four new flavors. These protein-based meals combine Dole salad greens with grains, nuts, beans, fruits, herbs and cheese in a recyclable box.
Flagler Global Logistics
Flagler Global Logistics works with every step of the supply chain, mostly handling fresh product. At PMA, the Miami-based company promoted Flagler Fresh, a marketing tool it uses to reach out to various customers regarding their import needs.
“The supply chain and logistics of produce is still not a very clean process as compared to a lot of other supply chains,” said Chris Scott, company president and CEO. “We believe that our model is going to help clean some of that up a little bit.”
Flagler has a patented fumigation process that takes place in a temperature-controlled environment, so as not to allow the condensation back on the fruit. This slows the decay of the fruit, along with independent testing found that Flagler’s process can add a valuable 10 days of shelf life to perishables, Scott added.
“We market ourselves as a single-source solution. If someone needs to move product, we can handle it all the way from Chile to location,” Scott said.
Currently Flagler’s main operations are out of Miami, but officials were excited to announce that the company will be expanding upon its locations very soon.
The key takeaway from visiting with Lori Hickey, marketing manager at HBF International, was to buy cranberries early this year. Hickey hoped to push people to buy cranberries early, as she explained it was an early harvest this year, so she encouraged show goers to buy them and freeze them.
In addition to cranberries, HBF displayed its organic blackberry, which is now in full production. It is the McMinnville, Ore.-based company’s first organic offering.
The Josie’s Organics team was on hand at the Pavilion for the California Grower-Shipper Association of Central California to share the news that its entire ranch is now fully certified organic.
Officials for the Soledad, Calif.-based company added that they always have new products on trial at the farm, which currently include Asian greens—a popular retailer ask, say officals. The team at Josie’s also informed show goers that it will be releasing an array of new products in December.
As the largest lemon producer in the U.S.,it might make sense for officials at Limoneira to look for new ways to market their product. So executives at the Santa Paula, Calif.-based company came up with Lemons for Life, a promotional program designed to make consumers and retailers aware of the many uses of lemons.
According to John Chamberlain, the company’s director of marketing, the program is designed to show consumers that lemons have strategic uses in a number of different ways, including with nutrition, health care, recipes, cleaning and with beauty-related issues.
“Our job is to work with various companies to drive more traffic to supermarkets and create more demand for lemons,” Chamberlain said. “Lemons have a great deal of uses and there is no reason why supermarkets can’t build more sales from the category by cross-merchandising it across the store. Our goal is to convince retailers to place lemons in more aisles than just the produce section.”
Chamberlain said that lemon sales can be maximized by promoting their use in recipes, and how they can be used to make more appetizing meals. Also, lemons can be used for cleaning, are a great way to get rid of harsh chemicals and are helpful with both asthma and bug-bite relief.
Attendees stopping by the Litehouse booth were treated to a refuel in the form of brisket chili topped with one of the company’s new products—Avocado Ranch with Bacon dressing.
Aside from nourishing those on the show floor with comfort food, Litehouse was busy showing off its range of new products. First was the packaging refresh for the organic line, designed to give it more of a farmer’s market feel, said Maria Emmer-Aanes, vice president of marketing and communication. The line is now Non-GMO Project verified. Additionally, two new flavors were added in September: Ginger with Honey and Rosemary Balsamic.
Also new from the Sandpoint, Idaho-based company was OPA Coleslaw, which started shipping in October. Three new additions to the Opadipity line of Greek yogurt based dips were also sampled in Greek Olive, Cinnamon Swirl, and Spicy Asiago Artichoke.
Mann Packing Co.
The Mann Packing Co. booth showed off its Culinary Cuts line of fresh cut vegetables in various shapes, which was the winner of the PMA Impact Award for Excellence in Packaging.
Each package of Culinary Cuts contains four to five 1-cup servings, which are washed and ready to cook, ideal for side dishes, stir-fry, soups, casseroles or a pasta swap, according to officials for the Salinas, Calif.-based company. Culinary Cuts can be prepared in the microwave or on the stovetop.
The company also displayed its Power Blend, a variety of super food ingredients shredded and packed into one bag, including kale, kohlrabi, Brussels sprouts, Napa cabbage, carrots and broccoli.
Monterey Mushrooms officials talked about its line of mushrooms, which are high in vitamin D. “Just three ounces meets the FDA’s recommended daily intake,” said Mike O’Brien, vice president of sales and marketing for Monterey. “Mushrooms respond to light in much the same way humans do, by converting the sun’s rays into vitamin D. Our process does not involve any additives, supplements or chemicals.”
Officials for the Watsonville, Calif.-based company were also on hand to show off its Stuffed Baby Bellas. Merchandised in an oven-ready paper tray, they are a convenient option for entertaining, officials added. The stuffed mushrooms are available in Spinach & Artichoke, a blend of spinach, artichoke, Parmesan, garlic and red pepper flake; Tomato Basil, a combination of sun-dried tomato, basil, Parmesan and cream cheese; and Poppin’ Peppers, made from jalapeño and serrano peppers, cream cheese and artichokes.
Officials at NatureSweet believe that you can never give consumers too much of a good thing.That is why the San Antonio, Texas-based company is offering Constellation, a medley pack of its best-selling tomatoes. The packs, which come in a 24-ounce container ($4.99-$5.49 suggested retail) and a 32-ounce club size, feature a medley of Cherubs, Sunbursts, Glory, Jubilee and Comet tomatoes.
“Every NatureSweet tomato is grown to exact specifications year-round,” said Michael Joergensen, vice president of marketing. “The medley pack is designed to give consumers a wide variety of products for various uses, including on salads, sandwiches, for snacking and for cooking. We think we have the mix consumers want and the quality they expect. And for those retailers that stock this product, it is a larger dollar ring and the opportunity to satisfy consumer needs.”
New York Apple Association
The Fishers, N.Y.-based association is spearheading the introduction of two brands of apples: RubyFrost and SnapDragon. According to Jim Allen, the president of the association, these new items are designed to help retailers offer their customers unique items in the increasingly diversified apples market.
These are the first managed variety of apples out of New York State, Allen said. “The managed variety category in the apples industry is growing and new varieties are popping up from around the world,” he added. “Retailers love to have something new in the apple section and these two fit right in perfectly.”
RubyFrost—the offspring of Braeburn and Autumn Crisp apples—is marketed as an “apple with sweetness with a zing” by the association. The SnapDragon is the offspring of the Honeycrisp and an apple in the breeding program similar to the Jonagold. It is designed to feature a crisp, red, juicy flesh.
While Ocean Mist is known as being one of the largest suppliers of artichokes—and did showcase the vegetable in 3- and 4-pack clamshells—the real star of the company’s booth was its Kalettes.
Kalettes, the latest item from the Castroville, Calif.-based company, won the PMA Packaging Innovation Award for its Season & Steam bag. Company officials see a lot of opportunity with Millennials when it comes to Kalettes, a mix of Brussels sprouts and kale. “This generation wants to eat fresh, but also have meals that are both personalized and quick,” said Diana McClean, director of marketing. “Season & Steam is a way to offer shoppers an easy solution for those issues.”
Additionally, Ocean Mist Organic was on display, a program that was launched in July in partnership with Lakeside Organics. “Organics are trending dramatically,” said McClean. “We realized that Ocean Mist needs to be a player in the organic market.”
Oneonta Starr Ranch
In the seemingly never-ending battle to produce the best apple, officials at Wenatchee, Wash.-based Oneonta Starr Ranch think they have come up with a great new candidate. Scott Marbee, director of marketing, said that the new Juici apple, a cross between Braeburn and Honeycrisp, features a dense, juicy apple that is both sweet with a hint of tart.
“It is a proprietary apple that we are extremely excited about,” said Marbee. “There is definitely a growing demand for more variety in the apple category, and we think that this new variety will be around for years to come.”
Marbee said that Juici will be available in limited numbers in 2016. He added that production will double over the next few years.
Pear Bureau Northwest
At the Pear Bureau Northwest, public relations efforts are far-reaching. Kathy Stephenson, marketing communications director for the Milwaukie, Ore.-based organization, said that they have been more successful than ever this year in promoting culinary and nutrition-focused messaging. The company is improving its digital assets as well, and just created a consumer trade website.
Additionally, the Bureau is conducting studies to better understand pears’ health benefits, in relation to areas like the gut and chronic disease.
A crowd gathered at Potandon Produce‘s boothto hear Ralph Schwartz, vice president sales, marketing and innovation, announce the Idaho Falls, Idaho-based company’s latest cause marketing program.
Schwartz announced the start of The Arbor Day Challenge, in conjunction with the Arbor Day Foundation, to raise money for the extensive fire damage that occurred throughout the Western states during 2015—the worst fire season ever, he said. The Arbor Day Challenge is targeted at replanting trees in the affected regions.
The goal is, as an industry, to raise $50,000 by Arbor Day 2016. Potandon is putting in the first $1,000, and other donations can be made on the company’s website, potandon.com.
Sun Pacific is offering Vintage Sweet Heirloom Navel Oranges.According to Victoria Nuevo-Celeste, vice president of marketing for the Pasadena, Calif.-based company, the oranges come from the best root stock in the San Joaquin Valley in California and are hand selected to ensure the most delicious tastes and peak sugar levels.
“These are the best navel oranges anyone will ever taste,” said Nuevo-Celeste. “And with this type of quality and taste, we are confident that the consumer is willing to pay a premium price for high-quality fruit.”
The product is being offered in a 3-pound premium bag, a 6-count tray and a loose fruit case.
Eric Beck, marketing director for Wada Farms, spoke about the new products and promotions happening at the Pingree, Idaho-based company. New for 2015-2016 is Wada’s Idaho Organic Potato Program. Organic Idaho potatoes have not been big yet, said Beck, and so far 200 acres of organic potatoes have been planted. Company officials expect the volume will expand with demand.
The company also introduced Smalls, bags of mini artisan potatoes. These potatoes are ready to eat, and can be placed in the bag in the microwave for just five to six minutes.
“Everybody wants more convenience based stuff,” said Beck. “Traditional cooking is going away for the new Millennial consumer.”