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SN Asks: Spreading the Word About Produce

SN Asks: Spreading the Word About Produce

"On the retail side it’s very clear to me that produce departments continue to be a key draw for consumers." — Bryan Silbermann, president and CEO, PMA

The produce industry will convene in New Orleans for the Produce Marketing Association’s annual Fresh Summit show on Oct. 18-20.

With the economy improving and consumers more concerned than ever about eating healthfully, the produce industry has begun to hit its stride. At the same time, the industry is concerned with implementation of the Food Safety Modernization Act guidelines, which the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has been slow to develop.

PMA is encouraging the industry to keep the momentum going by fostering more consumer demand and by getting kids interested in eating produce. SN spoke to Bryan Silbermann, PMA’s president and CEO, about the upcoming show and the year in the fruit and vegetable industry. Below are excerpts from that conversation, edited for length.

Supermarket News: Are there new features at this year’s Fresh Summit show? I know you changed a lot last year, so are there any themes that you are focusing on?

PMA CEO Bryan Silbermann
Bryan Silbermann

Bryan Silbermann: Well, certainly the format of the show changed a lot last year. We’re building on that tremendously. The theme of Fresh Summit this year is “Say Hello to the Future,” which you see in all our promotional materials. I think the important thing here is it’s a combination of innovation and change — whether it’s innovation in members’ products, and you’re certainly seeing that a lot, innovation in marketing concepts, in reaching consumers, that’s really another area we’re going to be focused on very strongly. I will focus on that in the general session and the other two general sessions, which follow on Saturday and Sunday, will also be focused on that.

I think that the theme for us last year of change was around the change of the format of the event itself and that’s now starting to really take hold. People very much liked the change last year — the reduced numbers of days, but the enhanced number of hours that we had on the Saturday and Sunday. I think people are getting used to what I would call a cleaner and more streamlined approach to Fresh Summit. All the educational things on Friday and the show on Saturday and Sunday really help people plan their time and their networking more effectively.


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But I think where the innovation is really going to hit home this year is in terms of the content and the way the content is delivered. Everything from how we’re structuring the state of the industry presentation to how we’re structuring the general session on Sunday is somewhat innovative for us at least. We’ve heard from our Fresh Summit committee that they’d like to try separating the content of the general sessions from the meal function, so you’ll see on Sunday that the meal function is in the same room, but it’s kind of separate.

You’ll certainly see a continued focus on kids and what kids are eating and how kids respond to innovative new items. So we’re going to be using kids again as we did last year, but in a more structured way this year. We’re bringing some kids in to help us evaluate some of the new items that are being tried out, the new menus that are being tried out. So I’m excited about that.

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We’ve updated the strategic plan. We’re in the final stages of completing the measurements for success of that. But the plan was approved and its outline by the PMA board. It’s going to be communicated to the membership at Fresh Summit and thereafter. I think a lot of the themes in the plan people will recognize. It’s not a radical change from before. It really is a cementing and simplifying of the themes we identified five years ago and rolled out the plan, and certainly a continued focus on technology, a continued focus on global business — in which the vast majority of our members are engaged — whether it’s exporting to the U.S. or importing to the U.S. or neither … so certainly global trade, certainly science and technology and the creation of global connection, which PMA is so well known for.

Challenges, Accomplishments

SN: Over the last year, what would you say were the top challenges in the produce industry.

Silbermann: I think the economy continued to improve coming out of the recession, but slowly. I think consumers are still cautious, so that’s still a big one. But I think if you look at produce across the board, consumers have certainly appeared willing to purchase items that they see fit in with their lifestyle. Whether it’s new value-added items or whether it’s organics, people are spending a bit more freely than they did before. So I think that’s a challenge.

Second, I think there continues to be some uncertainty and anxiety around the rules to implement FSMA. … We have been doing a lot the whole year in terms of working on this — in terms of educating our members and providing webinars and so forth, preparing comments back to FDA — but implementing FSMA continues to be an area of uncertainty and it’s a challenge, but I think it’s something the industry needs to do. We supported FSMA once the final legislation was passed.

 I do think in the long run it is good for our industry. Like any new regulation especially on the scale of FSMA there is uncertainty. We need to address that.

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The flip side of the coin on food safety is that we continue to have foodborne illness outbreaks linked to produce this year. Thank goodness not at the scale we had last year. And with the work we’ve done with the Center for Produce Safety, the work that we’ve done directly for PMA for its members, I think continues to ratchet up people’s awareness that food safety is more than just audits.

Food safety is a way of doing business, it’s a culture within a company and it extends all the way from the farm to the supermarket shelf. So I think we are doing better but it’s certainly no time to let down our guard, we can never do that. We just need to continue to improve our practices.

SN: How about the good stuff?

Silbermann: On the accomplishments side, restaurants continue to highlight more fruits and vegetables on their menus, especially kids’ menus. On the retail side it’s very clear to me that produce departments continue to be a key draw for consumers. So it’s the theme that I’ve used several times this year with produce on center stage. If you look at innovative retailers all over the place — not just in North America, but all over the world — produce continues to be a key draw to getting consumers in the store and then exciting them once they are in there. That certainly hasn’t changed. But that’s an accomplishment for us.

Read more: Green Burns Joins PMA as President

The new rules for school meals require more fruit and vegetables to be served so that’s an accomplishment this year. And tied in with that I think the accomplishment is getting more salad bars into schools. You know that PMA committed $100,000 to get salad bars into schools and more than three-fourths of those funds have already been assigned, and as a matter of fact the day before Fresh Summit we’re going to be holding an event with some of the schools in the New Orleans area that received salad bars. So that’s good. We’re getting kids eating more fruits and vegetables early on in life and that’s great.

And then I would say internally PMA has an accomplishment: I am absolutely thrilled that Cathy Green Burns is going to be joining us as the president here in December. Cathy will be at Fresh Summit for the duration.

PMA Fresh Summit 2013 Schedule

Thursday, Oct. 17

12:30-5 p.m.: Retail Produce Tour (may require separate registration)
8 a.m.-5 p.m.: Innovation @ Work

Friday, Oct. 18

7-8:30 a.m.: PMA Foundation Women’s Fresh Perspectives Leadership Breakfast (may require separate registration)
8:45-10:15 a.m.: Workshop Series I
1. Engaging the Mobile Shopper: Speaker: Carrie Colbert, independent consultant and professor, business administration, Doctor Colbert Consulting
2. Produce Waste: Turn a Loss to Your Advantage: Speaker: Kathy Means, vice president of government relations and public affairs, Produce Marketing Association
3. Buyers and Sellers:  Moving to a Food Safety Culture?: Speakers: Bob Whitaker, chief science and technology officer, Produce Marketing Association, and Jim Gorny, vice president of science and technology, Produce Marketing Association
4. NetWeaving: The Business Version of “Pay It Forward”: Speaker: Bob Littell, chief NetWeaver, NetWeaving International
10:30 a.m.-12:15 p.m.: Brunch General Session, State of the Industry, Bryan Silbermann, PMA president and CEO
12:30-2 p.m.: Workshop Series II
1. Global Market Brief: China
2. The Changing Landscape: Today’s Restaurant Consumer: Speaker: Dawn Sweeney, president and CEO, National Restaurant Association
3. Mining the Data: Food Safety: Moderator/Speakers: Angela Fernandez, vice president, grocery retail and consumer packaged goods, GS1 US, and industry panel
4. Exploring Emerging  Technology With Industry Innovators: Speaker: Bob Whitaker, chief science and technology officer, Produce Marketing Association
5. Retaining Key Employees: Creating a Self-Motivating Work Environment: Speaker: Thomas Hudgin, president, Wilmington Quality Associates
2:20-3:50 p.m.: Workshop Series III
1. Crisis Communications Is Really Social Communications: Why the First 24 Hours Are Critical: Speakers: Jason Stemm, vice president, food/beverage/nutrition, CRT Tanaka, and Brian Ellis, executive vice president, CRT Tanaka
2. Get Your Blog On: Speaker: Jin Ju Wilder, director of marketing, Valley Fruit and Produce
3. Creating Fruit and Veggie Passion!: Speaker: Jeff Dunn, chief executive officer, Bolthouse Farms
4. FSMAnia Hysteria: Debunking the Myths Swirling Around FSMA: Speakers: Bob Whitaker, chief science and technology officer, Produce Marketing Association, and Jim Gorny, vice president of science and technology, Produce Marketing Association
5. Economic and Financial Markets Outlook for Q4 and Beyond: Moderator and speakers: Vernon Crowder, senior analyst, Rabobank Food and Agribusiness Research and Advisory, North America; Elwin de Groot, head of Rabobank Financial Markets Research, The Netherlands; and Nader Pasdar, head of Rabobank Capital Markets Corporate Origination, North America
3:50-4:50 p.m.: Fresh Ideas in Action Reception
4-5 p.m.: Emerging Leaders Program Capstone and Graduation
5-6:30 p.m.: PMA Foundation Young Professionals Reception (Ticket Required)
5:30-6:30 p.m.: President’s Invitational Reception (Ticket Required)
6:30-8:30 p.m.: Welcoming Reception*

Read more: Organic Produce Surges, but Challenges Remain

Saturday, Oct. 18

8 a.m.-5 p.m.: Innovation @ Work: This destination will feature a new product showcase, Just 4 Kids section, Impact Awards for Excellence in Packaging and Sensory Experience recipe contest finalists.
8-9:45 a.m.: Breakfast General Session: FL!P: Creative Strategies for Turning Challenge into Opportunity, and Change into Competitive Advantage,Peter Sheahan, author and CEO of ChangeLabs
10 a.m.-5 p.m.: Exposition
5:15-7:30 p.m.: Floral Networking Reception (Ticket Required)
5:15-7:30 p.m.: Global Connections Reception (Ticket Required)
5:15-7:30 p.m.: Science & Technology Reception (Ticket Required)
5:15-7:30 p.m.: Industry Talent Reception (Ticket Required)

Sunday, Oct. 19

7-8:30 a.m.: PMA Foundation 5K Race*
8 a.m.-5 p.m.: Innovation @ Work
8-9:45 a.m.: Breakfast General Session: Seven Deadly Sins of Innovation, Mat Shore, innovator and founder of Outside In
10 a.m.-5 p.m.: Exposition

Read more: Organic E-Commerce Specialist Expands

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