As incoming chairman Kevin Fiori takes his position with the Produce Marketing Association, his marketing background should help drive a new focus on competition with other consumer food products.

Fiori, vice president of sales and marketing at Sunkist Growers, says the fresh produce industry is being out-marketed by other food industries that spend more on advertising. However, fresh produce has an inherent advantage that companies need to capitalize on.

“I’m honored to have been nominated by my peers for this position, and with this new role comes significant responsibility to represent the voice of our industry,” Fiori said. “We sell the healthiest products on the planet, yet fairly unhealthy product lines are spending a disproportionate amount of marketing money to drive consumer behavior. We can and must do a better job here.”

As evidence of past success, Fiori cited the Eat Brighter! campaign, a joint PMA/Sesame Workshop initiative aimed at encouraging young children to eat more fruits and vegetables. The campaign guides produce promotions through royalty-free use of Sesame Street characters and highlights the nutritional qualities of fresh fruits and vegetables alongside brightly colored characters from the kids’ show.

“Our industry has an amazing opportunity to differentiate fresh fruits and vegetables in the store, strengthen our sales, to build customer loyalty and, most of all, to encourage kids and their parents to eat better,” Fiori said. “There’s strength in numbers through Eat Brighter! We’re all in the business of driving fresh produce consumption and floral demand — when we unite as an industry to drive demand, we all benefit.”

Marketing is not the only area for improvement though. Fiori recognizes some of the coming challenges faced by an aging produce industry. For example, Fiori also hopes to revitalize the industry by encouraging the recruitment and development of a young, talented workforce.

“We can’t grow as an industry if we don’t have the talent to sustain our companies,” Fiori said. “Whether it’s attracting new talent, such as students fresh out of school who haven’t even yet considered produce and floral as an industry of opportunity, or developing the talent that we do have so they’re prepared to take on new roles. We need to continue to grow our brain power.

I’m talking about farmers (average age is 60 years old), food safety scientists, technologists, operations, (etc.). We need to position ourselves as an attractive industry so we have the talented individuals we need to help our industry grow to feed a booming global population.”

With a resume that includes 29 years of sales marketing and management positions at Dole, Fiori has extensive experience dealing with international markets, which has continued in his current position at Sunkist. Bryan Silbermann, PMA’s CEO, said Fiori’s breadth of knowledge of the industry will be a valuable asset during his term as PMA chairman.

“People tend to have a bilateral view of how the produce industry works, where the U.S. is always part of the equation,” Silbermann said. “More and more the PMA is about a multilateral approach, a global view. Kevin’s credibility and expertise in global trade helps him talk to people. He also gives the PMA credibility as a forum for global trade in product and ideas.”

An understanding of global trade will be helpful, not only in terms of the globalized nature of today’s produce industry logistics, but also as food safety concerns continue to worry consumers.

“Consumer confidence in the food we produce is paramount,” Fiori said. “We have fresh, healthy products, and emerging technologies and increased supply chain efficiencies will only aid our industry in mitigating risks in food safety. It’s the entire industry’s responsibility to deliver fresh, safe products to consumers and we know that there’s a real, growing concern.”

Food safety and marketing should prove to be major topics at this year’s PMA Fresh Summit Convention & Expo in Anaheim, Calif. The educational sessions scheduled for Friday, Oct. 17, focus on marketing to new generations of consumers through digital avenues and social media. Meanwhile, the Innovation@Work area will host the 16 finalists for the Excellence in Packaging Impact Award, which recognizes the important role packaging can play in attracting consumers, improving shipping, and ensuring food safety.

“Fresh Summit always has a great turnout when it’s in Anaheim, and we’re expecting the same this year. We’ll host 1,100 booths (a record!), and over 270,000 square feet, which means room for a lot of innovation,” Fiori said.