Outgoing Produce Marketing Association chairman Tim Riley is impressed with the changes he sees in the fresh produce industry, but he continues to see emerging technologies as an important factor for future success.

Riley, president of The Giumarra Cos., built his career consulting businesses on technology. He noted how technology impacts food safety, an area he believes has seen dramatic improvement during his time as PMA chairman.

“As technology improves, food safety will improve,” Riley said. “Companies continue to get better and more sophisticated. I would argue our produce is much safer these days compared to ten years ago.”

Along with the launch of new technology resources, like a redesigned PMA website, Riley said he is proud of the volunteer leadership at the PMA.

“I’m most proud of the board members I’ve worked with. They truly are great leaders, and always put the industry and PMA’s strategic direction above all else. They truly wore the PMA hat and not a company’s hat at our meetings. Otherwise, we would not have been successful.”

Such leadership was instrumental in launching the Eat Brighter! campaign, a joint PMA/Sesame Workshop initiative aimed at encouraging young children to eat more fruits and vegetables. Riley sees this as a signal of larger opportunities ahead to increase consumer demand for fresh produce.

Bryan Silbermann, CEO of the PMA, describes Riley as a global citizen and a leader who allows others to speak up.

“He has a great view of the global industry,” Silbermann said. “He sees the big picture in how technology is enhancing the industry.”

And technology will continue to having a growing effect on businesses. As access data tracking and management systems increase, “produce companies are capable (of competing) with consumer packaged goods companies on branding, programs, category management and systems.”

“Emerging technologies can help us gain a competitive advantage and I’m thrilled to see a focus on technology to guide our industry forward,” Riley said. “We need to continue to mine the tech landscape and get educated about what’s out there so we can choose what’s best to move our companies.”

Nevertheless, the fresh produce industry still has some areas that need improvement. Riley cited food safety as one of those areas, noting how evolving technologies increase the capacity for food safety standards. Other areas too will face challenges in the future.

“We also need to look at how we feed the world in a healthy way in 2050. We have huge population increases coming, and natural resource challenges. We need to have open dialog based on scientific fact,” citing GMOs and flood irrigation as two notable examples.

As immediate past chairman, Riley remains with the PMA on leadership and executive committees. After that, he plans to stay engaged through participating in educational opportunities and attending PMA conventions. This year’s Fresh Summit in Anaheim has a record number of booths and a record attendance is expected.

“They just completed the remodeling of the area, which looks and functions great. We plan on having some very innovative changes in a few receptions.”

However, with reduced responsibilities with the PMA, Riley said he hopes to “slow down a bit” going forward.

“Chairman of PMA at times was like having two jobs. That said, what I gained from the experience is incredible and I would do it again. But I plan on picking the kids up from school a bit more.”