As more sustainability demands are thrust upon the fresh produce industry, innovators are stepping forward with solutions that not only appease the environmental set, but also make good business sense and even lead to new profit centers.
More than ever, doing what’s right by the environment is becoming ingrained into produce industry daily operations, said Nichole Towell, marketing development manager for Duda Farm Fresh Foods, Oviedo, Fla.
“The business environment requires that you pay attention to sustainability,” Towell said. “In farming, stewardship is part of taking care of the land.”
To put economies of scale to advantage, some produce associations are beginning to research best practices in sustainability for their members.
Perhaps no effort is as significant as the new Center for Global Produce Sustainability, organized by the United Fresh Produce Association, which received a $1 million grant from Bayer Corp.
But other, smaller, organizations, such as the Washington Horticultural Council, the Cape Cod Cranberry Growers Association and the Hazelnut Association of Oregon, also are in the beginning stages of developing sustainability initiatives, said Barbara Meister, marketing and communications manager for SureHarvest, Soquel, Calif., which has been involved in the sustainability consulting business since 1999.
The California Pear Advisory Board, Sacramento, is well along on establishing its own sustainability program, which began with a survey of growers, she said.
For many, the rush to become more sustainable brings up more questions than answers.
“Sustainability is like motherhood and apple pie. Everybody’s for it, but how do you get there?” asked Dan Dempster, president of the Canadian Produce Marketing Association, Ottawa.
“There has to be an element of profitability. If you can’t make a little money on a project, it’s not sustainable in the long term,” Dempster said, adding that in Canada, more thought is going into environmental impact assessments as new regulations are put into place.
But at its heart, the move to sustainability is driven first by consumers, then by retailers.
“Some buyers are prepared to take the stance of requiring emissions cuts in order to do business with them, especially some of the national chains,” said Bud Floyd, vice president of produce marketing for C.H. Robinson Co., Eden Prairie, Minn.
J.D. Grubb, director of procurement for C.H. Robinson, estimated that perhaps 25% of customers are asking about emissions in the supply chain.