Audience member Richard Dachman, vice president of produce for Sysco Corp., Houston, and a former FreshPoint senior vice president, echoed the industry’s frustrations.
“The reason we’re having so many different inspections and so many different things happening (is that) people are afraid and are protecting their interests,” he said. “When we talk about tomato food safety, we should talk about all tomatoes. When we talk about produce, we should talk about all produce.”
Michelle Smith, an interdisciplinary scientist for the Food and Drug Administration’s Center for Food Safety & Applied Nutrition, said the agency has beefed up training for its farm investigators.
She said the FDA’s food safety initiative targeting Eastern Seaboard tomatoes has gone well and has received “an unprecedented” amount of openness and cooperation from Virginia growers and packers.
“I’m guessing it will be unprecedented again in Florida,” Smith said. “It’s kind of a contest, I think.”
Another big focus of the convention was helping produce marketers persuade mothers to buy more produce for their children.
Glen Reynolds, regional sales manager for Imagination Farms LLC, Indianapolis, the company handling the Disney license for fruits and vegetables, said attractive packaging remains critical.
“It’s up to us and to everyone in this room to get engaged in the program (of marketing produce to kids),” he said.
“We can all make a difference by taking action and by getting involved in it. If you’re a buyer, open your mindset up to other things and ideas. If you’re a retailer, consider high-graphic point of sale material and make it fun for everyone. Really look for ways to get kids involved and engage them in the process.”
Heidi McIntyre, executive director of Produce for Kids, said produce marketers must engage children and their mothers together.
“It’s not about getting moms and their kids to eat more green beans and broccoli at the dinner table,” she said. “What it really is about is how we can develop an interaction and a relationship with the food. As an industry, we need to do a better job making standard offerings more interesting.”
Pete Luckett, owner and operator of the Halifax, Nova Scotia-based Pete’s Frootique stores and Canada's Favorite Greengrocer, recommended retailers return to what made produce fun and special.
“Customer engagement has been stifled out of our business,” he said. “They (grocery corporations) have taken the produce business and made it into the grocery business. There’s no sizzle or excitement. We need to bring the sizzle back into our industry.”