Produce industry is still all about relationships - The Packer

Produce industry is still all about relationships

09/06/2013 10:33:00 AM
Tom Stenzel

Why are some small farms and businesses exempt, when pathogens don’t know what size farm they’re living on?

We have a lot of work ahead to help FDA get these rules right and manage our own industry’s insane use of competing audits.

The fresh opportunity

Why are so many people optimistic, with all the challenges we face?

The recurring theme we heard is people are confident in consumers choosing more fresh produce.

Distributors reported radically increased sales to schools, while retailers expressed excitement about their growing produce departments.

Some of that growth is among traditional commodities, but retailers report that consumers are choosing more fresh foods in general, and welcome new products that combine fruits and vegetables with protein and other ingredients.

Look for the deli and other perimeter departments to grow, with fresh produce as the mainstream.

The cross-merchandising of fresh foods makes me even more excited about our 2014 convention partnership in Chicago with the Food Marketing Institute’s Retail Connect show.

It’s still about relationships

When I asked our staff about their experiences on these visits, I heard more stories about people than I did about issues.

We saw members connecting with each other at town halls, forging relationships that will create new business opportunities.

We discovered buyers and sellers who truly partner to grow each other’s businesses.

And we saw so many next generation leaders in almost every city, fulfilling the vision of industry leadership today that their parents and grandparents provided years ago.

My personal travels ended the last week of August at the Idaho Grower-Shippers Association annual convention, which was the first industry event I attended after joining United 20 years ago.

Relationships do indeed matter, as my daughter asked me if I was friends with all 300 people at the convention. It did seem that way, as I introduced her to so many people I have worked with over the years.

But, just like in 1993, I met new friends this year, and that’s why it’s so important for our staff to get out on the road.

We make connections with real people with real passion for real businesses.

And that’s the key to uniting our industry in common purpose to tackle the challenges we face.

Tom Stenzel is president and chief executive officer of the Washington, D.C.-based United Fresh Produce Association.

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