Let’s narrow that broad statement down to one topic near and dear to all readers of The Packer — fresh fruits and vegetables.
The U.S. is blessed with a bounty of fresh produce grown across the nation, from heavyweight producers like California all the way down to countless local growers.
We’re also fortunate to have a couple of great neighbors — Mexico and Canada — who serve as markets for U.S. fruits and vegetables as well as suppliers to our market.
That’s why I was irritated, but not surprised, by some stats presented during a panel discussion at the recent AMHPAC convention.
AMHPAC, which represents Mexican greenhouse and shade house producers, assembled a panel of U.S. retail, foodservice, food safety and supplier executives to address the question of whether Mexico is the ideal candidate to supply vegetables to the continent.
One of the panel members, Robert Garfield, senior vice president of Washington, D.C.-based Food Marketing Institute’s Safe Quality Food Institute, said 63% of U.S. consumers express confidence in food produced in Latin America, compared to 97% for U.S. food.
That stat drives home the ignorance too many U.S. consumers suffer from regarding the origin of the food available 24 hours and day, seven days a week at the grocery store.
On an even sadder note, it suggests the suspicion and condescension some Americans hold regarding our southern neighbor color their views even in the produce aisle.
Maybe if that more than one-third of the produce-purchasing public knew how much less diverse grocers’ shelves and their own diets would be were it not for tomatoes, peppers and other winter vegetables from Mexico, they would wake up.
Lorna Christie, executive vice president and chief operating officer of the Newark, Del.-based Produce Marketing Association and keynote speaker at the convention, emphasized the need for the industry to tell its story.
It’s the same message PMA has been preaching to the industry for several years now as consumers have attached feel-good (and at times maybe a hint of do-gooder) sentiment to locally grown produce.
Like growers in the U.S., Mexican greenhouse and shade house producers have a compelling story that too few in the U.S. are aware of.
Touring a Cueto Produce colored bell pepper operation an hour or so south of Guadalajara I got to see that firsthand.
From the Israeli irrigation technology to the commitment to reduce pesticide use and carbon dioxide emissions, Cueto’s operation epitomizes a commitment to environmental responsibility and food safety.
Marketing a quality product, of course, goes a long way toward selling the public on it.
Panelist Mark Konstan, supply director of The Produce Exchange, Livermore, Calif., said Mexican producers should reduce their investment in image building and maximize their investment in substance, ensuring they grow and ship the highest quality vegetables.
Konstan’s idea has merit, but as we all know, in the U.S. image is everything, and perception is often reality.
Truth is, it’s very likely the majority of those expressing concern about Mexican vegetables have enjoyed them countless times without knowing it.
It would take some time and effort, but there’s no reason Mexico and vegetables couldn’t have the same connection in U.S. consumers’ minds that Idaho enjoys with its potatoes.
Agree? Disagree? Leave a comment and tell us your opinion.