National Editor Tom Karst
National Editor Tom Karst

How can a produce company get a leg up in this market?

That, in essence, is the question I posed the other day to the Fresh Produce Industry Discussion Group.

Which is the smartest/most effective way for a produce company to differentiate itself? Why?

The options I listed were:

1. Service
2.  Low price
3.  Packaging
4. Unique varieties/niche
5. Advertising/promotion campaign


Four votes so far and an insightful comment by Dan'l Mackey Almy, so check that discussion out and add your thoughts.

Checking the Fresh Talk hotlinks today, I was interested to see coverage from Australia about hand-wringing by growers about the fate of their citrus export model. Currently all Aussie citrus exports to the U.S. are handled by Florida-based DNE World Fruit Sales, but a government review has found the arrangement is anti-competitive, though no final call has been made on the issue.

Check out the Citrus Australia site as well, with a news release talking about the "future of oranges" in world markets relative to easy peelers and late season California navels.

From across the pond,  it appears Europe is trying to tighten its rules on sprout production. From Europa, EU food safety authorities say they have endorsed a package of measures proposed by the Commission "that will further strengthen safety and hygiene of sprout production and aim to prevent incidents like the E-coli outbreak of 2011."

The rules are:

  •  approval by Member States of all sprouts producing plants after competent authorities check compliance with EU hygiene rules
  • tightening traceability requirements for seeds intended for sprouts and sprout production;
  • testing for the absence of pathogenic E. coli in sprouts on the market for each batch of seeds intended for sprouting as well as certifying compliance with EU rules at import of sprouts or seeds intended for sprouting.


Sounds like a pretty daunting set of rules, but the question there, as in the U.S., is this: Do food safety authorities have the resources to check on compliance?

Check out the 23-page "lessons learned" document on the E. coli sprout outbreak here.

Conclusions from that document:

Producers: From the point of view of the economic operators, this crisis created damages to the supply chain (direct losses, produce withdrawals) in excess of 1 billion € due to lost sales, low prices, overcapacity. Despite the EU compensation, full recovery will take years.

Trade: Arguably the biggest damage was on the image of fresh produce. EU consumers and in Third countries do associate fruit & vegetables with healthy nutrition, not with food poisoning. Reputation damage to specific produce (cucumbers) and Member States (Spain) was especially high. Restoring confidence takes much longer than the few seconds it took to destroy it, even if mistakenly.

Consumer: It became apparent that consumer information should be strengthened when it comes to good hygiene practices while preparing food and, in particular, when handling fruit and vegetables, such as in washing produce thoroughly as well as hands and kitchen utensils used to prepare fruit or vegetables which helps to avoid the risk of cross-contamination.

European Commission:  The European Commission is working on the possibility to amend current implementing rules on crisis prevention and management after discussion in the Management Committee (over the course of the coming weeks) to reflect some of the lessons learnt during the E.coli crisis, e.g. with green/non- harvesting operations for greenhouses.

The Commission report on the 2008 Fruit & Vegetables Reform is set to be published by May / June 2013 which is some 7 months ahead of schedule and legislative proposals are expected to accompany the report. The formal launch of the Impact Assessment (IA) to accompany this legislative proposal has been launched in end March 2012 with the final IA report expected for May 2013.