Conversations at United - Sarah, Karen and Kristyn with Zespri and Fresh Directions
(Clockwise from top left) Kristyn Lawson for Fresh Directions, Ashley Nickle with The Packer, Karen Caruso with Zespri and Sarah Deaton with Zespri discuss the United Fresh Live! virtual trade show. ( The Packer )

Mount Maunganui, New Zealand-based Zespri and Miami-based Fresh Directions International shared a booth at the first-ever United Fresh Live! virtual event.

Zespri’s main focus at the show was the new packaging for its SunGold kiwifruit. The package, which creates a more vertical presentation for the fruit, is made from recycled plastic and is fully recyclable, said Sarah Deaton, marketing manager for North America. The new look has seen great response this year, with sales up 40% versus last year, she said.

The company is also relaunching its Let Your Taste Wander campaign, which is designed to reinforce that SunGold is a new variety, with a taste distinct from the traditional green. Zespri also noted that kiwi is an ideal source of Vitamin C, which is more in demand than ever given the desire for immune system-boosting foods amid the pandemic.

Fresh Directions, which markets fruit from the Dominican Republic, centered its conversations around its Luv Avocados brand. Kristyn Lawson, an industry consultant representing the company at the show, said it will also be spotlighting later this year different varieties within the tropical avocado category, which the Dominican Republic is more known for.

“They’re all kind of lumped in together as ‘tropical,’ but they really have different experiences, so we’re really excited to be talking and educating people to enjoy all the varieties of avocado,” Lawson said.

Fresh Directions also markets a line of fruit pulps made from tropical fruit like mango, soursop and passion fruit. The pulps come in stand-up pouches and have already been accepted by several retailers, she said.

Lawson, Deaton and Karen Caruso, market development manager for North America for Zespri, all had positive takeaways from the virtual event.

“I really enjoyed the breakout sessions, where you can talk and mingle with people that you wouldn’t necessarily normally get introduced to, so it’s getting a lot of new acquaintances and also new perspectives,” Caruso said.

Lawson also said the opportunities for connection exceeded expectations.

“It’s been a real surprise as many connections that have been made. I wasn’t sure with all the sessions I would feel as connected, but definitely do,” Lawson said. “It’s great to see everyone’s smiling faces and be able to reconnect, even if it’s virtual. It’s been as good as it can be, I would have to say.”

Deaton added that the pivot to online is a reminder of the industry’s ability to change course quickly as needed.

“It just shows how agile the produce industry is and how flexible we can be,” Deaton said. “We get a lot of things thrown at us, and just another thing ... It’s pretty amazing that United was able to come together and kind of create this new experience.

“Of course with anything new there’s going to be some learnings and some pros and cons,” Deaton said. “We’ve heard from our team they love being able to go to the sessions ... That’s been really great for our whole team to be able to experience some of those educational opportunities.”

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