PMA CEO Cathy Burns addresses the Fresh Summit crowd at her annual State of the Industry address. ( Ashley Nickle )

ORLANDO, Fla. — Produce Marketing Association CEO Cathy Burns covered the latest food, technology and consumer trends and provided updates on how PMA plans to tap into them during the annual State of the Industry address Oct. 18.

Technology and plant-forward eating, two topics covered by Burns in her 2017 speech, have only continued to grow. Online grocery shopping also continues to expand, and purchasing decisions by consumers are increasingly influenced by social media platforms like Instagram, Pinterest and Snapchat, Burns said.

She also spoke with urgency about the importance of food safety and a related new tool the association plans to roll out for companies.

“Our industry has experienced too many recalls and outbreaks this year, including the largest E. coli outbreak in more than a decade,” Burns said. “With each incident, the public loses confidence in our products, and that is a headwind we just do not need.

“PMA’s belief is that produce safety must — must — be the cornerstone of an organization’s values, character and culture,” Burns said. “But just as important, we believe that those very values, character and culture will determine how effective an organization’s produce safety efforts are in the first place. That’s because produce safety isn’t just an action. It’s an attitude.

“We must adopt a follow-the-science philosophy that embraces emerging tools ... to turn produce safety from a reactive enterprise to a proactive approach,” Burns said.

To assist companies in that endeavor, PMA is finalizing a turnkey produce safety program “to strengthen businesses through training that ensures latest best practices are being understood and applied,” Burns said.

More details will be provided in the coming months.

 

Consumer trends

Burns encouraged attendees to keep in mind the shifting approaches that people are taking to food and shopping.

“Customers simply have more choices on when, where and how they buy their food,” Burns said, noting that the portion of food spend in grocery stores is trending down.

Burns also noted that a variety of factors are driving companies from being simple business enterprises to social enterprises. Among the drivers for that shift are millennials, who expect companies to be making a difference rather than just making products and money.

Another factor is the polarization of society, as businesses fill a leadership gap.

“People are trusting businesses more than government,” Burns said.

While millennials are known for wanting more from companies, Gen Z is expected to be even more demanding in that regard.

“They expect that food and food brands will actually follow their needs, not the other way around,” Burns said. “ ... Gen Z has a megaphone for a voice with tech as their amplifier. They will craft their own narrative with or without us.”

PMA plans to be part of broader conversations around food in the coming years, something it delved into earlier this year at the South by Southwest festival.

Burns noted that the association will look to have a more active role in those discussions going forward.

“We have people’s hearts,” Burns said. “It’s our industry’s connection to the world and therefore their minds that needs strengthening ... This year we went (to South by Southwest) to listen and learn. Next year we’re going to be heard ... I’m on a personal mission to ensure our industry’s voice is heard.”

 
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