John Pandol, director of special projects for Pandol Bros., asks a question during a session at the California Fresh Fruit Association's annual meeting in late March 2018. ( Ashley Nickel )

PEBBLE BEACH, Calif. — Both education sessions at the 82nd annual meeting of the California Fresh Fruit Association dealt with changes in consumer behavior and how the industry should adjust in response.

Retail consultant Bill Bishop described the many recent developments in the grocery landscape, most driven by the demand for convenience. He mentioned the growth of snacking, the move toward smaller store formats, and the prevalence of purchases influenced by digital.

Political analyst Hector Barajas detailed changes in how people are getting their news, with nontraditional platforms like YouTube and Facebook leading the way. He urged companies and the industry to use those channels to reach consumers directly instead of asking the media to tell their stories. He also advocated building and populating a network of websites that provide a favorable view of agriculture and related legislative topics.

Getting the public involved is key because phone calls from voters create pressure on legislators, Barajas said.

Bishop made a statement that could have been the summary for both sessions.

“We’re in a world today where the consumers are calling the shots,” Bishop said. “They’ve always been important, of course … but today the consumer is even more potent.”

While consumers and their evolving behaviors play a major role in the food landscape, the California Fresh Fruit Association remains most concerned with the lack of water and labor in the state.

Incoming chairman Randy Giumarra, vice president of sales for Bakersfield, Calif.-based Giumarra Vineyards, said those areas have been and continue to be the top advocacy priorities for the group.

“Water will continue to be a major topic of conversation and how we take that precious resource that we have so much of up in the northern part of the state and capture that and deliver it down to where we’re putting it to very good use,” Giumarra said. “ … A lot of times I think it’s made out to be that farmers are wasting water and it’s not for a good cause, and really we always argue that we are producing a healthy food for people to consume not only in California but all over the world, and that is integral, especially in these times with so much processed food and such a focus on health and wellness.

“We’ll talk about labor and immigration and how we can get both sides to reach across the aisle and figure out a way to allow these people who are hardworking people and contributing so much to our society and the businesses and to this nourishing crop that we produce, how we accomplish getting some immigration reform,” Giumarra said.

Outgoing chairman Harold McClarty, president of Kingsburg, Calif.-based HMC Farms, noted other challenges include demands by retailers, with more responsibilities and costs shifting to shippers.

Nevertheless, he said he remains optimistic about the industry, stating that California farmers will be necessary to feed a quickly growing world population. For that reason among others, the industry has to keep trying to bridge the gap between farmers and those people unfamiliar with the process.

“We must win the hearts and minds in Sacramento and on the coast,” McClarty said.

 
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