( freshPACKmoves )

PISMO BEACH, Calif. — Value-added solutions that meet the needs of tomorrow’s consumers is one opportunity for fresh produce marketers.

That was one takeaway from a panel of industry leaders who addressed trends in the fresh produce supply chain May 21 at the 2019 Cal Poly freshPACKmoves conference. The panel was moderated by The Packer’s editor Tom Karst.

“Converting trends of consumers to actual work on innovation — that is always something that is challenging for every generation,” said Brian Zomorodi, vice president of quality and food safety for Curation Foods, formerly Apio. The fast pace of changing consumer tastes, and the constraint to keep packaging costs low, are especially challenging, he said.

For example, he said the technology of packaging for fresh foods that are home-delivered is lagging behind the online grocery/meal kit trends.

Bryan Tate, vice president of retail sales and category management for IFCO North America, said one challenge is controlling variable costs for freight and escalating wage rates.

“We are very dependent on labor, wage rates and transport markets until we can fully automate our service centers,” he said. “It’s a lot of the same pressures that everybody else is under, but it’s a huge challenge for us and our retail partners.”

David Adams, founder of Adams Marketing and Consulting, said consumers are becoming disconnected with the tasks of shopping for ingredients and cooking at home. That changes the model of farmers shipping commodities to a retailer who sells to consumers. Meal delivery kits are one way the market is evolving.

“I don’t think the consumer today really knows how much to spend on a meal,” Adams said. “I think they’re actually looking at what the cost (of a meal) is if (they) went to McDonald’s, or what would it cost if they went to a fast casual restaurant.”

Now is a good time to “stretch” the consumer to try value-added salads and fresh-cut fruits and vegetables, Adams said.

“I think now more than ever, we can change and kind of stretch and bring in more food items,” he said.
“People are shopping really more for solutions, not for ingredients, until I think it’s up to us to figure  out how to we play a role in that,” he said.

For retailers, Tate said another challenge of online grocery shopping could be missing out on incremental impulse sales that come with a trip to the grocery store.

“I know the apps give me suggested (items), but at someone at retail has got to quantify less walking the store to less impulse buys,” he said, noting that some retailers are struggling to be profitable with home delivery.

Looking at future trends, Adams said that an appliance called Turbochef — a type of toaster on steroids — could become a part of more consumer kitchens. The device can cook sandwiches all the way through in 70 seconds. Prices for the units are about $5,000 now but if they decline to about the price of a big screen television, he said the door may be open for widespread adoption of the appliance.

“People could see how great the food is (cooked with the appliance), because they’re not using their oven right now.”

Tate said consumers of the future will be demanding more “clean label” foods, and that may provide shelf-life challenges to marketers.

Zomorodi said growers will continue to invest in automation to reduce dependence on labor, but progress will be variable depending on the handling characteristics of commodities.

Adams said he expects more hydroponic production of produce, and some of that technology will make it easier for robots to assist in the production process. 

The use of electronic-beam irradiation for food safety and shelf-life purposes may also make inroads, Adams said. If the “true science” was considered rather than dogma from opponents, Adams said the potential for irradiation to reduce food waste would be seen in a new way.