Cathy Burns’ mission is clear: It’s all about building the industry, from the inside out.

That means heightening awareness of fresh fruits and vegetables, as well as floral, among consumers, and collaboration across the industry.

Burns joined the Produce Marketing Association as president on Dec. 1, 2013, after 30 years in the retail sector. That included numerous senior-level positions, first with Hannaford Bros., and later, Food Lion.

She was president of the 1,200-store Food Lion banner until 2012, where she was responsible for overall operations including financial performance, brand strategy, merchandising, marketing, communications and customer service.

Burns also served as chairwoman of the Produce Traceability Initiative’s Leadership Council.

Burns will deliver a state of the industry address to kick off this year’s Fresh Summit, but she’ll be visible — and accessible — in other ways.

“Friday and Saturday, I leave myself wide open to walk the floor,” she said. “I think it’s critical to thank our volunteer leaders for what they do.”

One of PMA’s major initiatives under Burns’ watch is to increase consumer demand for fresh produce, as well as floral. Burns said the organization took a major step in that direction when it hired Lauren Scott as chief marketing officer last year.

“The board recognized the opportunity for PMA to take a leadership position in creating preference in demand for produce and floral products,” Burns said.

One recommendation was to hire somebody to focus on marketing strategies that create preference for the industry overall around the world, Burns said.

“As soon as that recommendation came out, we looked for talent and were blessed to find somebody of Lauren’s caliber,” she said.

“She brings great marketing discipline and experience and has spent the last year on the road understanding consumers and the industry and how do we leverage this great time for the produce and floral industry for people to build their business.”

In addition to demand creation, PMA is emphasizing food safety and technology in a three-part plan.

“We see some real opportunities to see a steep change in consumption,” Burns said. “It’s projected that, by 2020, 47% of protein will come from plants. And you can see it in restaurants now.”

The industry is looking to nurture its own talent base, as well, Burns said, pointing to the PMA’s Center for Growing Talent as a major push.

“We typically have over 40 students experiencing the industry through the eyes of Fresh Summit,” Burns said.

“They’ll come to educational events and walk the show floor with a career ambassador. There’s nothing like seeing the industry through the eyes of a young student. The Center for Growing Talent is a real cornerstone for us during (Fresh Summit).”

On the technology front, the association wants to ensure all members have access to the right approach and resources to let technological advances continue to steer the industry, Burns said.

“It’s an exciting time to be part of PMA. We’re really humbled by the wisdom and insight we get as we position ourselves for the future,” she said.

 
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