A Reflection of 2016 from the President of Robinson Fresh

A Reflection of 2016 from the President of Robinson Fresh

As I think about 2016 and all that’s happened in the produce industry, as I do at the end of every year that I’ve been in this business, I like to reflect on the trends that were surprising, and those that weren’t so unexpected. For instance, it seems like every year, a produce item takes the market by storm, becoming a popular choice among consumers because of a unique texture, taste, color, new use, or convenience factor. Part of the fun of our industry is to find the different or new way to market that item and deliver it to the customer. Here are a few of the big ideas I’ve noticed in 2016.

In 2016, we saw vegetables become a major player in meals.
Our analytics team predicted three big consumer trends in produce for 2016. One of the biggest trends they anticipated—and noted to be true throughout the year—was that vegetables would take center stage. Lately, cauliflower is the vegetable in the spotlight. Although cauliflower has never ranked as my favorite vegetable, I’m eating it more—and so is the rest of the country—because of all the innovative uses that have been developed for it. We can now enjoy cauliflower in many forms: as rice, steaks, potatoes, and everything in between.

Cauliflower isn’t the only vegetable shaking up meals. Many varieties of squash are becoming a replacement for carbs. Transforming spaghetti squash into “veggetti.” Is a fun and healthy way to turn a traditional side item vegetable into the center of the plate. It’s interesting what we can do to change our products and influence consumers to buy differently; value add and appearance matter.

Convenience is still king, and still a big deal.
It can be the simplest things that make all the difference. I think about the effort the Mango Board has put into advertising to help mainstream mangos. I’ve noticed a shift in preferences in my own family. Many mornings, I cut up mangos for breakfast. At first, my son wasn’t sure what to think about their unique aroma and texture. But I continued to prepare and serve them for breakfast, and something eventually changed for my son. Now, he’s the first person to take a slice off the cutting board. He still thinks they look a little odd on the outside, but he appreciates that they are sweet and delicious on the inside. The combination of him hearing how great mangos taste and someone else cutting fresh slices every day has made him a happy mango eater. It’s all about understanding the potential and convenience.

Online grocery retailing continues to be a driving force in all of our thoughts about the future of retailing and how consumers will shop in the future. Everyone wonders what new concept companies will come out with next. Like Amazon’s Amazon Fresh, the grocery delivery service; Amazon Now, a way to receive deliveries within two hours; and Amazon Go, a brick-and-mortar store that allows consumers to leave their credit cards at home. Amazon seems to be pushing the industry to go to new places faster than ever before. Although, delivering a book in record time is not the same as delivering fresh produce. We know all too well that there are a number of steps in the supply chain that can cause a delay in delivery. If new companies coming into the market don’t work with someone familiar with the food supply chain, they have the possibility of not meeting customer needs. Lives will continue to change because of this push, some easier, some more convenient, and some more complicated. That’s why we’re all here—because change in our industry is constant, and that is why we all enjoy it!

A few truths of the produce industry, no matter the trends of the year.
There are a few truths in the produce industry that will never change.

  • I think, no matter the hot new vegetable or the latest way to improve supply chain, consumers are always going to want fresh produce. This means being in this business is not only healthy for those we serve, but a healthy and long term career for all of us that have the resilience to thrive in this industry. What could be better than playing a part in feeding healthy products to the world?
  • As consumers continue to eat fresh produce, they are always going to want assurance that the food they eat won’t make them sick. Food safety continues to be a big conversation in government because it’s a big role to ensure the food we consume helps to make us stronger, not ill. How food is harvested, stored, moved, and maintained are all significant factors in cold chain logistics.
  • Innovation will continue, no matter the outlet. Humans are always craving to be pioneers of something. Now, it’s being the first person to try a new food or technology. We can’t predict what the next big thing will be, but we can be prepared to be flexible and adapt to what’s next. It’s worth repeating that the beauty of this business is finding out who or what could be the next big thing.
Jim Lemke

Jim Lemke - President, Robinson Fresh

Jim was named president of Robinson Fresh in January 2015. Prior to that, he served as senior vice president from December 2007 to December 2014, having served as vice president, sourcing since 2003. Prior to that time, he served as the vice president and manager of C.H. Robinson's Corporate Procurement and Distribution Services branch. Jim joined the company in 1989. Jim holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in International Relations from the University of Minnesota. Jim also serves on the Foundation Board of the United Fresh Produce Association. He also serves as a director for the Children’s Theatre Company.
new york produce show-robinson fresh

Six Themes from the New York Produce Show


Year in Review: The Top 5 Posts of 2016