Six Themes from the New York Produce Show
I’ve been planning events since I started college in 1987. There wasn’t a degree in events when I was in college, but, fortunately, my work-study job was to plan events for the college staff. It feels like I’ve been doing this for at least a million years. I couldn’t even guess how many events I’ve done over my lifetime. Hundreds, maybe even thousands. Even though I have the fundamentals of event planning down, I learn something new at every event—especially now that I’m in a new role at Robinson Fresh. My first venture with the team was at the PMA Fresh Summit, which was a great immersion into the produce industry. With a few produce events under my belt, I want to highlight a few key things from the latest show we participated in, the New York Produce Show. This is the fourth year the Robinson Fresh team has attended this show, and although the show is new, we have some insight into how the show operates and its place in the market. Over 5,000 produce executives attend this show, the majority of them local, and the event is tailored to this audience. The actual trade show is open for 7 hours straight. During this block of time, there are just enough vendors for attendees to hit every booth. New Yorkers move so fast that they could probably whip through all of the vendors over a long lunch hour. It’s a well-run show. This was my first regional event with the team. It helped me appreciate the value of understanding regional and customer relationships that might not have the same importance at a national-level show. This same group of event hosts also run the Amsterdam and London Produce Shows. They might be new to shows, but they understand how to be organized and really focused on trends and the region. The sessions exemplified this idea. There were learning sessions available near the trade show, on the same day as the show. These sessions complemented the program and didn’t distract from the activities. Also, it was free to vendors, which was nice. I popped into a few sessions; here are a few themes consistent throughout the show: Home delivery is becoming an even bigger deal. Millennials want fresh produce. But they don’t always want to go to the store to pick up ingredients, and they don’t always want to have to plan out the meal they make for the day. This is why, beyond home delivery groceries, home delivery meals are gaining traction. Prepared, delivered meals allow convenience and an “experience” with food. The correct portions are included in a meal, and only minor decisions between a few meal options need to be made. The biggest decision comes when consumers have to pick between all the meal delivery options. Again, because this was a very regionalized show, I found out that the East Coast has a lot more options for this service than we do in the Midwest. Local and sustainability is important. More and more consumers want the food they eat to be local, and they want proof that it’s local, with transparency in the supply chain. Instead of someone making us prove the location of origin, we in the industry can look for opportunities to be more proactive and make it more visible where the food comes from. This trend is interesting because it’s arriving from the United Kingdom, instead of the other way around as trends traditionally move. Consumers want socially responsible, good quality product. They want it sourced responsibly, conformed to food safety standards, grown and transported sustainably, with good tracking, etc. Kiosks are popping up in the entrances to produce sections. Grocery stores have provided junk food samples for a long time, but the fresh produce industry hasn’t always been so proactive with providing samples in-store. It’s great to put them at the front of the story so kids can eat as they shop. My own son, Cooper, knows about this trend and goes right to the sample area. He loves fruit! (Although, he definitely knows when we are in the cookie area.) We shop in a larger grocery store, but in larger cities, that’s not always an option. The same idea of putting produce first in a grocery store is demanded by Millennials with more micro-stores. They just need the basics with fresh offerings, plotted based on how consumers move around the store to reflect the meal shopping journey. When they walk in the door, customers should be in the produce section, then move to main dish, followed by dessert, and, finally, move to liquor. Restaurants are the key to produce trends. Produce companies are trying to get produce in the hands of chefs, because people are more likely to keep eating something if they enjoyed it at a restaurant. The chef can be key to influencing consumers. Even though it may seem like a small market share, the impact that star chefs can have on produce trends creates significant waves within the industry. This can be difficult, because larger restaurants stick to a few core ingredients and make multiple recipes out of them. This is why sampling is the key—there is an opportunity to get in more mouths. The most innovative products are shifting. Kale has been king for a while now, but according to speakers at the New York Produce Show, there are a few new players in produce that could dethrone kale soon. Green Giant® Fresh won an Innovative Product of the Year award for their Growers Express Cauliflower Crumbles®. I think it’s innovative, too. While you can’t easily make new vegetables (it takes a while), you can find new and interesting ways to utilize fruits and vegetables. With so many people having a variety of food intolerances and changing preferences (gluten, dairy, calories) finding new ways to use produce that meets all restrictions is rare. As an aside, an unofficial innovative and spotlighted vegetable seems to be Brussels sprouts for East Coasters. Overriding message: Technology change can drive the industry. No one seemed to have the answer to this, but if someone can figure out how fresh food can be delivered fast, you’ll win at this game. Think about stores moving to scan-and-shop grocery stores and fast home deliveries, like Amazon Fresh. One thing about Amazon, though, is you can’t deliver a vegetable and think it’s the same as delivering a book. Consumers want fresh food now! And they want to know where it comes from. There’s still room for improvement. We don’t have all the answers on how to solve fast, transparent, and safe fresh food delivery, but this is in line with what we try to achieve and promote. We supply the fresh food to achieve the grocer and retailer’s journey for customers.