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Technology and consumers led 2018 and will again in 2019
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Technology and consumers led 2018 and will again in 2019

In a year driven by omnichannel, mobile tracking, online orders, and other fast-paced technological advancements that have become mainstream, I wanted to slow down and say thank you to the many hard-working people in produce. After being in the industry almost 30 years, I know that even with rapid change, the people are what make this industry truly unique and worth the decades of investment. In up, and especially in down years, people in produce are resilient and step up to be agile in times of change. This past year has certainly been a year of change, with two main themes driving the transformation: consumer-driven trends and an increase in demand for more technology. These key themes are likely to continue into 2019 and I foresee people in produce stepping-up to fulfill the demand.

Recent produce trends extending into 2019

Omnichannel and a rapidly changing technology environment

From the rise in grocery delivery service to the broader conversation around omnichannel, 2018 has been a year of rapidly changing technology. By 2020, it’s projected that 50 percent of all manufacturing supply chains will have the ability to enable direct to consumer shipments.** We see both manufacturers and retailers taking advantage of home delivery, blurring the lines between the two.

This overlap will result in greater supply chain complexity, but with technology advancements, specifically machine learning, advanced analytics, and API, connectivity enables all of us to evolve.
As manufacturers work to deliver direct to consumers, omnichannel is a big part of the conversation. Our category management team conducted research on shoppers’ preferences and behaviors toward omnichannel specific to produce and found some interesting statistics.

For example, 96% of U.S. adults shop online, but only 46% buy groceries online. And at 27%, even fewer buy produce online. Not surprisingly, younger shoppers are more likely to shop online, with 99% of those ages 18 to 44 reporting that they shop online at least sometimes. Household income also matters some. Those with the lowest household income are the most likely to say they don’t shop online.

Of adults shopping online, there is a significant opportunity to drive more produce shoppers. The biggest area of growth is through increasing consumers’ confidence in letting someone else choose produce for them. Sixty percent of respondents are not comfortable with someone else choosing fresh food options for them. Quality produce matters. These stats show that we need to continue to have a strong supply chain of quality produce and we need to continue to have high-quality people in produce that consumers can trust to pick out the best produce for them.

Ongoing consumer-driven trends

In our current global economy, consumers are diverse. They demand an increase in quality, safe, and fresh produce year-round. This is especially true when we look to the future in younger consumers—they want more fresh food and visibility to where that food is coming from. These trends have driven real growth, such as:

  • A 20% increase globally in fresh categories over the last decade*. For retailers specifically in North America, fresh has grown from 20% to 40% over the last 10 years of total store sales. This has required retailers to move quickly on trends, while still having regular items in stock. If these consumer trends involve highly fragmented and nomadic crops, inventories and supply chains can be disrupted overnight.
  • The continued increase in a produce-centric plate. Vegetable noodles are still replacing carbs and fast food restaurants have embraced “The Impossible Burger,” cauliflower steaks, and other produce-first entrees on menus. Our industry can help move the needle on this particular produce trend, since we are the most knowledgeable group of people when it comes to the growth and use of fruits and vegetables. Retailers can cross-promote items that encourage this healthy produce focus in grab-and-go formats. Foodservice providers can season and prepare fruits and vegetables in new and interesting ways that encourage a produce-first mindset. We can continue to build our relationships with growers to help ensure this increased focus and demand on produce is available to consumers when and where they expect it.

Final thoughts

In our changing, technology-driven, smaller world, I’m grateful to have a place in the produce industry. It’s full of good people and smart, healthy, positive causes. Thanks to all of you, especially our customers, growers and employees who do your part to continuously improve it.

If you would like to reach out to our people in produce, feel free to connect with a fresh expert.

*ROBOBANK World Produce Maps, 2017.
**Gartner.
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.
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