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From the President of Robinson Fresh: A Year of Thinking Outside of the Produce Box
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From the President of Robinson Fresh: A Year of Thinking Outside of the Produce Box

December 21, 2017

It has been a year of change. And, after being in the industry for the past 25 plus years, change is no foreign concept to me. However, a number of noteworthy things have happened over the course of a year.

Understanding the entire supply chain, from seed to shelf, has become more important than ever as more companies expand beyond a singular focus in the industry. When I think of recent, significant mergers and acquisitions, from the Amazon-Whole Foods and Walmart and Jet.com acquisitions, to a number of technology deals, it is clear that retailers are focused on solving the value question related to home delivery of fresh food and the need to satisfy the growing consumer demand for it. Our world is becoming smaller with these changes, yet even large mergers and acquisitions can’t impact our global produce supply as quickly as the forces of Mother Nature can. For much of this year, the industry battled the impact of unique weather patterns, 100-year hurricanes, and forest fires greater than anything we have seen in recent history—and the fires continue.

Meal kits and new markets

We have been challenged to think outside of the produce world—factoring in meats, seafood, and grains as part of the produce offering—as meal kits hit a stride. This also meant understanding how to combine all of these items that could have different food safety standards, temperature requirements, and transportation expectations into one offering for consumers. Working more closely with other areas of food production has helped us expand to new geographies, new routes, and new regulation changes.

Good causes for healthy eating

With all of these changes, it is nice to be reminded that some things do remain constant. We are still pausing for smart, healthy, and good, whether that comes in the form of making sure kids have access to nutritious lunches through the United Fresh Start Foundation Salad Bars to Schools program or continuing the effort to reduce food waste through programs like Misfits®.

Looking to the New Year

Although I never like to make predictions for the future, I think there are a few trends in the produce industry that are very likely in the new year.

1. People will remain as important to our industry as ever.

The produce industry is a people industry—our people are as important as ever. We build our people up, and we all work to make this industry stronger and more sustainable each year.

2. Consumers are going to be put first more than ever before.

Faster delivery of high-quality food is expected, along with delivering the right product at the right price to the right location, when and where consumers demand it.

Retailers, wholesalers, and foodservice providers are more efficiently managing supply through technology and innovation. We can more closely track what’s being consumed and the rate at which it happens. In turn, consumers are finding non-traditional ways to place their food orders. Uber delivery, Amazon Fresh, Coborn’s home delivery, and Target’s same-day pickup are examples of the ways technology will continue to impact and evolve produce innovation and automation—and all industries—going forward.

3. The concept of a produce-first plate will take 2018 by storm.

Things like vegetable noodles replacing carbs and fast food restaurants permanently adding vegetable burgers to menus are on the table for 2018. Our industry can help move the needle in 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.

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 who do your part to continuously improve it.

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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