MONTEREY, Calif. — Connecting with consumers in an era of inflation, the rise of omnichannel marketing, and the future of supply chain sustainability were among the hot button issues explored at the sixth annual Organic Produce Summit, held last week in Monterey, CA.
With a record 1,700 attendees, the event’s largest turnout ever, organic fresh produce growers, shippers, and producers met with over 300 retailers from across North America discussing the growth of organic fresh produce and the opportunities that lie ahead to further bolster sales and consumption in line with evolving consumer lifestyles.
“Based on feedback from attendees, OPS 2022 was a tremendous success, meeting the goals and objectives in discussing the growth, opportunities, and challenges of the organic fresh produce industry in the post-pandemic landscape,” said Susan Canales, President of OPS. “From the retailer field tours, engaging ed sessions, and a sold-out trade show floor, OPS attendees celebrated the organic fresh produce industry and what the future may look like.”
OPS 2022 kicked off with a series of retailer and buyer field tours, followed by a gala opening reception on day one. The second day of the event featured six educational sessions and a trio of keynote presentations which featured organic producers and leadership from retailers discussing the growth and evolution of the organic produce industry. The event concluded with a sold-out tradeshow floor of over 150 organic producers highlighting their products to retailers and buyers.
Among the standout activities of the two-day OPS were a trio of keynote presentations featuring leadership from several of the nation’s most progressive retailers. John Ruane, senior vice president omnichannel merchandising and chief merchandising officer for The GIANT company, discussed how the grocery landscape has evolved over the years, and the importance of retailers developing a consistent shopping experience across all consumer touchpoints to create a seamless brand experience.
Sharing the journey from single channel to multichannel to cross channel and omnichannel to gain consumer trust, Ruane said the objective is to make it easier for consumer to get what they want, when they want it. “The customer wants to save time and money and they want solutions,” said Ruane. “They also want unlimited assortment, the best prices, and great quality.”
The keys to success, he said, are adapting to change and innovation, having an expanded knowledge base, understanding critical ecommerce metrics, and growing with strategic vendor partners. “Now, there are so many ways to connect with customers and many of them are invisible. We know that omnichannel users like organic. Talk with your teams, measure results, and collaborate with your vendors to give your customers the experience they are asking for,” Ruane said.
“The Future of Grocery Retailing,” led by Walter Robb, former co-CEO of Whole Foods and current Principal of Stonewall Robb Advisors, featured retailers Michael Schutt, director of produce for Raley’s, Jeff Cady, director of produce for Tops Markets, and Edmund LaMacchia, former global vice president of procurement for Whole Foods, discussed how the industry can maintain growth in the face of supply chain issues, the role of technology and e-commerce, the evolving consumer, and new innovations in retail.
“At the onset of the pandemic we witnessed a shift from food service to the grocery store with the retailer as hero and food as the key element to wellness and health. It was a golden opportunity to change the paradigm,” said LaMacchia. “As we move out of the pandemic and into a period of inflation, consumers are still cooking at home but are more discerning about how they spend their dollars.”
Tops’ Cady said that while he sees a slight decline in units, overall sales are up, and customers see food as medicine, but they want it as easy and affordable as possible. Schutt, in turn, said retailers must deliver on value proposition with a focus on quality and transparency.
“Retailers need to guide consumers and there are so many new opportunities to do that now. We need to walk with our customers on this path, maybe even a little ahead of them. We have to replicate the brick-and-mortar experience by highly personalizing it online. We need to meet our customers at so many different levels,” said Schutt.
“It’s shifting fast and if you’re not moving with it, it’s at your own peril. The future of food is at the core of how we build a healthier world,” said Robb. Robb concluded the keynote with the bold prediction that in five years food and medicine will converge, referencing bio-foods, personalized diets, and how the pace of science will motivate the evolution of the supermarket to pharmacy. “This wellness thing is real. People are seeking wellbeing and wellness, especially the younger generation. The definition of health by the American Medical Association is the absence of disease, but the definition of health by most people is the presence of vitality and the way to achieve that is through food. Produce is the largest platform in the world for change.”
In the third Keynote, Plastic Bank founder David Katz engaged OPS attendees on the challenges of ridding the world’s ocean of plastic, and how he developed an ecosystem that provides consumers living in impoverished areas an opportunity to collect and trade plastic waste for currency.
“I am a giant plastic advocate,” said Katz. “We’ve taken a problem and created an opportunity. We looked for a solution: to make the material too valuable to waste and to view it in an entirely new way. If every piece of plastic packaging that we saw was worth five dollars, how many of these would we see in the ocean? Be a part of the solution, not the pollution.”
Among the subject matter in the six educational sessions, attendees heard from experts of the growth of regenerative agriculture, supply chain and sustainability challenges, and a look at the state of Controlled Environment Agriculture.
“By far, this is our most productive show of the year. First of all, Monterey is a great draw, but most importantly, everyone is focused on one segment, which is organics. We are all here for a common purpose, which makes it very efficient and effective,” said Mark Munger, VP of Marketing, 4Earth Farms.
–Organic Produce Summit