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PMA's 2011 Fresh Summit maps a course for produce industry innovation and expansion.

A call for growth set the tone at the recent Produce Marketing Association (PMA) 2011 Fresh Summit International Convention & Exposition. Held Oct. 14-17 in Atlanta, the PMA show debuted the organization's new branding and “Let's Grow” messaging at this year's annual U.S. produce pageant, where more than 18,000 industry professionals from 65-plus countries convened to connect with a global supply network.

As the produce industry faces the most “sophisticated and connected consumer the world has ever seen,” Bryan Silbermann, PMA's president and CEO, affirmed that “now is the time to grow together” in his annual State of the Industry address. This new consumer, he continued, “exists in the real and virtual world around us.” As a result, technology has become a powerful tool across the supply chain, from the farm to the end user.

Producers, retailers and every player in the produce supply chain can benefit by better understanding the new, wired consumer — who grew up in a digital age rather than learning technology later in life, explained Silbermann. To appeal to this demographic, we have to “market with the next generation, not to them,” he asserted.

What are these next-generation shoppers and today's core consumers looking for from their food-buying experience? “Quality,” said Silbermann, citing a recent survey that found quality was the No. 1 reason consumers say they purchase a particular product. Meanwhile, the same study found that retailers believe consumers are motivated by price above all else.

“We keep selling on price,” said Silbermann. “Maybe we should work on our listening skills,” he cautioned. By focusing on low prices, the produce business may be selling itself short, thwarting its significant growth potential by perpetuating a commodity industry rather than promoting a field of fresh food expertise.

Fresh Pickings: Five Top Trends

Growth was also a hot topic on the selling floor, where energy and innovation pulsed through the Georgia World Congress Center as produce industry giants, newcomers and everyone in between showcased their latest products and packaging during the four-day event. Topping the trends at this year's Fresh Summit were packaging improvements,kid-inspired introductions, masterful marketing, convenience and menu-making produce.

Powerhouse Packaging

This year marked the fifth annual PMA Impact Awards recognizing excellence in packaging; entries were judged on a set of five criteria, with 28 finalists selected for final judging. Submissions earned points for excellence in marketing, food safety, supply chain efficiency/functionality, sustainability and consumer convenience.

Five companies were honored with the award during the Fresh Summit. Among them was Salinas, Calif.-based Naturipe Farms, which took home the top prize for its Berry Quick Snacks. Washed and ready to eat, these blueberries are packaged as three-in-one single-serve trays. The rigid pack design prevents crushing of the berries, while making them an easy grab-and-go snack for kids.

Clear Lam Packaging of Elk Grove Village, Ill., unveiled a trio of new packaging concepts, including its Peel and ReSeal technology that eliminates the need for rigid lids and shrink bands to ensure tamper resistance. Designed to provide maximum product visibility and easy- open and -close operation, a butternut squash product from Guadelupe, Calif.based Apio, packaged in the new Clear Lam Peel and ReSeal, was also an Impact award winner.

While not every exhibitor took home top honors, many displayed winning packaging ideas. Dole Fresh Fruit Co. of Westlake Village, Calif., featured its 2-pack of bananas in modified-atmosphere bags that keep the product fresher longer, all naturally. Each bag in the 2-pack contains four to five bananas at a suggested retail price of $2.25 for the pair. Consumers can open one pack immediately, while additional bananas remain fresh in the second, unopened bag.

For the first time in 20 years, Village Farms, based in Eatontown, N.J., has rebranded its image to better communicate its commitment to sustainability, quality, safety, technology, taste and community. The new logo and packaging, unveiled at the show, feature colorful logos and a farming-community feel.

Spectrum Bags Inc. of Frisco, Texas, presented its new patented retail bags that allow produce shoppers to pull pre-opened bags straight from a pouch dispenser. The dispenser pouches can be custom-printed. Four pouches, each containing 500 bags, can be held on a specially designed rack for use in the produce department and beyond.

Kids Rule the School

If the PMA Fresh Summit is any indication, healthful snacks targeted at today's youngest consumers continue to dominate new product offerings in the produce industry. Take Buddy Fruits of Coral Gables, Fla., which has positioned its newest products — Buddy Fruits Blended Fruit and Skim Milk smoothies — to become a main squeeze of consumers young and old. The smoothies, which are packaged in squeezable pouches, come in three varieties: Banana, Peach and Mango.

Paramount Citrus of Delano, Calif., made a splash with its Cuties display. Now the fastest-growing citrus category, Clementines have become increasingly popular for their sweet flavor, seedless fruit and easy-to-remove peel. Paramount revealed plans to launch a major national television campaign in support of the brand for the month of December, and then again in February and March. A representative for the brand said the campaign is designed to “go after kids and active moms.”

Watsonville, Calif.-based Well-Pict Berries has also grabbed the attention of children and their parents through a special promotion with Anchor Bay Entertainment in Troy, Mich. Consumers who purchase a 1-pound clamshell of Well-Pict strawberries and any “Chuggington” DVD receive money back on their purchase. See for details.

Masterful Marketing

For an industry founded on products that traditionally sold themselves, the cutting-edge marketing campaigns coming from today's socially savvy produce companies are impressive, to say the least. Los Angeles-based Paramount Farms revealed plans to continue its successful Wonderful Pistachios “Get Crackin'” campaign with television spots featuring Khloe Kardashian and husband, Lamar Odom, along with the brand's “Honey Badger” and “Angry Birds” spots.

The California Avocado Commission is targeting traditional American holidays all year long with a new campaign featuring various recipes and display materials. For instance, the Irvine-based commission is rolling out a campaign next year that will invite consumers to “Go Red, White, Blue and Green” for the Fourth of July.

Finally, Grimmway Farms of New York unveiled its clever concept to give carrots seasonal appeal. The company is packaging its baby carrots in snowman-themed bags to capture additional attention this holiday season.

Convenience Still Sells

A main selling point of everything from lettuce to squash, “convenience” was used to describe virtually every new product at the show. Consider the new Fresh Hass Avocado Pulp from Del Monte Fresh Produce in Coral Gables, Fla. Made with no additives or preservatives, the avocado comes in handy 4-packs containing four 2-ounce cups that are perfect for dipping on the go.

Pom Wonderful has taken the challenge out of preparing pomegranate seeds with its new 4.3-ounce grab-and-go Pom Poms Fresh Arils. The packaging features a spoon affixed to the lid for eating on the run. The product is also available in an 8-ounce family size.

Ready Pac of Irwindale, Calif., displayed its new Bistro line extensions. The items, intended as a dinner solution for the whole family, are Toss 'n Serve salads that can be prepared in the packaging bowl, which then becomes the serving dish. The bowls are designed to give high visibility to all of the ingredients, from vegetables to proteins to the dressing that's packaged within.

Produce Goes Main Menu

The tremendous growth potential of produce in foodservice channels was another noteworthy topic raised by Silbermann's State of the Industry address, during which he cited Mintel research indicating that the produce industry is moving in the right direction to meet its “audacious goal” to double produce in foodservice in the next 10 years. This same research, he noted, shows that fruit mentions on menus are up 30 percent in the past year, while vegetable mentions are up 10 percent. Most notably, 77 percent of the fruit mentions in the past year have appeared on kids' menus.

In an offshoot of the produce-based snacking trend, a number of companies showcased products that are sold as healthful snacks at both retail and mainstream foodservice establishments such as fast-food restaurants and movie theater concession stands.

Along these lines, Crunch Pak of Cashmere, Wash., displayed its BK Fresh Apple Fries, fresh, skinless red apples sliced to resemble potato french fries. Already sold in Burger King restaurants nationwide, these convenient snacks are now available for supermarket retail.

Healthful, convenient snacking featured prominently at the Chiquita Brands North America booth, where in addition to the Cincinnati-based company's new portable Chiquita Juice + Fruit Duos, Chiquita Fruit Chips were also on display. The Fruit Chips, available in Pineapple, Mango and Banana, are now sold in AMC movie theaters.

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