PMA Tech Talks helps industry consider changesTAMPA, Fla. — The future is now and produce companies wanting to remain successful and stay in business must learn how they can use technology to better serve changing customer needs.

That was the message during the Produce Marketing Association’s first Tech Talks. The March 26 conference was a part of the Newark, Del.-based PMA’s effort to help produce industry leaders learn the value of innovation and change the way they think about their company, said Bob Whitaker, PMA chief science and technology officer.

“Sometimes the answers you’re looking for might not be in our own business here in produce,” Whitaker said. “There may well be opportunities from other industries that we may not necessarily think of as being aligned with our needs. It will be interesting to see how we make the transition and how some of those technologies that sound a bit ‘out there’ can be brought into the produce industry.”

Kevin Brooks, chief marketing officer with FoodLink in Los Gatos, Calif., outlined challenges food producers face, including water availability and food waste.

“Food is the No. 1 product in our landfills and in the next 20 years, food waste will be one of those topics that will grow and shape how we think about food,” Brooks said. “When you think about what trends will affect us, we have the digital consumer and data that was never available before.”

PMA Tech Talks helps industry consider changesDietmar Dahman, an advertising industry consultant, noted how the world belonged to the can during the 1870s and how ice was king during the 1930s until refrigeration dominated during the 1950s.

“None went from ice to refrigeration,” he said. “People didn’t see the threat but also didn’t see the opportunity. What they all saw was their own technology, how they were in cans or ice. We call this incompetence blindness. It happens all the time.”

In discussing new “big data” technology, Elliott Grant, founder and chief marketing officer for Redwood City, Calif.-based YottaMark, donned his Google Glasses, which allows wearers to conduct a variety of tasks including learning about a bag of lettuce’s harvesting and transit information.

“I would encourage you to go back and look at the data you have today, your strategy, your competitive advantage, freshness, flavor, speed to market, packaging, whatever part of the produce business you’re in because I believe there’s an opportunity to use the data to do better,” he said.

Immediate past PMA chairwoman Jan DeLyser, vice president of the Irvine-based California Avocado Commission, said her travels showed her there is an industry need for solutions to technical challenges.

“The speakers have really helped to focus the audience in approaching their daily lives differently and what they can do better in their businesses. We need to go outside our industry to bring in those aspects in technology to help solve those problems,” she said.

The next Tech Talks event is scheduled for May 21-22 in San Diego.