BRASELTON, Ga. — Retail and foodservice professionals attending the Southeast Produce Council’s fall conference learned about the events that have shaped and will influence the produce industry in the coming years.

Southeast Produce Council examines key produce trends

Doug Ohlemeier

Jack Salamon (left), senior category manager for Shaw's Supermarkets Inc., East Bridgewater, Mass., and president of the New England Produce Council, Burlington, Mass., talks with Cam Harrington, the Atlanta-area based key accounts manager for The Sholl Group II, Eden Prairie, Minn., during the Southeast Produce Council’s fall conference.

A record number of participants are attending the Nov. 5-7 festivities that celebrate the Riverview, Fla.-based organization’s 10th year at the Chateau Elan Winery & Resort northeast of Atlanta.

During a Nov. 6 keynote luncheon address, Ronnie De La Cruz, president of De La Cruz Training and Consulting Services, Salinas, Calif., who provides training to retail and foodservice accounts, presented a list of the Top 10 events that have affected the produce industry during the past decade and discussed future trends.

The Top 10 events in ascending order are the 2006 E. coli outbreak linked to spinach, the growth of Wal-Mart’s presence in produce, the emergence of the locally grown movement, the 2008 tomato salmonella crisis, the water crisis involving the California Delta smelt fish vs. the state’s agriculture production, the inclusion of produce in the farm bill, the Leafy Greens Marketing Agreement, the growth of organics, the explosion of fuel costs and the growth of the tomato category at retail based on taste and variety.

During the next decade, De La Cruz said the produce industry should expect to see a harmonization of universal standards for third-party food safety audits, the adoption of sustainability measures for produce, the international adaptation of traceability technology, the emergence of China as a world agriculture producer, seed research technology, and another major food safety incident that will test the industry associations’ strengths in working with regulatory agencies to resolve the situation.

“We have seen a lot of change in the past 10 years,” De La Cruz said. “The change you see in the next 10 years will be even more sweeping than what we saw in the last 10 years.”

According to organizers, the conference has attracted more than 250 retail, foodservice and grower-shipper participants.