As it comes to an end, Rich Dachman’s tenure as chairman of the Produce Marketing Association seems only to have drawn him deeper into the challenges facing the industry.

The biggest one is raising consumption of fresh fruits and vegetables.

“PMA is looking at having a separate consumption committee,” said Dachman, vice president of produce for Sysco Corp., Houston.

“It’s not that we haven’t focused on this, but some board members I have great respect for have really brought out the point that it almost needs to be made a completely narrow-minded goal. Increased consumption fixes so many things for us and achieves a lot of good for the population.”

At conferences and trade shows, the foodservice executive often preaches against marketing premised on dueling commodities. The real competition, Dachman says, lies beyond the produce aisle.

“I continually challenge our industry to do whatever we can to send a single message and make sure we reduce competitive fragmentation from product to product,” he said.

“From both viewpoints — health and business — we compete against the snack aisle. We want our kids eating fresh fruits and vegetables, not potato chips and candy bars.”

He’ll continue to pursue that kind of unity as chairman of PMA’s executive committee, where he’ll lead implementation of a new strategic plan to be developed by his successor, Jan DeLyser, among others.

“Rich inspires and pushes us into the next generation of member value,” said Lorna Christie, PMA chief operating officer. “He’s done that certainly with foodservice opportunities, but also by efforts on collaboration. We’re not done with Rich yet.”

Passion for collaboration

“Rich has been an outstanding chair of PMA,” DeLyser said. “His passion for consumption and collaboration inspire me, and I’m looking forward to continuing to work with him.”

Dachman’s collaborations include working with Western Growers Association on food safety issues and with the National Restaurant Association on PMA’s Foodservice 2020 initiative, among others.

“Western Growers represents growers and we represent distribution among other things, and we think we can get both memberships to make some joint commitments going forward,” Dachman said. “We continue to work on a project to make every player in the supply chain responsible to live up to food safety requirements.”

Food safety staff at both trade associations are developing guidance for members on production of their commodities and pursuing harmony in audits.

On Foodservice 2020 — the initiative to double fresh produce consumption in restaurants and schools by that year — progress is hard to quantify, given limited information on what’s being ordered and eaten. But there is movement, Dachman said.

“We know menu mentions are up,” he said. “We’re seeing changes in some of the quick-serve chains with fresh fruit starting to show on their menus.

“Changes in school nutritional standards are happening. These are the kind of things we’ve been pushing for a long time.”

Global and local

Dachman sees PMA’s future in strengthening global connections even while embracing a trend toward locally grown produce.

He has traveled to Brazil, Chile, Mexico and Australia and represented the trade association at PMA Fresh Connections events abroad.

“The borders of export and import are going away,” Dachman said. “Every session I attended was oversold. Hundreds of attendees at international Fresh Connections are starved to understand some of the food safety requirements and marketing issues we discuss. What I found, I wouldn’t have understood until I was there.

“PMA is welcomed in these countries. They want to be a part of it.”

He has backed comparable efforts with U.S. growers too.

“You’ll continue to see locally grown be part of PMA’s future strategy,” he said. “We continue to help educate on food safety local farming.

“My company has invested and been involved in regional educational sessions for local growers and will continue to partner with PMA on those.”