NEW ORLEANS — Improving customer service through information management and communicating to consumers through social media remains critical for today’s produce companies.

Running produce companies involve more than just selling to buyers. People throughout the supply chain are forming partnerships to improving efficiencies and lower supply chain expenses, panelists in sessions on supply chain technology innovation and consumer innovation technology discussed during a United Fresh global conference on produce technology innovation.

Panel: Interact with consumers through social media

Doug Ohlemeier

Ed Thompson (left), vice president of quality assurance for Avendra LLC, Rockville, Md., talks with Francis Adenuga, technical service vice president of True Leaf Farms LLC, San Juan Batista, Calif. A variety of industry authorities, including Thompson, addressed produce industry innovation during a May 5 United global conference in New Orleans.

Dan Vache, vice president of supply chain management of the Washington, D.C.-based United Fresh Produce Association, moderated a discussion on how produce companies can properly use the new technologies such as mobile devices.

“It is not a core competency of the produce industry to worry about technology,” Ernesto Nardone, chief executive officer of N2N Global, Longwood, Fla., said at the May 5 seminar. “It’s an important enablement to make us successful. But we need to use technology to create solutions for our industry, not create headaches.”

In the new world of social media, experts advised produce marketers to not confuse marketing with selling to consumers.

Dan'l Mackey Almy, president of DMA Solutions Inc., Irving, Texas, said growers and marketers must understand how consumers behave and be willing to enter into different types of conversations with them.

“This space is not about selling,” she said. “We’re having two-way conversations with our consumers. It’s no longer a one-way street. Just type strawberries into a search and can see the enormous amount of conversations going on. If we’re listening, engaging and connecting, we can be a part of that conversation, even if it’s a difficult one.”

Stacey Larson, chief executive officer and president of One Media Group, Sacramento, Calif., said the opportunity to market to consumers who use an estimated 223 million mobile devices has become “incredibly available” and will become imperative. She said it doesn’t matter a consumer’s age, race or background but marketers should see how they can engage consumers through quick-response codes and coupons.

“When you consider mobile marketing, don’t focus on the mobile-intensives, the ones that are constantly on it,” Larson said. “You want to build your plan around the mobile-restrained, the ones who don’t use their smartphones much but will get the most frustrated when they don’t have a good handheld experience. The first step is identifying not just a segment of the population, but focusing on a wider and broader reach.”