NEW ORLEANS — Innovation drives every level of the produce industry and can help successful companies remain in business.

Seminar focuses on innovation in produce industry

Doug Ohlemeier

Dennis Christou (from left), vice president of marketing for Del Monte Fresh Produce NA Inc., Mike Muzyk, president of Baldor Specialty Foods Inc., and Tom Stenzel, president and chief executive officer of the United Fresh Produce Association, talk about innovative produce company ideas during a May 5 United Fresh global conference.

That’s what participants heard at a May 5 United Fresh Produce Association global conference on produce technology innovation. The seminar followed United Fresh 2011.

“Innovation is the key to your business, all of your business,” said Angela Paymard, chairwoman of N2N Global, Longwood, Fla. “Finding new ways to market, produce, manufacture, sell and manage is key to your survival as a company. This means you’re likely going to have to change the discussions you’re having today to be something new so you can persist into the future.”

During a roundtable discussion featuring leaders of United Fresh's grower-shipper, wholesaler-distributor, fresh-cut processor and retail-foodservice market segment boards, attendees learned how leading companies have used innovative practices to keep their businesses thriving.

“We need to remember how innovation is not a static process,” said Dennis Christou, vice president of marketing for Del Monte Fresh Produce NA Inc., Coral Gables, Fla., which last fall launched a line of fresh fruits and vegetables designed for vending machines.

“You have to continue trying to improve what you have," he said. "We have rarely seen innovation perfect the first time out of the gate. It’s (the vending machine line) not where we want to be but we have identified a potential market for us. It’s not an easy market to crack but one that has enormous potential for the industry, not just for Del Monte.”

Robert Verloop, executive vice president of marketing for Naturipe Farms LLC, Naples, Fla., discussed how the berry grower-shipper and marketer launched its 1.5-ounce blueberry Berry Quick convenience snacks and why produce marketers need to take a lesson from the snack foods industry.

“We looked at the best practices of the snack food industry and tried to apply them to our product,” Verloop said. “The way the snack food industry has made progress is through becoming innovative through packaging. Yet, it’s interesting how we in the produce industry, the first thing we hear is how a new product has a lot of packaging. Don’t you think Ritz crackers uses a lot of packaging?”

The conference also featured panel discussions on pre- and post-harvest technology, supply chain innovation and how companies can connect to consumers through social and mobile media.