ORLANDO, Fla. — Bryan Silbermann, president and chief executive officer of the Newark, Del.-based Produce Marketing Association, wore sunglasses entering the stage to give his state of the industry address.

Silbermann encourages industry to defend produce

Doug Ohlemeier

Telling produce industry leaders that constant change across the breadth and length of our global supply chain has become the cornerstone of a complex world, PMA president and chief executive officer Bryan Silbermann said more work needs to be done to defend the industry and increase consumption.
Silbermann made his comments during his yearly PMA state of the industry talk.

He said it wasn’t only the Florida sunshine that was so bright and recommended the industry wear sunglasses to embrace its intense and brilliant future.

“Constant change across the breadth and length of our global supply chain has become the cornerstone of a complex world,” Silbermann said in his Oct. 16 talk. “Drug stores and vending machines are carrying fresh fruits and vegetables. Fresh, restaurant style gourmet meals are increasingly sold at your corner store. Foodservice companies are offering their own line of convenience food products sold in supermarkets.”

Though some segments of produce are seeing increased consumption, Silbermann cautioned that overall fresh produce consumption is showing few signs of growth and that the industry still has a long ways to go and grower-shippers need to better communicate their stories to a public too easily taken in by a Dr. Mehmet Oz broadcast of the “dirty dozen” produce list.

“We’ve focused for so long on getting what we grow to the consumer, we forgot the authentic power of communicating the why of this industry,” Silbermann said. “Some consumers are making choices of big is bad and small is good largely because we have been silent.”

Silbermann noted how things were different during this year’s Fresh Summit than the last time PMA met in Orlando in 2008.

During that convention, signs of an impending global economic meltdown were everywhere and Silbermann said he challenged everyone in the industry to prepare for the coming change.

“Because despite everything that has happened in the past two years, over 18,000 of us found our way to reconnect here in Orlando. You have found your way home to Fresh Summit in rising numbers for over 60 years. What other industry has that type of record?”

Silbermann detailed many of the coming changes, including the economy causing a changing demographic among shopping mothers that are called value moms.

This shopper is a channel-surfing, coupon-clipping, list-maker whose obsesses over saving money any way possible.

In an Oct. 16 breakfast general session, Mike O’Brien, vice president of produce for Schnuck Markets Inc., St. Louis, who took over leadership of the association on Oct. 14, thanked outgoing chairman Bill Schuler, president and chief executive officer of Wilder, Ky.-based Castellini Co.

“Knowing what a fan of music I am, you will be one tough act to follow,” O’Brien said. “Following you will be like following the Beatles. I salute you.”