ORLANDO, Fla. — The head of the Produce Marketing Association said the outlook for the produce industry is so bright that the industry needs to wear sunglasses to embrace their intense and brilliant future.

Silbermann rallies industry to grip the future

Doug Ohlemeier

In his yearly state of the industry talk at Fresh Summit 2010, Bryan Silbermann, president and chief executive officer of the Produce Marketing Association, provided produce industry leaders a view of the many issues such as consumption and public perception challenging the fresh produce industry.

Opening his yearly state of the industry talk at Fresh Summit 2010 wearing shades, Bryan Silbermann, president and chief executive officer, wasn’t only talking about the Florida sunshine that greeted participants attending the 61st yearly convention.

“When we last met here in Orlando two years ago, the signs of an impending global economic meltdown were everywhere,” Silbermann said in his Oct. 16 talk. “The challenge I issued was pretty simple — get ready for the change coming.

“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 sixty 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-making woman whose obsesses over discounting.

Despite all the social trends going the industry’s way, overall consumption of fresh produce shows few signs of growth, Silbermann said.

Though some segments of produce are showing gains, he said the industry still has a long ways to go.

Grower-shippers also need to do a better job telling their stories to the public too easily taken in by a Dr. 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.”

Also during the 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.”

The second day of PMA also included sessions on food safety research, how small businesses can manage their finances during tough economic times, how produce managers can connect with the supply chain and the industry need to recruit and retain top talent.

The event continues Oct. 17-18.