Changes to the politics affecting the fresh produce industry may be on their way, but likely won’t come soon enough to make much of a difference in 2011, respondents to The Packer’s November Produce Pulse survey concluded.

Industry is cautiously optimistic about election, holiday promotions

Dan Galbraith
Sections Editor

Participants in the survey also suggested that many of their companies plan to keep the status quo with regard to fresh produce promotions for Thanksgiving and Christmas.

While America seemed to vote for change in the most recent election Nov. 2, more than half of the produce industry leaders who completed our survey said the election will make no difference to their businesses’ bottom lines.

In fact, 57% said the Republicans’ Nov. 2 dominance would make no difference to fresh produce, although 33% said the changes should help to some extent, with about a third of those going so far as to say it should greatly improve matters. Meanwhile, 9% said they thought the election results would hurt fresh produce business to some extent.

Survey participants were also split almost across the board on the effect of farmers markets on the fresh produce industry:

  • 25% said farmers markets help greatly by increasing consumer awareness of veggies.
  • 23% said the farmers market phenomenon helps the fresh produce industry somewhat.
  • 23% were neutral or had no opinion.
  • 21% said it hurts because it takes away fresh produce sales at retail.
  • 8% said farmers markets hurt the industry a great deal by cannibalizing retail sales.

Most respondents agreed that fresh fruit and vegetable business would not pick up considerably until the overall economy improves.

Some of the verbatim responses to the latest Produce Pulse survey questions, devised by editors at The Packer, from the most outspoken participants:

  • Fresh produce is not at the top of the politicians’ minds.
  • The economy and job issues won’t change enough in the foreseeable future to affect food spending.
  • Ending up with a lame duck president while the economy struggles to recover doesn’t improve the times.
  • It may lengthen the time of economic recovery.
  • The GOP will hurt immigrant workers who will pick the products that will go to market. Funding could be reduced for noncommodity products as well.

The November survey also asked for participants’ input on fresh produce promotions at retail this holiday season, and many said they were either doing no promotions or the same ones they have done in past years, involving traditional holiday favorite foods.

However, some boasted innovative and exciting promotion ideas such as:

  • a mail-in rebate cross-promotion with Sony and the DVD release of “Eat Pray Love.”
  • Twitter and Facebook promotion of recipes and retail ads on fresh asparagus and blueberries.
  • Promoting relish vegetable items for holiday platters. Also pushing value-added lines of salads and fruit and vegetable trays.
  • Getting a jump on fruit basket program starting with Thanksgiving and promoting until the end of December.

Taking a glance ahead into 2011 and what trends in the fresh produce industry could spur increased sales, survey respondents focused mainly on 2010 trends they expect to continue to thrive: locally grown produce and “buy local” programs; value-added produce products; sustainability; and food safety/traceability compliance.

A number of respondents mentioned the importance freshness and convenience should have in the fresh produce industry in the coming year.

Selected verbatim responses:

  • Local, but focused more on the farmer and his operation … romancing the story and the value the American farmer adds to the economy.
  • Sustainability (whatever that means) and local will remain as trends. However, I believe we will see a great debate about exactly what the terms local and sustainable mean.
  • Value-driven items will be more of a focus.
  • It’s still food safety and food safety cost.
  • PTI and food safety issues.
  • Packaging in order to deal with various food safety mandates.
  • Quick, easy and healthy, grab-and-go items will continue to grow and dominate.
  • More fresh, ready-to-eat or microwave items and snack packs.

Whatever happens in 2011, it’s clear that producers and retailers must focus on making sure customers feel they’re getting the best deal and that they’re interested in helping make their lives healthier and easier.

E-mail dgalbraith@thepacker.com

What effect do you think the election will have on the fresh produce industry, or what are your predictions for trends in 2011? Leave a comment and tell us your opinion.