I love that Produce Pulse respondents are such an optimistic group.

Survey results show economy's effect on industry

Dan Galbraith
Sections Editor

I just wish the participants in our surveys had a crystal ball with a little less fog in it.

After referring back to some survey results from late last year regarding predictions for the timing of an economic recovery and seeing respondents somewhat optimistic it would take place this year, I dug a little deeper.

Comparing recent survey results to those from a year ago regarding the Produce Marketing Association’s Fresh Summit, it’s clear the dark economy is lowering expectations of new business generated at this year’s show.

Cutting convention costs

Results indicate Fresh Summit attendees place a higher importance on networking than signing business deals.

While 30% of 2008 survey respondents indicated they attended the 2007 Fresh Summit but were sitting out the 2008 show in Orlando, Fla., 40% of 2009 survey participants said they attended the 2008 show but will not attend the 2009 conference, with half of those stating the reason as “my company is trying to cut costs.”

For the second straight year, the economy is whacking away at the number of business deals done and new products launching at the show.

This mid-September’s poll indicates 77% are attending Fresh Summit mainly for purposes of networking with others in the industry and/or improving business contacts, while that number was 66% last year. What’s more, only 16% this year said their main reason for attending would be to pursue buying interests, while 26% of last year’s survey-takers listed that as their major aim.

For the second consecutive year, only 3% of survey respondents said their companies are rolling out new products or services.

Location preferences

Produce Pulse participants also weren’t shy about expressing their opinions about Anaheim as a show venue, and, in short, they don’t like it as well as they would like other potential show locations in California or the Midwest.

Only 32% of survey respondents feel “very positive” about Anaheim, with another 11% feeling “somewhat positive” about it (for a 43% postitive rating) . About 31% were neutral, 19% “somewhat negative” and 6% “very negative” about going to a show near Disneyland.

Comparatively, 51% of produce industry interests involved in last year’s survey said they feel either very positive or somewhat positive about Orlando as an industry convention site, 38% remained neutral and 11% said Orlando has a negative vibe.

Fresh Summit returns to Orlando in 2010.

Local produce: Get it while it’s hot

Similar to last year’s survey results showing the poor economy wasn’t hurting sales of organic or specialty produce, this year’s results bolstered the notion that locally grown produce may be recession-resistant.

Sixty percent of survey-takers this September said sales of locally grown produce remain steady despite the weak economy, while 28% said sales are even rising in the recession. Only 12% indicated their locally grown sales are falling.

Last year’s survey results showed 22% saying organic and specialty sales were increasing, while another 24% said one or the other was on the rise. Another 30% reported steady sales of both, while 23% said they saw sales of organic and specialty produce drop along with the U.S. economy.

Marketing to ethnic groups

Responses to another recent Produce Pulse question addressed how members of the fresh produce industry are marketing to specific ethnic groups.

With ethnic diversity in the U.S. giving rise to regional supermarket chains geared to attract those with Hispanic and/or Asian backgrounds, survey respondents said this type of marketing has become big business.

“New items have been added to our product line,” one grower-shipper said. “Packaging and in-language marketing materials have been developed.”

Other respondents said:

  • “We are developing products and types of packages to be more appealing.”
  • “We do not attempt to narrow our focus. We want to sell everything for everyone.”
  • “We have a handful of items that are targeted towards specific ethnic groups, and we try to plan for those as much as possible and respective harvest allows.”
  • “We have conducted tours in ethnically concentrated areas to learn more about the fruits and vegetables they consume. We then invite industry leaders from the various ethnic groups and introduce them to farmers we believe can grow for their needs.”
  • “If you try to be everything to every customer you will fail. Niche markets are defined as such and have a place in retail. The key is to focus on your core customer and their needs, not a small niche that may detract from your core base.”
  • “Through our Customer Connection program, we actually speak with our clientele to find out their specific needs, and we address those according to demand.”

E-mail dgalbraith@thepacker.com. Follow Dan on Twitter @6_packer.

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