National Editor Tom Karst
National Editor Tom Karst

How soon will we know if United Fresh and the Produce Marketing Association are merging? Talks have been ongoing for months, it seems.  No news is no news, so my hunch is that whatever is in the works most likely won't  be a bombshell or block-buster announcement. We shall see, however . . .

Sally and I went to Nebraska for Easter and enjoyed the visit to my folks farm near Bertand, Nebraska.  One highlight was seeing nine whooping cranes at a state wetlands preserve only a few miles from the farm. There are only several hundred of the extremely rare bird existing in the wild.

You have heard of near-beer? How about near-produce? Beyond the particulars of the Del Monte v. Del Monte case, what is the future of frozen or refrigerated products that have the attributes of fresh? Will the expansion of "near-fresh" cause the footprint of "real produce" to shrink, resulting in a smaller and less relevant fresh produce department?

I recall covering Bruce Peterson talk about this in September 2010, and the points he made then still resonate today:

 Bruce Peterson can be brutally frank, and in his address to the Idaho Grower Shippers Association he said advances in frozen technology could threaten growth in the fresh produce department, and particularly for vegetables.
    Will improvements in frozen technology truly hurt fresh produce sales?
    The point can be made that fresh and processed fruits and vegetables often come from the same growers.
    Aren't turf wars and petty arguments favoring one form over the other a waste of energy?
    True, this logic carries weight as it relates to nutrition and broader promotion efforts by the Produce For Better Health Foundation.
    But make no mistake, there are winners and losers if frozen gains market share over fresh produce for share of stomach. Fresh produce marketers, retailers and the associations that represent them have a stake in growing and preserving market share for fresh.
    I recently asked the question of how the fresh produce industry should respond to the threat of frozen to members of Fresh Produce Industry Discussion Group on LinkedIn.
    Here are excerpts of a few thoughtful responses from the group:
    One member said:
    "In my view, the industry responds to this potential threat by strategically aligning itself as suppliers with the frozen industry, seeking branded opportunities."
    Another responded:
    "Flavor, flavor, flavor. The fresh supply chain is challenged to drive out time in every way, and to move through the supply chain in the ideal environment with stability -- if the ideal temperature (or other factor) is 34 degrees ... do not let it deviate."
    Another said:
    "Competition for market share should be a good thing if the result is economic benefit for farmers (supply-demand) and higher per capita consumption of colorful and healthy fruits and veggies (consumption ... all forms matter)."
    Another wrote:
    "Frozen is frozen and fresh is FRESH. The consumers are responding dramatically to fresh in the buy local, buy fresh movement. The consumer also respects frozen fruit as a positive and very useful product. They use them accordingly. Fresh will always be the higher ground option unless there is a significant value exchange to choose otherwise. Frozen is much better than it used to be, but with a few exceptions, it isn't on par with fresh yet."

    All of those points are valid. In addition, I wonder if issues like environmental/greenhouse gas measures may play a role in consumer marketing. The best approach for fresh marketers is to create innovation and convenience in fresh offerings while maximizing freshness and taste appeal.

TK: Couldn't have said it better myself. Um . . . that's right, I did.