This is not your grandfather’s produce business.

I recently asked a question of members of the LinkedIn Fresh Produce Industry Discussion Group about changes in the way produce is bought and sold during their careers. The discussion can be found at this link.

There are several ways to look at the question, from the perspectives of technology, human interaction, consumer engagement and the broader dynamics of consolidation on the buying and supply side.

 Here are a few comments I received about the question so far. Please add your thoughts at this end of this blog, if you like.

Mohammed from Saudi Arabia said this:

 With the advancement of communications produce purchasing has lost the excitement and challenge to it as well as the personal relation and interaction that came with it. It’s true that purchasing and concluding deals has become much easier and quicker than in the past but the competition has increased as well. In previous days one had to travel prior to the beginning of any produce season to various corners of the globe to sit down on a table, walk in the farm, and interact with the growers to conclude and book the requirements for the market. Nowadays a picture on an e-mail and a few back and forth e-mails would suffice. The human factor is diminishing.

John Pandol writes:

 As organizations on the buy side have increased in size, the buyer with decision making ability has been replaced by the CPG model of merchandisers who decide what’s on the shelf and "procurement" types who simply buy what they are told and have no idea why.

Although we don’t really have formal food brokers like the organizations that dominate the center store world, much of the buy side has outsourced the buying to category consolidators. The buyer looks at it as having "one or two growers" when in reality they have supply aggregators....especially on the veg side.

 Tony Taviano adds:

 The personal element is mostly gone. The days of actually having conversations with a buyer and describing how this peach eats, or the color of that lot of flames. Now, we use technology, which has an important role, but cannot ever convey excitement about a great buy, or some beautiful lot of Plums, or whatever.

One of the other changes, and not for the better, is the inability of many retailers to react to “market buys” or “a deal”, or the retailer being able to take advantage of what nature has grown. Yes, VF 30/35 plums look great, but may not always be the best value. Perhaps for a few weeks a 60/65 is the best value by far. Shouldn’t retailers break from “the Program” and for 2 weeks offer the consumers in thier markets a true economic value on a medium piece of fruit. It eats the same. And, smaller consumers (children) might eat a whole piece of medium sized fruit. Mom & Dad don’t feel that the dollars spent are wasted when a child eats all the piece of fruit.

Lori Taylor writes:

 Due to the rise of social media & brand awareness - the consumer is more involved with this process & has a role of authority in our industry’s B2B relationships. People want to know where their food is coming from & people want to eat more fresh produce.

Millennial Americans are the only generation that have lived 100% of their life amidst the nation’s obesity crisis. Statistics, in youth especially, are alarming. Public policy/incentive programs, school & workplace wellness programs, the inclusion of fresh produce sides with kids meals (even at fast food restaurants) - all examples of how the tide is turning & how the consumer’s desires affect the way fresh produce is sold.

From the marketing perspective: it’s a very exciting time for this industry! People are hungry for information about fruits & vegetables. Consumers want to know how to select, store & serve our products. I’ve been in the industry for 9 years, but my perspective as a consumer is where I really notice the change! The variety available at retail continues to expand & the types of retailers that are selling fresh produce continue to grow. Just look back 5 years ago: places like pharmacies & convenience stores weren’t offering much, if any fresh produce. Now: great varieties, tons of fresh cut options, and new categories of retailers jumping on board.

So much opportunity!


 TK: While the industry has turned more technical and perhaps less “fun” than it used to be, Lori reminds us of the incredible opportunity to engage with consumers. I’ve also received a very insightful e-mail answer from industry veteran Rick Eastes on this topic, and we’ll devote another  post about what Rick said.