ANAHEIM, Calif. — At the Produce Marketing Association’s Fresh Summit Convention and Expo here, a panel of industry experts predicted what the year 2022 will look like for the produce industry. The panelists described a more progressive, technology-centric and resource-stretched existence.
CEO and President Bryan Silbermann said that in 2022 the industry will foster a new relationship with consumers.
“[In 2022] our industry has evolved from a business-to-business to a business-to-consumer view of the world, and in doing so we’ve created an ongoing dialogue with consumers. We know their preferences and we know their concerns.”
Silbermann predicted that the industry and consumers will work more closely, and this relationship will change the management structure.
“This connection in the last 10 years has changed our business models and equally the people we hire to manage them. Speaking of people, in the year 2022, we have far more women in leadership roles than far back in the dark ages of 2012,” he said.
Silbermann also said the produce industry will collaborate more with government agencies in the future on labor best practices, food safety standards, resource management and the promotion of produce consumption.
Vernon Crowder, Rabobank, senior vice president and agricultural economist, said future government policies could be helpful in compensating for scarcities in immigrant labor, water, land and energy.
“Obviously, higher prices are going to encourage more productivity,” he said.
In addition to crafting new government policies and eliminating food waste, Crowder argued that with consumer education, technology like genetically modified food could help supply the growing population.
Prices will continue to be high in 2022, partially due to move people moving to cities, according to Crowder. Fifty percent of the world's population already lives in cities, he said. Urbanization puts greater strain on food resources because city dwellers can save food in refrigerators, make more money and buy higher-quality food like proteins and produce.
“It’s going to take awhile for the production side to respond to the higher prices [with innovation]. We’ll probably see a great deal of increased prices and volatility even in 2022.”
As for what stores will actually look like in the next decade, Leslie Sarasin, president and CEO of the Food Marketing Institute, said there will be a rise in smaller store formats.
“In light of this economizing customer that we share, the heightened use of digital technology in their shopping and the continual growth of e-commerce, we’re still seeing a shift in store formats, and we’re returning to a smaller, more focused format, than perhaps we’ve seen in a while,” she said.
“They range from pop-up stores to bare-bones, buy-from-the-box kind of operating models.”
These focused stores will entice people with a focus on prices, assortment or convenience, Sarasin said, adding that the successful stores “will major in one and minor in the other two.”
Victor Smith, president and CEO of Fresh Innovations, also predicted industry groups would work to change public policy to increase produce consumption.
Speaking from a future perspective, Smith said: “We did some analysis that showed us the best way to deal with our problems particularly with the health care [costs] and the negative trends we’re having was to change our lifestyles, particularly our diets. With strong educational advocacy, partnerships within our industry, we begin to change our food culture that had developed over the prior 70 years.”
Smith said that using creative ideas and recipes and following the avocado industry’s model will develop a new market opportunity for restaurants and retailers. He said the avocado industry generated demand with more supply and continuous innovation and marketing.
He predicted fresh fruits and vegetables will be the center of the plate in 2022.
“The tables were turned. Our children now made us eat our fruits and vegetables,” he joked.
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In 2022, technology will eliminate most food waste, according to panelist Elliot Grant, founder, YottaMark, a brand security platform.
“It’s 2022, we’re not going to accept 30% to 40% food waste. In fact, by now U.S. retailers have embraced total quality management from farm to shelf. Every day spent on the supply chain is looked at as waste,” he said.
Underneath the focus on waste is traceability technology, he said, adding that traceability brings freshness, taste, quality and relevance to shoppers.
Grant foresees more use of energy-efficient LED lighting for vertical farming and more produce growing taking place near or on top of supermarkets due to limited water and land, and increased transportation costs.
Perhaps nothing can encapsulate the produce industry experts’ expectations for 2022 better than Silbermann’s final prediction.
“[In the year 2022] we’ve lived with change since the last decade of 2012 for so long, and change has been so constant, that change honestly doesn’t look like change to us. Change has become business as usual.”
*Correction: An earlier version of this story said that 50% of the world's population will live in ciities in 2022. This is actually the case in 2012.
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