John Anderson helped transform the grower-marketer from a modest $7 million company to a $1.4 billion global powerhouse, led pivotal industry mergers and balances his corporate success with a passion for aviation. RISE OPPY’S BEHIND VISIONARY The
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18 Innovation Drives Modern Produce Retailing Embracing change while honoring tradition, today’s award-winning retailers blend taste, technology and sustainability to redefine the shopping experience. BY TAD THOMPSON 38 Selecting the Right Robotics The massive increase in immigrant labor requires deep pockets and an intensive search to secure workers — accelerating the need for new solutions. BY STEVE MAXWELL 46 ‘We Must Reshape Perceptions of Produce’ An interview with John Anderson, chair, CEO and managing partner at Oppy, who has helped transform Oppy from a modest $7 million company to a $1.4 billion global powerhouse. BY EDWARD VERNON 58 Elyse Lipman: Why “Family” is in our Name With an emphasis on strategy, innovation and technology this CEO is all in on ‘Good from the Ground Up.’ BY ELLEN URIBE 62 Retail’s Resilience Why supermarket-anchored real estate has investors betting big against commer - cial headwinds. BY BOBBY SAMUELS 68 The Birth of the California Raisin Industry Adversity a century and a half ago spurred a grower to innovate, reshaping the global landscape for this fruit. BY JANE RHODES
6 Vision Magazine
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Our entire team, at our farms, packing plants and ofces, works towards our shared goal of offering fruit of the highest quality, freshness, and most delicious taste year round to Camposol´s partners and consumers around the world. Our commitment to innovation, consistency, traceability and integrity ensures our fruit will always provide an excellent eating experience.
11 Foreword BY GUSTAVO YENTZEN 12 On the Radar 15 Retail Rundown 16 On the Move 24 Market Trends Opportunities Abound for the Blueberry Sector BY COLIN FAIN 29 Marketing Matters The Packaging Conundrum BY DAWN GRAY 30 Analysis El Niño Is Coming BY DR. DIEGO RIVERA
34 Produce Provenance A Giant Sloth’s Treat that Became a Super Bowl Celebrity BY JOHN PAAP 44 Opinion Feedback Fuels Innovation BY MELISSA MACKAY 56 Analysis The Potential Economic Impact of Generative AI BY JANE RHODES 72 Pricing and Volume Indicators 74 The World Today
Publisher Gustavo Yentzen
Writers Tad Thompson, Bobby Samuels, Jane Rhodes, Steve Maxwell Contributing Writers John Paap, Colin Fain, Dawn Gray, Diego Rivera, Melissa Mackay
Issue #7 - October/November 2023 The Innovation Issue
For editorial or general inquiries, write to us at firstname.lastname@example.org For advertising inquiries, write to us at email@example.com Vision Magazine is published by Yentzen Group. Address: Ave. Apoquindo 4775, Office 1504, Las Condes, Santiago, Chile. Vision Magazine is distributed to retailers, produce buyers and other industry executives in the U.S. and Canada six times a year. The magazine is not responsible for the content of advertisements or sponsored content. Opinions expressed by writers, columnists and contributing writers do not necessarily reflect the views of the magazine.
Editor Edward Vernon
Deputy Editor Ellen Uribe Art Director Roberto Ganzon
Photographers Derek Hader, Andrea Johnson
Cover Image Editor Johnattan Andaur
8 Vision Magazine
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One Year of Vision
A s I write this foreword for Vision Magazine’s seventh issue, I find myself reflecting on the journey we began just a short year ago with the launch at the International Fresh Produce Association’s event in Orlando. When we launched the magazine, we aimed to be the premier publication for North American produce importers and super - market executives. Twelve months later, I’m proud to say that we’ve delved deep into topics that matter, providing in-depth features on a myriad of subjects, fascinating stories from the produce industry and other sectors, and the visions of industry leaders. We are proud of how well Vision Magazine has been received in its first year, and delighted with the support we have had from numerous industry leaders across the U.S. and Canada. One of our core missions was to create a magazine that both informs and delights, helping readers to take a step back from the day-to-day bustle and reflect on what is to come. I believe it’s crucial to pause and reflect on what it means to start a new endeavor. After a year, it’s impos - sible not to take a mental journey back to the days many years ago when we launched our online news portals FreshFruitPortal, PortalFruticola and ChinaFruitPortal. Embarking on a new project invigorates us. It allows us to connect with fresh audiences, and above all, it gifts us the opportunity to learn. Innovation is fundamentally about learning. In our case, it has forced us to learn what
our readers want and to understand them in order to provide the best reading experience. For that, we extend our deepest gratitude to all our readers and to those who have supported us. So, what better editorial theme to have for this anniversary edition than innovation? The fresh produce and supermarket indus - tries are facing big changes, and innovation is imperative for survival and growth. As global tastes evolve and markets become more
by GUSTAVO YENTZEN Publisher of Vision Magazine
competitive, businesses need to rethink their strategies, introducing novel approaches to meet consumers where they are. It’s no longer sufficient to simply provide fresh produce; the challenge is how to do it efficiently, sustainably, and in a way that entices the new generation of shoppers. Increasing fruit and vegetable consumption, a goal that has both health and environmental benefits, re - quires a variety of innovative tactics. From employing cutting-edge agricultural technologies and sustainable farming practices to creative marketing strategies and the reinvention of in-store experiences, innovation is the key that unlocks growth potential. For industry leaders, it’s a call to be proactive, to antic - ipate trends, and to foster a culture that embraces change. Because in this dynamic landscape, the future belongs to those who innovate, adapt, and above all, prioritize the needs and desires of their customers. As Vision Magazine continues its journey, we pledge to spotlight and champion these trailblazers, ensuring our readers are always at the forefront of progress.
“The fresh produce and supermarket industries are facing big changes, and innovation is imperative for survival and growth.”
Vision Magazine 11
On the Radar
August Grocery Inflation Continues Decline
Starbucks Facing Fruit- Related Lawsuit
In August, the United States Consumer Price Index (CPI) rose by 3.7% year over year, influenced by signif - icant increases in gasoline and oil prices. Despite this, grocery price inflation decreased, with the food-at- home index climbing 3% annually, a continuation of its declining trend from 13.5% in August 2022. Month-
A U.S. federal judge ruled that coffee - house chain
to-month, August saw a 0.6% CPI increase, with growth remaining under 1% since mid-2022. Energy prices significantly impacted August's inflation: gas prices surged by 10.6% and fuel oil by 9.1%. However, yearly energy inflation declined, with a 3.6% decrease in August. Grocery inflation also fell in Canada in August, dropping to 6.9% from 8.5% in July, despite CPI increasing to 4%.
Starbucks must face a lawsuit alleging that its Refresher fruit drinks lack the fruit their names suggest. The lawsuit was filed in August 2022, accusing Starbucks of deceptive marketing practices. Plaintiffs claim beverages like Mango Dragonfruit and Strawberry Açaí Refreshers don't contain mango or açaí berry, respectively. Joan Kominis and Jason McAllister argue that consumers reasonably expected the drinks to contain the fruits named. The primary ingredients are reportedly wa - ter, grape juice concentrate and sugar. While some drinks contain freeze-dried fruits, Starbucks hasn't explicitly listed all ingredients in these products.
U.S. Department of Labor Announces H-2A Reform
The Biden administration is introducing a proposal to enhance protections for immi - grant farm workers, focusing on safety and combatting human trafficking. The H-2A visa program, which sees immigrants, predom - inantly from Mexico, employed in seasonal
U.S. agricultural roles, has grown substantially. In 2022, 370,000 H-2A visas were issued, a significant rise from previous years. However, concerns about program abuses, including overcrowded transportation and increased fatalities, have grown. Julie Su, acting Labor Secretary, said the new proposal would facilitate easier inter - action between labor unions and H-2A workers and improve transportation safety.
AeroFarms Emerges From Bankruptcy
Following its Chapter 11 bankruptcy filing, indoor farming pioneer AeroFarms is restructuring with an emphasis on efficiency and focus on its profitable Danville, VA, farm, discontinuing many other projects. Molly Montgomery, with extensive experi - ence in the food sector, has taken over the leadership at AeroFarms as acting CEO. The farm, producing a range of microgreens distributed to over 2,000 U.S. stores, aims to achieve profitability soon. Past financial difficulties and a canceled public merger have challenged the company and the vertical farming sector. Yet, indoor farming grows, with companies like Plenty Unlimited expanding to meet sustainable produce demand.
12 Vision Magazine
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August Online Grocery Sales Rise U.S. online grocery sales surged 8.7% in August year-on-year, reaching $9.3 billion, as reported by the Brick Meets Click/Mercatus Grocery Shopping
REWE to add LIVIE Logo to Own- brand Blueberries
Major German supermarket chain REWE is introducing the LIVIE logo to its Beste Wahl blueberries sold in its stores in the Southwest
of the country. Emulating the ‘Intel Inside’ concept, the LIVIE brand symbolizes only the highest quality Sekoya blueberries that are consistent in taste, size and firmness. REWE seeks to address market demand for consis- tent quality, as it says that more than half of current blueberry consumer experiences are negative. The initiative aims to boost consum- er trust and sales. Agrovision, a Sekoya member, will provide select blueberries that meet the LIVIE quality standards.
Survey. After a 7% drop
in July 2023, August saw robust demand for pickup and ship-to-home methods, with delivery seeing a slight slowdown. The number of active online grocery users grew about 5% year-on-year, with ship- to-home orders leading the growth at over 9%. Total e-grocery orders increased 5% in August, mostly due to more users rather than increased order frequency.
Sprouts Opens 400th Store Supermarket chain Sprouts Farmers Market in early September celebrated the opening of its 400th store in the U.S. This 23,000-square-foot store in Haddon
Township, NJ, is the company’s 23rd store opening this year and offers an open-air farmers market feel. Just a week prior, the 399th store was
Instacart launches IPO
launched in Rialto, CA. The company says this growth aligns with its ambition to ex- pand by 10% annually over five years. Currently, Sprouts operates in 23 U.S. states. A few days later, on Sept. 15, Sprouts opened its 401st store in Uptown Tampa. Kroger and Albertsons Announce Divestiture In a bid to gain regulatory approval for its
Shares of Instacart, the San Francisco- based grocery delivery company, surged 12% in their Nasdaq debut on Sept. 19. The initial offering priced the stock at $30 a share, giving the compa- ny a market capitalization of about $10 billion. By the day’s end, the company was valued at just over $11 billion, but shares dropped roughly 11% the follow- ing day. Instacart’s public performance is significant because it’s the first major U.S. venture-backed company to debut since December 2021.
$24.6-billion acquisition of Albertsons, Kroger plans to sell over 400 grocery stores to C&S Wholesale Grocers, ensuring no store closures or frontline job losses from the merger. Kroger will receive about $1.9 billion from the store divestitures. An additional 237 stores might be sold to C&S for full regulatory approval, with
the deal expected to conclude in early 2024. Since its announcement last October, the merger has been criticized by consumer groups and lawmakers over compe- tition and price concerns. C&S, mainly a supplier, currently operates some stores under the Grand Union and Piggly Wiggly brands.
Vision Magazine 15
On the Move
Walmart Names EVP and COO
New Leader For Crowley
The company has appointed James Fowler as senior vice president and general manager of its Crowley Shipping business unit, which serves diverse U.S. and international maritime and logistics sectors.
Starr Ranch Growers Names New CEO
DMB Packing Gets New President
Kieran Shanahan is the EVP and chief operating officer for the retailer’s U.S. division, succeeding Chris Nicholas, who has been promoted to president and CEO of Sam’s Club U.S. Tanimura & Antle Appoints New Director of Sales
The Wenatchee, WA supplier has ap- pointed Don Odegard to the role.
Jeff Dolan has been appointed to lead DMB Packing, an affiliate of DiMare.
Pandol Bros. Names Successor to Outgoing CEO
Cheri Diebel will retire at the end of 2023, and Mitch Millwee will join the company as her successor later this year.
The Salinas, CA-based produce compa- ny has named Cody Ramsey as its new director of sales.
16 Vision Magazine
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Produce Modern Retailing Drives Innovation
Embracing change while honoring tradition, today’s award-winning retailers blend taste, technology and sustainability to redefine the shopping experience.
by TAD THOMPSON
I n the competitive world of retail sales, produce mar- keters are leveraging emerging technology and fresh marketing strategies for fruits and vegetables. The potential rewards go beyond just increased profits; higher sales and consumption can significantly improve public health. North American retailers are well-posi- tioned to benefit by embracing and implementing innova - tions that elevate produce sales. At its 2022 convention in Orlando, the International Fresh Produce Association (IFPA) seized these opportu- nities with the debut of the IFPA Awards for Excellence in Retail Merchant Innovation. Vision Magazine recently in- vited winners from the five categories to discuss their in - novative approaches. Several offered their insights below. The IFPA’s award criteria state: “This award recognizes and celebrates the accomplishments of a vice president, director, sales manager, or equivalent position in the retail sector, who has shown passion and purpose in developing innovative strategies to increase produce consumption.”
In the 2022 category awards: Brian Penfield of Sendik’s Food Markets in Milwaukee secured the 1-50 stores category. Jim Gaylord of Wegmans Food Markets in Rochester, NY won the 51-150 stores category. Barry Paul of Shaw’s Supermarkets in West Bridgewater, MA, took the 151-250 stores category. Jeff Mallory of Hy-Vee Inc. in West Des Moines, IA cap - tured the 251-399 stores category. Victor Savanello of SpartanNash Co. in Grand Rapids, MI prevailed in the 400+ stores category. The evolving industry sees pressing issues such as labor availability, food safety, sustainability and the introduction of new produce varieties shaping many con- temporary practices. Sustainability In an effort to promote sustainability by reducing food waste, Sendik’s Food Markets, in Milwaukee, has intro-
18 Vision Magazine
tion. Jim Gaylord, category merchant, notes, “There is a real need for having local product whenever we can.” In Wegmans outlets, “local” may land New York-grown products into Massachusetts stores. “The corporate footprint has expanded — from western New York into Pennsylvania and now Virginia — but it’s more important to have a great product than to have it grown two miles from the store.” Another sustainability frontier is indoor farm- ing, a concept Sendik’s introduced in-store a year ago. Their state-of-the-art 60,000-square-foot location in Oconomowoc, WI, features a compact vertical farm. Shoppers can witness mature herbs emerge just four weeks post-seeding, offering a firsthand look into con - trolled environment agriculture (CEA). Penfield notes, “We use it as a selling point so that now we can say, ‘Hey, look what we do in our stores and what else can we do?’ Consumers are just amazed by it. This drives sales. We’re looking at some other potential CEA activities in-store to help us drive that awareness and at the same time drive sales.” Additionally, these freshly harvested herbs from Sendik’s vertical farm are utilized in the store’s salad bar, and a select quantity is also available for purchase in the produce section. Lessons From Covid-19 A defining moment of our times was the Covid-19 pan - demic, and IFPA’s award-winning retailers consistent - ly highlight the pandemic’s impact on their industry. Although it brought about challenging periods, creative problem-solving approaches led to the emergence of new
duced the “Humble Harvest” program. This initiative re- purposes produce items that are near the end of their shelf life but still have value. Brian Penfield, director of produce, says, “So often we have that expectation of having the best produce available out there, that too many times we’re throwing away bruised apples or speckled apples that just didn’t have that eye appeal.” Under the Humble Harvest banner, these imperfect items are packaged for ‘grab and go’ convenience and are offered at significantly reduced prices. Penfield notes, “When this started, my concern was that these items would reduce our sales. But in fact, in some situations, this program actually increased our sales.” For instance, salads, which enter Humble Harvest two days before their expiration date, sell because of the low price. “So, they’ll buy it on discount today, but in two weeks they’ll come back and get it fresh off the shelf.” Wegmans Food Markets, Inc. in Rochester, NY, places a premium on the sustainable nature of local produc-
The produce department of a Wegmans store
Vision Magazine 19
The produce department of a Wegmans store
solutions that might persist for many years to come. Victor Savanello, vice president of produce and flo - ral merchandising at SpartanNash Co., in Grand Rapids, MI, notes that the pandemic demanded swift, innovative responses. He says that going through and coming out of Covid, SpartanNash was recognized for “how we were exemplary at providing our customers, our own stores and the consumers that shop in them, with product. From a service level perspective as a wholesaler, we didn’t lose a beat. I mean, we stayed in the high- to mid-90s from a service-level perspective through the entire Covid-19 timeframe by being flexible and being creative with what we offered our customers. We had to figure out how to sell what was out there, which in my opinion is what we had to do immediately. And, we did well.” The pandemic reduced labor availability, but Savanello’s solution was to introduce pre-stocked bins, among other successful strategies, to minimize in-store labor requirements. One notable strategy involved selling significant numbers of apples in tote bags. This addressed two issues: firstly, consumers were reassured that their produce hadn’t been handled by others, and secondly,
labor wasn’t required to bag the apples. These apples were packaged at the source and transported directly to the store floor. Before Covid-19, customers typically selected three or four loose apples. “Now they’re taking that tote bag apple, which has 10, 12, 14 apples in it,” says Savanello. Additionally, in collaboration with Melissa’s, a Los Angeles-based produce distributor, Savanello enhanced floor utilization and decreased labor needs. Melissa’s provided a self-contained, overwrapped pallet master pack display of exotic fruits and vegetables. With such a variety, “I could never slot every one of those items. But if I have Melissa’s working directly with my buying team, and then with my stores, we can offer the full assortment of Melissa’s products that go to our stores, pre-made for each store. So, utilizing a master pack program allows you to expand your sales.” During the pandemic, SpartanNash expanded its prod- uct range. The company reduced its stock of small herb clamshells due to its labor-intensive restocking process. However, with restaurants largely closed, there was a surge in home cooking. Savanello and his team recognized this shift and sourced larger herb packages for consumers.
20 Vision Magazine
“We were looking for different ideas at the stands that we could then put in our stores and then sell those ideas to our customers; for them to accentuate the offering of their stores,” he explains. Savanello continues, “Because people were coming into our stores looking for a solution that replaced restaurants and that indulgence. They weren’t looking to pull back on what they were eating. They were looking for us to help expand that for them, and I really feel like we accom - plished that.” Fresh-cut fruits and vegetables witnessed a significant boost in sales. “We were leaning on creating family-sized packages and offering fresh sides as meal solutions. We really went after trying to replace the restaurant because people were looking for that,” adds Savanello. Packaging trends also evolved at Wegmans. “We try to follow consumer demand from two steps ahead,” notes Gaylord. “During the pandemic, there was an increased demand for packaging. That has continued. Once, every - one wanted bulk green beans.” However, this practice has diminished post-pandemic, and Wegmans envisions a future where all green beans will be pre-packaged. Another enduring positive outcome from the pan - demic era is the surge of floral sales. During Covid-19, homebound SpartanNash customers purchased floral products to enliven their spaces with fresh, vibrant flow - ers. Savanello noticed, and continues to see, significant growth in the floral sector. “We’ve actually increased our assortment, and we even have more higher-end items.” Cross-merchandising Regardless of the persistent presence of Covid-19, cross-merchandising remains a crucial strategy. “We cross-merchandise every single week,” says Penfield of Sendik’s. “Typically, in our stores, the front position is a produce display that’s in place virtually every week of the year — save for perhaps Mother’s Day and Valentine’s Day — and we collaborate with our bakery, deli and meat departments, just aligning the plan for the week.” There is a real need for having local product whenever we can. — JIM GAYLORD
For instance, when strawberries are in high demand, the bakery steps in “because at the end of the day, the per - son buying a strawberry is more likely to pick up angel food cake, and vice versa. So, it really helps us on both sides of the table to help us drive additional sales,” he adds. Penfield says that, “Shopping should be fun. It shouldn’t be a chore. It should be something that’s rewarding and makes the experience more exciting for our guests.” Included in this approach is Sendik’s Hatch chile pep - per promotion. This commences outside the store with massive roasters methodically processing Hatch peppers. Though Hatch peppers weren’t traditionally popular in Wisconsin, Sendik’s five-year-long Hatch pepper pro - motions transformed an initial four-pallet venture into one-and-a-half trucks’ worth of sales in 2023. The Hatch pepper campaign is store-wide. The bakery showcases Hatch-spiced cornbread and Hatch-spiced chocolate chip cookies. Sendik’s deli presents Hatch peppers in enchila - das, guacamole, Pico de Gallo and a cheese dip. Meanwhile, Sendik’s meat department crafts “incredible” sausages and hamburgers infused with the pepper. For Spartan Nash, cross-merchandising helps to champion home cooking, as Savanello points out. “Post- pandemic, we’re more inclined to drive ideas and inspire people to assemble meals. Or, pair an apple with a caramel dip and nuts.” Shoppers are encouraged to “assemble the whole package. Whether it’s pre-made sides, or pairing your asparagus with hollandaise sauce.” Social Media Leveraging various social media platforms, Sendik’s educates and excites its consumers. For instance, during the summer, Sendik’s accepted online pre-orders for Michigan blueberries, allowing consumers to secure their purchases in a market where demand outstripped supply. The company also aggressively promoted its Hatch pepper campaign online.
Vision Magazine 21
Our sector genuinely needs to find solutions to ensure we’re compensated for our organic goods, as any misidentification at the point of sale results in significant losses. — VICTOR SAVANELLO
Regarding the education of consumers, Penfield notes, “I think it’s important to make the connection between the product we’re selling and where it comes from.” A significant component of Wegmans social media strat - egy is online shopping, pre - dominantly driven by younger customers. Gaylord’s objective is to “supply as much product as possible online.” Carrots on Campus? Four out of Sendik’s 18 outlets are in the “Fresh2Go” com - pact format. Located on the Marquette University campus in Milwaukee is a 4,000-square- foot Fresh2Go, boasting a 16-lin - ear-foot produce display. While initially planning the Marquette outlet, Penfield pondered, “What do college kids eat?” To his delight, he discov - ered that Marquette scholars bought items such as asparagus
leader, but new entrants like Sweet Tango and Wild Twist have met with great success, meeting Penfield’s essential standards. Sendik’s social media team has repeatedly conveyed the narrative, and educational videos continuously play across Sendik’s stores. Products with great taste profiles are likewise featured in Sendik’s: “Escape the Ordinary” campaign. “The aim isn’t just to put an apple out there for $2.99,” explains Penfield. “We try to tell that story highlighting its origin, the farmer and the journey of the fruit.” Post-pandemic, Sendik’s resumed its in-store sampling, an approach Penfield’s team dubs “the power of the knife,” ad - dressing the pivotal query: “What does this apple taste like?” For Penfield, “There is noth - ing more exciting than introduc- ing a new apple — and then the next week you sell two pallets of
and Brussels sprouts, not just staple products like lem - ons and apples. “We’ll try some different things — and it’s surprising how much college students today have the perception of what produce actually is.” Taste For IFPA’s 2022 Innovation winners, flavorful products are paramount. At Wegmans, the “pursuit of taste” de - fines what constitutes a successful produce department. Gaylord, who collaborates with a myriad of growers and numerous suppliers, emphasizes the importance of prod - uct taste. When introducing new produce at Sendik’s, Penfield applies two criteria. First, “What does it look like? Because people are going to buy with their eyes; it goes back to that old edict.” Yet, this is immediately followed by the taste factor. “You can have the most beautiful apple in the world. But if it’s not a great eating experience, nobody’s going to buy it again.” In recent times, the Honeycrisp apple has been a
an apple that you’ve never sold before.” The influx of various apple and grape varieties draws scrutiny from Savanello. In his apple acquisition discus - sions, the question arises: Why the array of varieties? Savanello pinpoints that roughly 80% of apple sales are Honeycrisp. However, “We’ve got these expansive displays of other varieties that contribute 3%, 5% and 6% of apple sales.” Merchandising space’s profitability merits closer inspection. “We have 100 different apple types with varied attributes. Should we just be offering a red, a green and a yellow, and possibly a blush apple and leave it at that? Or should we incorporate all these variants?” He observes a discrepancy in how the apple and grape sectors manage their flavorsome varieties. From an in - dustry viewpoint, “I really think we need to assess it and discern the ideal model — and then adhere to it.” Contrasts in approaches are evident. For grapes, SpartanNash stocks a white or green, and a red and a black variety, plus occasionally Cotton Candy or Moscato grapes. Savanello makes note that the grape sector has gener -
22 Vision Magazine
A Wegmans store in Pittsford, NY
ally faltered in explicit package labeling, losing a chance to specify grape types and features for easy consumer recognition. “If I’m a cultivator with an exceptional grape variety, I am ascertaining that I have a distinct PLU num- ber, UPC, or another identifier for that grape.” Savanello’s emphasis is on procuring the best variet- ies and grape sizes to prioritize the tasting experience over cost. “You’ll never discover a Flame in any of my outlets,” he asserts. “It’s about procuring the right taste. We’d rather source premium varieties for a superior taste profile than opt for a type that would lead us to a 99-cent price tag. That’s a race to the bottom, and that’s not our intention.” Produce Packaging Savanello offers two insights about produce packaging. First, packaging can promote the sale of larger quantities such as pre-cut fruits or 2.5-pound berry trays. These bulk sales are handy items easily placed on dining tables. “Secondly, in terms of packaging, we need to consider what’s eco-friendly.” For instance, he explains, some tote bags are compostable. He also underscores the significance of packaging when it comes to organic items. “Our sector genuinely
needs to find solutions to ensure we’re compensated for our organic goods, as any misidentification at the point of sale results in significant losses.” Savanello adds, “We’re looking in a big way for more opportunities for our products to be packaged — but packaged sensibly for that consumer.” Wegmans’ Gaylord also emphasizes the importance of “taking a careful look at packaging. Some materials claim to be recyclable, but they’re not.” Thus, conscientious review is necessary, Gaylord notes. Going Forward Emerging technologies and evolving societal concerns are reshaping the produce sector and, undeniably, retail pro- duce departments. The Covid-19 pandemic wreaked havoc globally. Yet, the produce industry reflects broader societal patterns. Every significant event, no matter how cata - strophic, tends to yield some degree of positive outcome. Age-old practices, such as replenishing ice in vegeta- ble and pre-cut displays, will continue to entice con- sumers and are poised to stay relevant. The expansive produce industry will invariably honor its rich heritage while simultaneously embracing the finest and most flavorsome innovations.
Vision Magazine 23
Dive into the industry’s evolution and what’s next, as illuminated by the 2023 IBO Global State of the Blueberry Industry Report. Opportunities Abound for the Blueberry Sector
by COLIN FAIN
I n recent years, blueberries have frequently made headlines. Their journey began more than a century ago with the commer- cial plantings of the highbush in New Jersey. Since then, they’ve evolved from a specialty crop to a global sensation. This ascent has introduced market dynamics that are reshaping the industry.
From 2018 to 2022, global blue- berry volumes surged 77%, reaching an estimated 2,030,000 metric tons, including both wild and cultivated fruit. This impressive level of growth has brought the category into a pe- riod that is characterized by height- ened competition and maturation, which leads to more stable pricing patterns. This includes price declines
Global Cultivated Production by Region
24 Vision Magazine
during specific periods of the year, largely influenced by expanding production regions in South America, particularly in Peru, as well as in Eastern Europe, Africa and Asia. As markets mature, the initial premi - um prices, especially in the spring and fall, are evening out, leading to greater consistency in pricing. In the Americas, pricing levels remained steady, largely due to Canada import - ing fruit from the United States and Mexico. Another significant trend is the negative impact extreme weath - er has had on the industry. This is evidenced by the first decrease in yields since 2016, when the industry was 36% of its 2022 size. The U.S. saw the most substantial reduction, with every region producing less than the previous year. The Southern states experienced the most signif - icant volume drop, while the Pacific Northwest was also deeply impact - ed. Other affected origins include Canada, Chile, Mexico and Spain, all
Global Cultivated Yield by Region
Global Cultivated Average
Vision Magazine 25
Global Production Projections
Source: IBO and Agronometrics
We are beginning to see a wider push to promote blueberries in domestic markets, with Poland standing out as an example.
of which produced less compared to the previous season. The challenges didn’t stop at in- creased volumes and pricing pres- sures. Rising production costs have put margins under significant strain. 2022 saw substantial increases in overall input costs, including labor costs rising between 20-30%. Non- harvest costs also soared, increasing by an astonishing 50-100%. Despite these challenges, there are early signs of costs beginning to stabilize, offering producers some relief. We are beginning to see a wider push to promote blueberries in do- mestic markets, with Poland stand- ing out as an example. There’s also an increasing emphasis on field effi - ciency and productivity, leading to a swift transition to newer, high-per- formance blueberry varieties. This move supports a larger industry trend: the continuous quest for quali- ty. Updated varietal choices, such as those promoted by the Peruvian growers’ association, ProArandanos, underscore the industry’s dedication.
Its focus isn’t just on raising volumes but also on phasing out older variet- ies in favor of those that offer superi - or cultivation and market reception. Globally, discerning consumers have shown a willingness to pay more for quality fruit, setting the stage for industry shifts. Recent advancements highlight blueberries’ health benefits. Studies show they can reduce cognitive decline in older adults, improve car- diovascular health and assist those with gastrointestinal disorders. Blueberries are also linked to a 5% lower risk of mortality. Research in 2023 will further explore their effects on child learning, muscle protein synthesis and potential benefits for hearing disorders. They remain vital in nutritional research, emphasizing their broad health benefits. Emerging trends like the adoption of machine harvesting continue to influence the industry, though opin - ions on its effectiveness vary. The report also delves into the impor- tance of environmental, social and
governance (ESG) factors in blueber - ry production and distribution. Our forecasts predict the blueber- ry industry will keep growing. With insights from projections across 117 production regions and the use of ma- chine learning algorithms, this ap- proach captures the unique situations of each area. Through this method, we anticipate the industry will grow to 2,800,000 metric tons by 2026. Blueberries, known for their health benefits, are more than just a tasty snack; they contribute signifi - cantly to global well-being. As the industry progresses, it offers oppor - tunities for producers, suppliers and consumers. Download the full report for free from the International Blueberry Organization’s (IBO) website. At 227 pages, it provides the insights needed to understand crucial geographies and the nuances driving the blueber- ry industry. • Colin Fain is a co-author of the 2023 IBO Global State of the Blueberry Industry Report.
26 Vision Magazine
Navigating the complex maze of sustainability, producers strive to meet ever-evolving consumer demands. The Packaging Conundrum
opportunities are changing. How can producers justify a marketing budget when their brand might not even ap- pear on the shelf? Their product may be present, but not their branding. Introducing new varieties poses challenges, especially if retailers pre- fer generic or private-label packaging. Take premium table grapes as an example. The global market now offers numerous exciting table grape variet- ies, bringing much-needed dynamism to the category. But if consumers can’t recognize a favorite variety, will they be willing to pay more in hopes of buying it again? They might, unless they’re left disappointed. Many consumers want less pack- aging. In typical retail, offering bulk options is feasible. They can choose pre-packaged items or from bulk dis- plays. Yet, hygiene, food safety, and shelf life are crucial. Some consum- ers love the vibrant bulk displays and the experience of choosing produce, while others prefer minimal han- dling of their purchases. The definition of sustainability is evolving. Beyond recycling, com- posting and using less plastic, some consumers now consider various responsible practices when defining sustainability. This broader view encompasses fair wages, ethical sourcing, diversity inclusion and community involvement, among other factors. We must always be attuned to today’s empowered con- sumer. They are quick to detect and condemn greenwashing. I often as- sert that our growers and producers are truly stewards of the earth. Their very livelihood hinges on it. • Dawn Gray has over 36 years of international fresh produce experience working with growers, distributors, marketers and retailers in over 25 countries.
by DAWN GRAY
A sk a producer — whether a grower, packer or shipper — about their packaging challenges, and you’ll often hear the same sentiment: “It’s impossible to get it right.” Everyone in the supply chain, including consum- ers, has a perspective on the ideal ap- proach. While many aim for environ- mentally friendly solutions, the rules and regulations at municipal, regional and national levels sometimes don’t align with practical realities. As we hope to shift our focus from the Covid-19 pandemic, consumers focus less on hygiene. Still, hygiene, food safety and shelf life remain the top concerns for consumers, followed closely by environmental impact. Consumers don’t unanimous- ly favor a single type of packaging. Whether it’s plastic, paper, glass or metal, no material stands out as the preferred choice. In the paper vs. plastic debate, the corrugated packaging indus- try deserves credit for its unified messaging. Single-use plastic is now viewed negatively, while paper is seen as a more sustainable option. However, the costs associated with this shift often fall on growers and producers. It’s difficult to pass these
costs to consumers, especially when market dynamics are primarily driv- en by supply and demand. Although consumers express a willingness to pay for sustainable packaging, this sentiment doesn’t always manifest during checkout. For some producers, transition- ing to paper has increased costs and slowed their production lines, which were initially designed for poly bags. Adapting these lines is possible, but it comes with financial implications. A one-size-fits-all approach doesn’t work. Retailers seek pack- aging that aligns with their sus- tainability objectives. For instance, some French retailers insist on bags with compostable Kwik Lock closures. These locks come at a premium, and that additional cost often falls on the producer. When comparing private labels to traditional branding, the growing prominence of private labels in store centers is evident, even in produce sections. Producers used to design eye-catching graphics to attract con- sumers, effectively serving as silent salespeople. The objective was to encourage impulse buying. But with nearly 50% of fresh produce now under private labels, these branding
Vision Magazine 29
El Niño is Coming What to expect from Chilean and Peruvian agriculture over the coming months.
by DR. DIEGO RIVERA
E l Niño, a climate phenom- enon, is marked by warm- er-than-average sea surface temperatures in the Pacific Ocean. Its counterpart, La Niña occurs during cooler-than-average conditions. Both meteorological events generally develop between April and June and typically peak from October through February. These climatic episodes sustain for about nine to twelve months and tend to recur every two to seven years. However, not every El Niño event leads to wet conditions. Furthermore, no two El Niño or La Niña episodes are alike. Their interactions with other regional climatic elements can be quite complex, largely because of the unpredictable interplay between oceanic and atmospheric processes. This level of unpredictability height- ens risks to agriculture, affecting crops differently based on their respective growth stages. El Niño’s ramifications on agri - culture in Chile and Peru — two of the biggest fresh produce suppliers
to the North American market — are multifaceted and varied. There are advantages, like the prospect of more rainfall suitable for long-term storage and an uptick in groundwater recharge rates. However, there are also dis- advantages, including the risk of floods, landslides, widespread crop damage and a surge in crop diseases and pests. The intensity and scope of these impacts are predominant- ly influenced by the geographical location. For instance, during El Niño episodes, both Chile and northern Peru generally witness a spike in pre- cipitation levels, leading to increased runoff, paired with warmer tempera - tures in spring and summer. However, an intense El Niño phenomenon doesn’t automatically equate to significant local repercus - sions; anomaly probabilities often diverge from the main event’s pre- dictions. To illustrate, the 1997 and 2015 El Niño episodes were particu- larly robust, often termed “El Niño Godzilla,” yet Chile’s annual rainfall
in 2015 was remarkably average. With such erratic climate patterns looming, agricultural planning be- comes a daunting task for farmers in these regions, regardless of whether they anticipate drier or wetter con- ditions. Beyond the routine agricul- tural tasks like planting, irrigation, harvesting and processing, managers are now squarely facing a formidable challenge: risk management. Risk is the combination of hazards (like variations in precipitation, unex- pected frosts and intense heat waves), vulnerability (measuring how well the system can withstand these hazards), and exposure (indicating the extent to which the system remains open to
30 Vision Magazine
An overflowing river in Chaclacayo, Peru, caused by heavy rains from the El Niño phenomenon in March 2017.
these threats). For instance, relocat- ing crops to more frost-prone zones heightens exposure, whereas am- plified spring rainfall intensifies the associated hazard. Therefore, farmers are advised to adapt and fine-tune their strategies to curtail vulnera - bilities, especially when adjusting exposure isn’t a practical option. Recent bouts of rainfall in Chile have hampered essential systems — spanning irrigation components such as channels, diversions, pipes and transportation structures like roads and bridges. This has stimulated a renewed interest in groundwater research. Consequently, farmers are now working diligently to rehabili -
tate these systems, aiming to be fully operational before the irrigation season arrives in October. This flurry of activity suggests that consumers should brace for escalating prices for staples like onions, carrots and cherries. Additionally, there might be observable shifts in supply chain dynamics and delivery schedules. The latest predictions from Columbia University postulate that the subsequent months could usher in above-average rainfall, comple - mented by escalated temperatures. An increase in spring rainfalls might jeopardize orchards, especially if it aligns with critical flowering stages. Moreover, a warmer and
wetter spring amplifies the proba - bility of fungal outbreaks and pest infestations. Thus, it’s a fitting juncture for us to reflect on our responses during past similar climate patterns, eval - uate their efficacy, and start putting resilient measures and robust infra - structure in place. Perhaps no severe outcomes will materialize, or our proactive measures might counter - act potential damages. But, inaction would certainly be very risky. • Dr. Diego Rivera is a professor at Universidad del Desarrollo in Chile and the principal researcher at the Center for Water Resources for Agriculture and Mining.
Vision Magazine 31
From prehistoric plains to modern-day plates, the avocado has been reshaped by cultures, commerce and one curious postman. A Giant Sloth’s Treat that Became a Super Bowl Celebrity
by JOHN PAAP
D eep in the plains of doesn’t want the usual grass and fo- liage typically on the menu. No, today it wants a delicious, fat-filled treat. Finally, it spots a tree that is full of dangling, dark, black-skinned fruits. When it reaches the tree, it stands on its hind legs and wraps its mouth around one of the fruits. The fruit is creamy, slightly nutty with earthy grassy undertones. The lestodan Mesoamerica, a lestodan is roaming. The monster 15-foot sloth is hungry but grabs a few more bites and moves on. Little does it know that by enjoying this fruit and, later, excreting the mega-sized seeds miles away from the parent tree, it is contributing to the expansion and longevity of this special tree. You may be wondering, “Why haven’t I heard of a lestodan?” Well, about 4,200 years ago it disap- peared, like many mega mammals from this period. Luckily for us, the tree fruit miraculously survived
without its primary seed disperser. While the lestodan was the largest consumer and propagator, it wasn’t the only one consuming the fruit. Early humans were living alongside the lestodans and seemed to also enjoy this dark-skinned tree fruit. In fact, archeologists have found evidence of humans consuming this fruit almost 10,000 years ago in central Mexico and domesticating it as early as 5,000 years ago. The Aztecs called the fruit ahuacatl. Today, we call it avocado. The avocado was more than just some fruit for Mesoamerican peo- ples. For the Aztecs, the avocado was a symbol for love and fertility and they believed that consuming the fruit would give them strength. For the Mayans, the importance of this fruit is exhibited in the 14th month of their calendar which is repre- sented by the avocado glyph. There is even a sarcophagus of an ancient Mayan ruler which features illustra- tions of the avocado tree. As is the
case with items that are highly re- vered, it is believed that the avocado was traded among various peoples across the Americas. Trade of the avocado would explain how this fruit reached all the way to Peru by the time the Spanish arrived in the New World in the 15th century. Like the lestodans and Mesoamericans that encountered the fruit before them, the Spanish fell in love with the avocado and be- cause of this the avocado tree began to spread further than ever before. The tree spread across the Spanish colonial empire and eventually to Europe in 1601. While the fruit was easy on the taste buds, the Spanish had difficulty pronouncing the Aztec name. To make it easier for Spanish speakers, they called the
34 Vision Magazine
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