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Produce Business

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American Food & Ag Exporter

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Veteran Speaker At The New York Produce Show, Cornell’s Professor Miguel Gómez Speaks On The Promise Of Cold-Climate/Controlled Environment Agriculture

Cornell’s Miguel Gómez is one of our charter speakers at The New York Produce Show and Conference. In New York, and at The London Produce Show and Conference, he has presented important work, which we have profiled in pieces such as these:

Cornell’s Miguel Gomez Goes Double Duty At New York Produce Show: Gives Micro-Session On Northeast Greenhouse Potential And Teaches Foundational Excellence ‘Students’ About Global Trade

How To Capitalize On An Age Of Global Trade: Miguel Gómez Of Cornell University At The Foundational Excellence Program

UNIVERSITY HEAVYWEIGHT PUTS SCIENCE BEHIND OPTIMIZED GLEANING SCHEDULES: Cornell’s Miguel Gómez Talks About How The Produce Industry Can Put Itself On The Side Of The Angels By Reducing Food Waste While Helping The Hungry

The Renaissance Of The Wholesale Sector — Why Those Who Support 'Locally Grown' Should Support Investment In Market Intermediaries. Cornell University Professor Miguel Gómez Reveals Research Findings At The London Produce Show And Conference

A New Hypothesis On Local: To Boost Sales, Sell It Through Supermarkets … Cornell’s Miguel Gomez Previews His Upcoming Talk At The New York Produce Show And Conference

Cornell Professors To Present At The New York Produce Show And Conference: New Ways of Thinking About Local: Can The East Coast Develop A Broccoli Industry?

Cornell Professor Miguel Gómez To Speak At New York Produce Show And Conference On Fruit & Vegetable Dispute Resolution Corporation

Professor Miguel Gómez Returns To The New York Produce Show And Conference To Unveil A New Study That Points Out A Path For Getting More Produce Into Hospitals

This year, Miguel has some important work on controlled environment agriculture (CEA), one of the hottest topics in the industry. We asked Pundit Investigator and Special Projects Editor Mira Slott to find out more:

Miguel Gomez
Associate Professor
Charles H. Dyson School of Applied Economics and Management
Cornell University
Ithaca, New York

Q: It’s always an honor and genuine pleasure to reap the benefits of your invaluable research and insights. The scope of your in-depth study is notable. Yet, perhaps even more important is your collaborative bent in corralling key players together to overcome challenges and pursue innovative solutions to reach new plateaus.

Let’s jump right in to your intriguing talk for this year’s New York Produce Show, as I want to capitalize on every minute you’ve graciously set aside amid your whirlwind global travel and demanding academic schedule for a sneak preview.

A: I’ve been out of the country and just got back, so I appreciate your patience. The Northeastern U.S. has a short growing season, which, according to mainstream views, limits the ability of the region to meet consumer demand for year-round locally grown food. However, the rapid emergence of Controlled Environment Agriculture (CEA) enterprises is challenging this view.

My presentation will discuss emerging trends in CEA businesses in the Northeast, the opportunities and challenges for the CEA. The primary opportunities are strong demand for local produce and stricter production control to ensure high quality produce.

Intensive capital requirements, availability of skilled and unskilled labor and processing and marketing infrastructures are the main challenges of this growing industry.

Q: Could you provide context and perspective for your involvement in driving CEA in the Northeast?

A: Three years ago, at Cornell University, we developed the Cornell Controlled Environment Agriculture Advisory Board. The team includes academics, produce industry executives interested in investing in cold-climate agriculture, supermarkets, government officials and financiers.

We started having conversations about these issues because more and more people at Cornell interact with the produce industry; we are listening and hearing a growing interest in investing and producing vegetables and some fruits in controlled environments in the Northeast close to consumers. 

Our group leader, director Neil Mattson, is an associate professor in the School of Integrative Plant Science at Cornell’s College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, and you will enjoy reading information from him.

Q: Is this CEA group collaboration part of a study you’re undertaking?

A: No, not a study in particular. At Cornell, we felt a very important component of this interest was to develop a space to get together with industry and some financiers to discuss different issues and advance a state for dialogue.  We have different committees, one in education, research, financing, and one is in developing organizational structure for the group.

We meet every semester, which is twice a year. It started with 20 people, a few people from industry. We had our most recent meeting in early December, with over 100 people participating, so this is obviously an area of growing interest.

We have been more and more involved in research for what’s happening in the CEA world, and in particular, the north, northeast U.S., this covers New York, New England, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, all the states in the region.

Q: How do you define CEA?

A: It encompasses many technologies to allow for a controlled environment in which produce grows. It ranges from simple low-tech row covers and high/low plastic covered tunnels to fully automated greenhouse farms and converted warehouse factories.  Innovative methods seek to create ideal aerial and root zone environments for high plant quality, predictable crop timing, consistently available quantity, and limited environmental impact.

Q: Mexico’s CEA boom and exponential growth continues to shake up the competitive global landscape. But I imagine Northeast producers face unique challenges…

A: These are different controlled environments than what you have in Mexico, because you don’t have severe winters and can employ simple technologies to control crops.  The Northeast requires complex hydroponic/soil-less production systems to strictly control temperature, light, carbon dioxide and humidity to achieve optimal plant health and growth.

This is agriculture that mandates a high level of investment and also human capital because it entails a lot of expertise working in these production units.

Q: How new is this phenomenon for Northeast producers? We’ve covered developments at Gotham Greens and Bright Farms, both hydroponic operations, as well as at AeroFarms, which operates through a different technology called aeroponics. Each of these companies has participated in the New York Produce Show, and attendees get to visit facilities during our urban agriculture tours…

A: CEA is growing fast. Today in the Northeast, you see tomatoes being introduced in greenhouses. It’s not new but growing rapidly.

Q: Can you provide statistics?

A: The industry in the U.S. has doubled between 2009 and 2016 for the amount of produce that is produced in controlled environment. You see for example large operations in rural and also urban areas like in the case of Gotham Greens and Bright Farms, which are very close to supermarkets.

While there was modest growth in greenhouse operations (including hydroponic operations) in the U.S. between 1998 to 2009, numbers have spiked dramatically since. According to the most recent Census of Horticultural Specialty, in the U.S., there were 2,521 CEA enterprises in 2014, a 75 percent increase between 2009 and 2014. Total greenhouse production reached nearly 261,000 tons in 2014, with hydroponic production accounting for one third of the total. Annual CEA sales were $797 million in 2014.

Q: And in terms of commodities?

A: Fresh tomato was the Number One crop, accounting for 37 percent of production, and 50 percent of sales. Cucumbers ranked second with 14 percent of total production and 10 percent of sales, followed by herbs and lettuces.

For comparison, CEA vegetable production in Canada is three times bigger than in the U.S., and in Mexico, it is six times bigger than in the U.S.   

Q: Have you narrowed down stats to the Northeast?

A: New York State exemplifies the growth of CEA in the northeastern U.S. New York ranked second nationwide in terms of greenhouse vegetable production in 2014. And the number of CEA operations has tripled between 1998 and 2014, while CEA produce sales has increased tenfold during the same period. Still, New York State imports over 90 percent of key products including lettuce, tomato, spinach and strawberries.

Q: So, there is plenty of room to grow…

A: I want to give you some background on why this is happening. You and I know local foods have increased substantially and will increase in the future. One of the biggest limitations in the northeast is a short growing season of about five months. This was viewed initially as a big limitation since supermarkets need to have year-round locally grown supply.

We see more and more businesses challenging this view.

Now we see more and more companies in the Northeast producing tomatoes, yellow, green and red peppers, and micro greens year-round, and these operations are really taking off in our region.

The advantage of CEA enterprises growing is the ability to allow year-round production, through environmental control-led hydroponic/soil-less production.

The stars are aligning. You have consumers demanding local foods. You have emerging technologies in controlled agriculture that allow you to have very high quality because producers will be able to control every aspect locally and year-round.

Q: Is this because they’re not as dependent on Mother Nature, and also have more flexibility?

A: Exactly. There are two important points often ignored. First of all, CEA allows the ability to make use of more rational chemicals and to gain much more control over the production process. The second part is very important: Operators of CEA facilities have a lot of flexibility on where to locate them. They can be very close to consumption areas and urban sectors.

Here we have the perfect combination: the ability to provide year-round produce, freer of pesticides, with lower carbon footprint, and the potential for high quality product to consumers.

That is what is driving the growth in this industry; on one hand consumer demand, but now we are much more efficient with energy and light, and the costs of production are decreasing over time compared to field grown.

Q: Isn’t the cost, involving steep initial investments, a major sticking point?

A: That’s the other side… big investments at the beginning. The capital is intensive and also requires high-skilled labor.

Q: How difficult is it to find that skilled labor, and how complicated is the training?

A: We are working on solutions at Cornell, and other universities are participating. We need to provide the right curriculum and the right labor force for this industry.

When we talk to businesses running these operations, one of the main costs is capital and the other is labor.

Q: Do you get feedback from retailers as well?

A: Yes. Our CEA advisory group participants include retailers as well as produce industry executives doing CEA or planning to do it, companies developing greenhouses, and financiers…

Q: Are these interactions creating new partnerships?

A: We are seeing some initial planning, people getting to know each other, and at least informally, lots more coordination. I can’t speak of special alliances…

Q: How important is CEA to the Northeast produce industry? Do you envision this as incremental in the big picture of produce sales, but an excellent marketing mechanism, or more of a transformational direction?  For instance, Whole Foods in Brooklyn has gotten terrific consumer press with its Gotham Greens rooftop greenhouse…

A: There are three parts to my presentation. I want to convince people that CEA is a growing industry in the Northeast and will gain strength in the future. That CEA will be a driving force in how agriculture is changing in the northeast.

I will present examples of how Gotham Greens and Bright Farms are growing very smartly and the relationships with the retailers they sell to. I also will have an example of micro-greens adoption here near Cornell, and how it’s a growing business; and the proximity to New York City is attractive.

I hope to convince people this is important, and we need to pay attention. This will change the structure of the produce industry for produce locally in the Northeast environment.

Q: Have you looked into potential pushback from consumers on the idea that CEA is not authentically local because it’s not field-grown?

A:  Yes. That is a significant question we set out to address. We wanted to know if consumers will penalize locally grown in CEA conditions. Many people demand it to be naturally organic with farmers out in the field…

This is different than year-round, good quality availability, which is exactly what restaurants and supermarkets need. 

We think CEA will give supermarkets local product they can sell to consumers. The big question will be whether they care if the product is grown in a field nearby or a greenhouse or factory farm nearby. So, we did consumer research, which was paid for by New York Farm Viability Institute. The study was conducted by Neil Mattson, Irin Nishi and myself.

Q: I’m intrigued.  What did you find out?

A: The national market for local has expanded from $1 billion to $12 billion in the past 12 years. We wanted to exactly understand consumer willingness to pay for local CEA vegetables, and we focused on tomatoes and lettuce. My curiosity was to determine whether consumers discount CEA.

Then to the point, we manipulated two attributes: origin and production system. One showed the origin in New York or out-of-state, and the second was CEA or field conditions. We wanted to examine how origin and production system affects consumer willingness to pay.

We also wanted to know what happens if you give consumers more information on the type of production, how much employment is generated, and the environmental impact, etc. 

We did a controlled study (talking of controlled environments!). We put study participants in computer stations to manipulate these attributes and they actually bought the products.  They revealed willingness to purchase based on different product characteristics. In a slide I’ll present, Irin Nishi, my assistant, is presenting the options on different types of tomatoes and manipulating the information.

Q: What was the makeup of participants?

A: The consumers represented in the study are the primary shoppers making the decisions in the family, not regular students. We recruited 150 people in total and included four different categories of tomatoes and lettuces.  Subjects indicated their willingness to purchase the different types. We also had them complete a survey at the end of the experiment to gather demographic and behavior data to control differences.

Q: Did the taste or quality of the products come into play?

A: It’s a lab setting, so the products are essentially the same and they look the same. When you give information on field-grown, often consumers think it tastes better. But if they do a blind taste test, there is no difference. As far as I know, scientists have done tests, and there is no difference in taste. It shows how the mind works.

We did six experimental sessions in total. In some sessions, we provided more information. In general, field grown tomatoes come from Mexico or Florida, and field lettuce from California. We estimated footprints, distance, jobs created in Florida and California, both in field and in greenhouse. 

Q: Those calculations can be challenging…

A: That’s true. For greenhouse-grown in New York State, we provided the following information: Greenhouses allow growers to control growing conditions to produce NYS-grown tomatoes year-round. Tomatoes produced within NYS travel on average 150 miles to market, and generate NYS jobs year-round (1 job per 40 tons harvested). Conversely, for field-grown in New York State, we said, due to less control over growing conditions, NYS-grown tomatoes are available five months of the year. Tomatoes produced within NYS travel on average 150 miles to market. And they generate NYS jobs five months of the year (about 1 job per 40 tons harvested).

Here is what we found: In the baby lettuce, consumers showed a willingness to pay regardless of the production system. They care about local attributes whether it is in the field or in CEA. Many say CEA lettuce is not natural. But what we found is that you won’t be penalized by CEA for local lettuce.

Q: Is that similar for tomatoes?

A: For tomatoes, it’s a bit difference. The local tomatoes had a premium, but the field-grown tomatoes had a premium over CEA. Overall, consumers are willing to pay 30 percent price premiums for New York State grown tomatoes and 18 percent price premium for New York State grown lettuce.

Q: Why is that?

A: We can make conjectures. Tomatoes are much more of a seasonal product than baby lettuce. There is much more of a connection with production of tomatoes, like sweet corn in certain regions. I want to point out that while there is a difference, statistically it’s still small.

What we learn is there is a huge difference between local and out-of-state lettuce. In lettuce, there is no difference between CEA versus field. With tomatoes, there is a little stronger willingness to pay more for tomatoes grown in the field. 

Also, it doesn’t matter if you give consumers a lot of information, the outcomes don’t change. At the same time, keep in mind this is just one study. We need to do more.

Q: You mentioned there are three parts to your presentation…

A:  Yes. After the consumer study, the third area I’ll go into is a little about the cost of production. 

In that case, I can share what we are finding with spring mixes, micro-greens, and products having to do with leafy greens. They are quite profitable.  Tomatoes are profitable too, but it seems like you need to be a large operation; you need the economies of scale. We are developing tools for the industry, so companies are able to reflect their own costs based on different scenarios.

This is super important.  Some of the businesses are very sophisticated and don’t need these tools, but some that are interested in attracting investors need to do these kinds of analyses.

It’s a simple Excel tool to play with numbers -- labor costs, packaging, utilities, etc., to see how profitability will change. This program is long, and I don’t want to go into too much detail of this, but it is important to combine the tools with the trends.

Q: What are the trends? And what are your projections for CEA looking ahead five years from now?

A: From a product standpoint, we see people very interested in peppers, cucumbers and in terms of fruit, strawberries.  My projection is the industry will double within five to eight years, and I think the growth will be spectacular and mostly in metropolitan areas.

Q: What are the key areas that need further study?

A: Our next step we need to understand better is the economics distribution, and all the implications of having food production in metropolitan areas… the labor, and how do you manage waste, make efficient use of energy, and what is the role of robots. Businesses in agriculture don’t want to depend on unskilled labor. There are a lot of issues to follow, but CEA definitively will grow.  I get so excited by the prospects.

Q: Do you see the Cornell CEA Advisory Board and its mission broadening to encompass more regions, or being simulated in more regions of the U.S., or even taken to a global level?

A: I’m so glad you asked me that. In our last meeting in November, the CEA Advisory Board decided to create a CEA Global Association. What’s happening internationally is important, but there is much to learn from CEA developments in the northeastern U.S. and the impacts it will have on a lot of consumers. 

******

When we read this, we think how casually California is prepared to destroy production agriculture in its own state. Tougher regulation, higher minimum wages, requirements for overtime, regulations for environmental issues… all these things may be fine in some idealistic world. But, one day, the state will wake up in a panic when it is realized that production agriculture is squeezed in two ways: By imported produce and by CEA operations out of state.

CEA has many issues: It is still not clear how the economics will work out if, say, oil prices double. And it is not clear that the issue is whether consumers are going to accept CEA as local -- the issue may be whether activist segments will accept it as local. There was just a movement to prevent product not grown in soil from being labeled certified organic, although that has been held off for now. Just as “big organic” has been vilified, so many CEA operations may find themselves with reputational issues when activists start attacking.

The other thing this issue requires is clarity as it combines many different elements. Much of the CEA in Canada and Mexico is designed for produce grown for the USA.  So, even assuming the future is CEA, this leaves at least two questions open: The first is scale; the second is location. 

Tiny operations like the greenhouse on the roof of the Whole Foods store in Brooklyn may be a winner – in the sense they generate great publicity and may even provide a halo effect for everything sold in the store.

But it may be more efficient to have giant facilities. Professor Gomez alludes to economies of scale in tomato production. It probably doesn’t end there. Very few of these tiny facilities are audited in the way large field growers are – it is too expensive. One wonders if this waiving of standards will be acceptable as the industry grows.

Years ago, Cornell had an initiative to help farmers convert old barns to CEA facilities. The initiative floundered on a combination of the capital investment required, the technical skills required to operate the facility and the difficult economics for these small-scale facilities.

The other issue is location. Just because you can grow something somewhere doesn’t make it the optimal place. Perhaps large greenhouse facilities located closer to the equator — where sunshine is more consistent, but in higher altitudes, where it is  not too hot — may be more efficient, even with transportation included.

Indeed, as autonomous vehicles come into play, many of the costs and difficulties associated with trucking may be diminished. They can drive 24 hours a day, thus speeding up the trip from, say, Arizona to New York.

We find the research indicating that consumers will pay more for local to fall into that category of “interesting, if true” – definitely an area for more research. When we have done qualitative work in this area, we found the opposite is true! Consumers did prefer local, but they actually thought it should be less expensive. In fact, one reason they preferred local was the consumers thought they would save from not having to pay trucking from far away.

And, although some preferred the flavor of local – certainly on fruit that could be picked later, or summer tomatoes. It is not clear that the products mostly grown in greenhouses have this advantage. Fruit picked later may be sweeter – but not lettuce. And although summer tomatoes are famously delicious in places such as New Jersey, it is not clear that greenhouse products have the same flavor profile.

Indeed, CEA products with different flavor profiles may make research on the desirability of local moot. If consumers are asked whether they are willing to pay extra for local tomatoes, and they are thinking of the rich flavor they have traditionally gotten in the summer, but the “local” being priced is actually hydroponic product that tastes different – we may need to go research some more.

As with all great research, Phase One raises more questions than it gives answers. We look forward to hearing about Phase Two at a future New York Produce Show and Conference!

For now, we invite you to join in on this discussion at The New York Produce Show and Conference by attending Miguel’s Educational Micro session on the show floor at 11:45 am.

You can register here

The website is here.

If you need a hotel room, let us know here.




Foodservice Forum At New York Produce Show Puts Produce First On Restaurant Menus

We already unveiled the schedule and faculty for the Foundational Excellence program here; the Global Trade Symposium here, the Perishable Pundit’s Thought-Leader Panel here, and the Micro-sessions here. We are now pleased to announce this year’s iteration of the Ideation Fresh Foodservice Forum:

Punching Up Produce Profitability
Bottom-line strategies for maneuvering prickly issues
Thursday, December 14, 2017
New York Hilton • Trianon Ballroom

PROGRAM SCHEDULE

7:00 - 8:00 a.m. Registration

8:00 - 8:30 a.m. Continental Breakfast

8:30 - 8:45 a.m. Welcome Remarks/Introduction

8:45 - 9:30 a.m.

TALKING PROMOS AND
PRODUCE WITH

ANDREW FREEMAN

Foodservice expert and master marketer, Andrew Freeman, founder of San-Francisco-based af&co., will offer his take on produce, food trends and how to attract the consumer’s attention.

9:30 - 10:30 a.m.   Discussion Panel 1: Challenging The    Status Quo of What Children Eat in Restaurants

What strategies can restaurateurs use to increase produce consumed among children under the age of 12? Is it even their responsibility to try? What are the benefits if they do and what if they do not? This panel will explore ways to make kids’ menu items more profitable and at the same time healthier by menuing fruits and vegetables alongside the mac and cheese. We know trial is one method of expanding a child’s palate, but how do restaurants accomplish this feat?

Featuring:

Lisa Feldman
director of culinary services
Sodexo

 

 

 

Ben Friedman
president
Riviera Produce

 

 

 

 

Wendy Reinhardt Kapsak
president and chief executive
Produce For Better Health Foundation

 

 

 

 

Sharon Olson
executive director
Y-Pulse

 

 

 

Kevin Ryan
executive director
International Corporate
Chefs Association

 

 

 

Mike Turner
vice president of
Culinary and Supply Chain
Walk-On’s Bistreaux & Bar

 

 

 

Panel Moderator:

Amy Myrdal Miller
president
Farmer’s Daughter
Consulting, Inc.

 

 

10:30 - 10:45 a.m.   Conversation Break

10:45 - 11:45 p.m.    Chef Demo:

Scott Uehlein
Sonic Corp.

 

 

 

 

11:45 - 12:45 p.m.     Discussion Panel 2: Innovation —
                Moving Beyond The Tried and True

What is innovation in produce? Does it involve special breeding and varietal development or recipe magic? What are the disruptors for restaurant guests when it comes to produce? What are some examples of foodservice innovation occurring that have changed consumer behavior? This panel will examine innovation — how to recognize it, how to create it, how to execute it and how to connect the dots.

Featuring:

Ron DeSantis
founder and president
CulinaryNxt

 

 

 

 

Ernst van Eeghen
vice president business development
Church Brothers Farms

 

 

 

 

Candace MacDonald
director concept strategies
af&co.

 

 

 

 

Amy Myrdal Miller
president
Farmer’s Daughter Consulting, Inc.

 

 

Rafi Taherian
associate vice president
Yale Hospitality

 

 

 

Maeve Webster
president
Menu Matters

 

 

Panel Moderator:

Susan Renke
president and founder
Food Marketing Resources

 

 

 

12:45 - 2:00 p.m.  Breakout Luncheon

Facilitator:

Tim York
president
Markon

 

 

 

 

2:00 - 3:00 p.m. Discussion Panel 3: On The Money —
                           Getting More For Your Produce Dollar

Learn from a panel of veteran experts about tactics and strategies engineered to grow profits from produce. What are the challenges that stand in the way of larger ROI and what are ways to circumvent those obstacles? The panelists will examine purchasing, menuing, pricing, plating and execution.

Featuring:

Rich Dachman
vice president of produce
Sysco

 

 

 

 

Jessica Foust, RDN
culinary director,
Farmer’s Fridge

 

 

 

 

Chris Harris
vice president of produce
US Foods

 

 

 

 

Bob Karisny
vice president for menu strategy
and innovation
Taco John’s

 

 

 

 

Jill Overdorf
director of business development
and corporate che
Naturipe

 

 

 

Susan Renke
president and founder,
Food Marketing Resources

 

 

Panel Moderator:

Maeve Webster
president
Menu Matters

 

 

 

 

3:00 - 3:15 p.m   Wrap Up

******

A great restaurant town such as New York is the perfect place to hold a conference dedicated to increasing produce consumption through the foodservice channel. Chefs are burdened with so many negative admonitions: use less salt, use less fat, use less sugar, etc. – they rejoice in the opportunity to do good by using more of beautiful and delicious fresh produce!

Come join the conversation and help raise the profile of fresh produce in foodservice.

Check out the website here.

Register for the program here.

We look forward to seeing you in New York!




Ideation Fresh Foodservice Forum Headliner Andrew Freeman Talks About Impossible Burgers, Instagrammability And Innovation 

Andrew Freeman
Founder
af&co
San Francisco, California

Andrew Freeman is the founder of af&co., the celebrated hospitality and restaurant consulting and marketing firm based in San Francisco. Freeman — who says he was “born with a fork in my mouth” — has been named one of the Top 25 Most Extraordinary Minds in Sales and Marketing by the Hospitality Sales & Marketing Association International. Freeman was vice president of public relations and marketing for the relaunch of Windows on the World after the 1992 Trade Center bombing, and he opened the cabaret at the Russian Tea Room.

He spent 10 years as vice president of public relations and strategic partnerships for Kimpton Hotels & Restaurants, during which time he helped launch more than 40 hotels and restaurants. Freeman will headline the Ideation Fresh Foodservice Forum Dec. 14 at the New York Hilton, offering his take on produce, food trends and attracting the consumers’ attention. On the eve of the release of af&co.’s influential 2018 Hospitality Trends Report, Freeman shared some highlights and perspective with Joyce Reingold, contributing writer for Pundit sister publication PRODUCE BUSINESS.

Q: What trends do you see resonating in the foodservice industry during 2018?

A: Overall, because of the nature of the world right now, the theme of the report is “Change Is The New Black.” We have to be prepared to change at a moment’s notice because the world is changing that rapidly. We can look to so many things, even the natural signs the world is changing … hurricanes, global warming, the fires in the San Francisco Bay area … I think everyone has been a little thrown.

Everything is a little unbalanced. People are striving for anything they can hang on to, like foods they know, foods from their childhood. This is where you can create comfort, but it’s being done in a much healthier, more sustainable way. And so, think about green bean casserole at Thanksgiving, only being done with fresh ingredients. Think modern takes on classics.

The whole world of delivery is another big trend. It’s not just CSAs, or home-meal cooking kits; it’s also restaurants. They’re really getting into it, and offering high-quality delivery.

Q: Where are today’s food trends originating?

A: In the past, when we looked at trends, they always started on the coasts and moved in. But now coastal living is way more expensive, and a lot of talented people have moved to places like Cincinnati, Boise, Minneapolis. They’re starting to lead the trends now.

People also look to Europe as getting there first, in some respects. And anything coming from Asia. There’s a whole sense of digging deeper into where the food comes from. We’ll see a lot more international influence.

New American food is really this balance of all these ethnic cuisines. When you think of American food, you think of apple pie, hamburgers, meatloaf … Everything else came from somewhere else and made it here. Vegetables have always been at the basis of all these cuisine types. Everyone has their version of a potato dish. Culturally, we all use potatoes. It’s the same thing with apples. Everyone has an apple dessert. When you really look at the universality of produce, you see it pop up in many different cultures.

Q: What role do you see produce playing in the year ahead?

A: One of the overlying trends is vegetables. The good news is, vegetables and produce are not just for people who are vegetarians or vegans anymore. A good example is how five to 10 years ago, there would be one vegetarian entrée on a menu. Now there are really innovative, delicious, vegetable-based entrees, appetizers, etc. Even people who aren’t vegetarian or vegan are enjoying these options. It’s giving chefs the opportunity to have some fun.

There’s a popular restaurant here [San Francisco], Al’s Place, where vegetables are first, and meat and fish are side dishes. They’ve flipped the whole thing. They’re vegetable-driven. That’s going to get more and more popular.

Have you heard of the Impossible Burger? It’s a much more developed version of a veggie burger. But it bleeds like a burger. People are going to challenge the norms this way.

You have to decide what kind of restaurant and foodservice you want. If you want to be completely vegetable- or plant-based, you’re catering to a more limited crowd.

I’m a little mixed on the vegan lifestyle. I don’t think a lot of restaurants are set up to cook vegan. If you’re a restaurant of a certain caliber making an effort to be vegan, you shouldn’t even have butter in your pantry.

Q: What sort of innovations are you seeing in produce?

A: Probably the most amazing trend that has really impacted produce is with social media — Instagrammable items. What vegetables and produce allow is color. And color is really key in assembling a plate now. In fact, one of our trends is colorful foods, like organically grown, wonderful, rich vegetables and fruit.

Part of the innovation that foodservice operators look for is a vegetable or two that makes its mark. This year it’s cauliflower. It’s being served as a main course — cauliflower steak, for example. And farmers are figuring out ways to give it some color. Purple is the color of the year, and we’re seeing it in cauliflower, yams, asparagus.

Microgreens, eating edible flowers… It used to be farm-to-table. Now it’s garden to table.

And superfoods. If you look at the popularity of juice bars, five years ago there was no such thing as juice shops. Now all these wonderful items have really come through.

There are mushroom teas, coffee being infused with mushrooms. It’s primarily because of the health benefit of these items.

What I would say I’m really excited about in the fine dining world is the really unique use of produce. We’re seeing ceviche made with hominy, and tacos being stuffed with delicious vegetables and fruit. I think that’s where you’re really going to see exciting things coming. The world of produce just gives you so many opportunities.

As kids, in my generation there was a whole sense of “eat your vegetables,” that sometimes contributed to a hate of vegetables. But that’s gone. Kids are seeing vegetables the same way as they see all the other food they like to eat.

Also, in terms of innovation, there are probably going to be more vegetable-based chef competitions. You’re going to see more of it on the Food Network. It is sort of the year of produce. There’s just so much more of an interest. It’s not going to turn back.

Q: Given the growing interest in eating local, what options are available in the middle of winter, and early spring, when fresh produce isn't readily available in many parts of the country?

A: Farms are growing all year-round. If you’re going to make a commitment, you follow what the farmers can grow. And there are ways to get the food here, like flying it in. Now, fast casual chains are not going to stop using tomatoes on their burgers. But as you go up to fine dining — right now we’re seeing apples, pears, root vegetables — certain items do go away.

One restaurant actually takes its Bloody Mary off the menu when tomatoes are out of season. It all depends on the level of commitment by the chef.

And there are more hydroponic and aquaponic farms. Indoors, you simulate the same environment as farming. You’re recreating the seasonal weather conditions year-round.

Q: So how important is the “eat local” movement to consumers?

A: Probably up until five years ago, 80 percent of the world at large didn’t care as much about where vegetables were grown, or the quality. I’d just say the biggest warning I could give everyone is that things are really going to be pushed — to ensure they’re using quality ingredients.

Q: What about organic produce? How important is that to customers?

A: I think what you’re seeing in the world of fast casual, when you go in there now, are menus talking about ingredients that are organic. We’re on a path where there is no turning back. That volume will command the farmers to modify their efforts to grow everything as sustainably and organically as possible.

There are always challenges. Suppose someone grows organic tomatoes in a foreign country that gets flown to the United States. How much does it cost to fly these thousands and thousands of pounds to the U.S.? I would imagine these companies are constantly looking at where they can source these ingredients … and they are looking to see how they can get them with the least amount of pressure on the environment

I think fast food and fast casual restaurants will start to look at if an ingredient is not readily available to them during a season they may decide to take it off the menu. The public is more educated now and will understand and appreciate it.

They going to be challenged today, that’s for sure. Millennials have driven this quest of knowledge, and knowing where things are coming from and wanting to be part of the conversation.

Q: Since the launch of af&co., how have you observed the role of produce changing in foodservice?

A: Looking back, 13 years ago we didn’t have social media, and the Millennials were just babies. If you’d asked me then about produce consumption, I’d think it was probably going to stay the same. Everyone would have the mandatory vegetable entrée for people who eat vegetables. But thanks to organizations that have really supported our farming culture, coupled with these really creative chefs who have come up, and the public getting a lot more educated on quality vs. quantity, vegetables and produce have taken their place on the menu and are as popular as everything else.

Q:  In your report you say, “There’s one thing we can count on for next year, and it’s ... nothing.”  What can foodservice operators do to stay current, and what are the risks if they don’t?

A: I think there’s a lot of information out there for people who are keeping up. That’s why I’m excited about the New York Produce Show and Conference. I’m going to learn stuff at that show. But there are always going to be stragglers, who are going to get lost and they’re going to get left behind.

I think about some of the bigger chain restaurants. They have their set menu profile; they know what people want. But as their consumers change, if they’re not changing with the times — not caring what the public cares about right now — they’re going to get stuck. The ones that are changing are going to move up the ladder. The ones who aren’t are going to be left behind.

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Editor’s note: The 2018 Hospitality Trend Report is available at www.afandco.com and af&co. is raising money for those affected by the fires in Napa, Sonoma and Mendocino counties. Donate at www.gofundme.com/california-north-bay-fire-relief.  

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You can count on this being a most stimulating discussion. Please join us in New York as we try find ways to put produce fisrt in the foodservice world.

You can register for the Ideation fresh Foodservice forum right here.




John Vena Makes The Case For Travelling From New York City To The Philadelphia Wholesale Produce Market

We’ve visited the Philadelphia Wholesale Produce Market each year as an official tour of The New York Produce Show and Conference. We reviewed these tours in pieces such as these:

Tour To New Philadelphia Wholesale Produce Market Offers A Glimpse Into The Future Of Produce Wholesaling In America

The Philadelphia Wholesale Produce Market: Young Faces Building A Modern Market -- A Tour At The New York Produce Show

Seeing The Future Of Wholesale Markets: The Philadelphia Story -- A Regional Tour Of The New York Produce Show And Conference

As we prepared to head back down to Philadelphia, we asked Jodean Robbins Duarte, contributing writer for sister publication PRODUCE BUSINESS, to find out more:

John Vena
President

Q: Each year, the New York Produce Show and Conference has a bus tour to the Philadelphia Wholesale Produce Market (PWPM). Can you tell us a bit more about what this is for folks who may not be familiar with wholesale markets and their role in the supply chain?

A: Terminal markets have always played an important role in the distribution of fresh produce, in particular, along the East Coast in cities such as Boston, New York, Philadelphia and even Baltimore. As those cities were developing, terminal markets emerged as a place where local farmers could bring their produce to a designated area to market it.

The PWPM’s roots trace all the way back to the days of William Penn. In those days, local farmers literally brought their product in by boat to a dock in Philly (hence the Dock Street market), where local distributors would receive the product and then sell it to shops, restaurants or whoever wanted to buy it.

As transportation improved and the city developed, the market also developed by becoming a home for many more merchants and receiving product from further and further away. My grandfather received product by train from the Eastern Shore of Maryland.

Over time, the terminal markets established even greater reach and became a produce hub for larger geographical areas. However, while this growth was happening, supermarkets grew bigger and developed their own distribution centers and thus business for terminal markets diminished in many parts of the country.

But along the East Coast and even in the Midwest, terminal markets are still very viable because there is still demand for what the terminal offers.

Q: What do the markets offer today that make them viable and to what kind of customers? Are terminal markets a relic of the past or do they offer something for the future?

A: In our current day, not only are terminal markets viable but they are desirable. The terminal market provides more advantages for customers who know how to use one. It allows a customer to literally walk from merchant to merchant and inspect every brand, variety and commodity that’s on offer. They get a chance to see the color and taste the sugar content.

We reference variety, quality and value as key benefits. Buyers can judge for themselves when they look at the package - an important ability they don’t have when placing an order on the phone.

Our customer base is really everybody who wants or needs to buy fresh produce to either resell or serve directly to consumers. This includes large wholesalers or distributors around the area who fill in ‘shorts,’ independent retailers who need a full range of products, and smaller mom & pop stores who shop every day.

Many customers use us as their warehouse and shop every day. For larger customers, we provide flexibility in giving them an opportunity to smooth out their supply chain if they need product at the last minute or to take advantage of a favorable market.

Q:  PWPM in particular is fairly unique among wholesale markets. After over a decade or more of planning and striving, the Philadelphia merchants finally had a state-of-the-art facility built. What makes the facility so unique and how did that come about?

A: What makes PWPM unique and different from every other terminal market in the country is that it was designed to be a live market, a place where people can come meet with suppliers and see the product, all under one roof maintaining cold chain integrity.

The facility we have built here doesn’t exist anywhere else in the world. We are almost 700,000 square feet of space and fully refrigerated. That just doesn’t exist anywhere else in the world for produce and certainly not anywhere else in this country.

Building this facility was a long, arduous process, but we had a group of merchants who decided early on to put competitive differences aside and work for what would benefit our business and our customers.

In 2000, our merchants began to recognize that we needed a better facility than we had. We put together a list of needs for a new building, meeting not only current desires but taking us into the future, especially with respect to food safety and cold chain requirements. What set us apart was the willingness the merchants had to work together, get the job done and create a new facility from which we could serve our customers well into the future.

Q: PWPM has been in operation now for a little over six years. Would you say it’s been a success rather than just a notable technological achievement? What reactions have you seen?

A: PWPM is absolutely a success and a great achievement. During the past six years, business has grown for everyone and our customer service footprint has expanded. Transportation improvements have made it easier to get customers from an even wider geographic area.

We are now regularly shipping product not only within our region but also from the Carolinas to New England. We have a wide regional coverage and our customer base is growing.

From a customer point of view, if they’re located in a place they can be served from this market and they’re not buying from PWPM, then they are missing a huge opportunity in terms of quality and value. Just the simple logistical facts of what we can do here that doesn't exist in another market have been noted by buyers taking full advantage of PWPM – especially the cold-chain benefits and the willingness of our merchants to work together to ensure customer needs are met.

Q: What about shippers? Do they gain any value or perspective by visiting?

A: Absolutely. Shippers should visit to take a look at how much better their product is handled here and how we help them maintain the quality of what they’re putting into the marketplace. And, for shippers who visited the market in the past but are not sending product here, we especially encourage them to revisit the market.

They need to see what their competitors are doing here and how they’re utilizing this market to build their business. A lot has changed in six years, and now most brands marketed up and down the East Coast are being marketed here.

Another important aspect from a shipper point of view is how the merchants in the market have improved their distribution capability. Many have added trucks to already existing fleets, have created fleets of their own, or made good third-party arrangements for transportation.

We’ve seen shippers moving more product through the market without having to deliver it on their own. That’s been a big deal for a lot of shippers because we can protect the cold chain and we have increased capacity.

Shippers are more willing to send product knowing the merchants here can solve the “last mile problem.” This represents an opportunity for shippers to expand their customer base.

Q: So what should participants on the NYPS bus tour expect to see at PWPM during their visit and what should they particularly be looking for?

A: People are going to see that this market is still revolutionary, even after six years. Just walking the Buyers Concourse, being able to walk up and down the street in an enclosed facility, but in natural light because of the skylight, is revolutionary. It’s a very comfortable environment - as long as you wear a jacket, because we maintain a 50-degree temperature.

It’s easy to buy product; and it’s easy to get your truck loaded or unloaded. Every loading door is sealed and has load-levelers. There’s no need for dock plates. We’ve put everything into place to optimize moving product.

They’ll also see the importance we place on managing our recyclables and waste. We have a separate building outside the main market building dedicated to managing waste and recycling. We have a system in place whereby employees are constantly moving recycling and waste materials to this facility.

We recycle corrugated, plastic, corner boards, and wood -- all collected and set aside for reclamation centers or pallet-pooling companies. We have the space and the team to sort all this out and make sure what can be recycled or reused is. Also, all our waste product is sorted for animal food or compost.

It’s important for customers and shippers to know we’re doing everything we can to keep things out of landfills. In addition to that, every Friday morning we work with Philabundance, our food bank partner, to reclaim unsold product for distribution to families in need, thereby reducing our food waste footprint even more.

Q: What do you hope the people on the tour will walk away knowing?

A: For shippers who visit the market, whether it’s their first time or tenth time, I hope they see how they need to consider the merchants in the market as an addition to their sales and marketing program. Building programs for customers is important and a crucial part of what we all do at PWPM with our suppliers.

We all push our suppliers to give us product on a year-round basis and let us help them build a program with consistent brands and quality levels. The shippers who send product here regardless of market conditions are the more successful ones. Our ability to build programs has become evident.

For customers, they are going to find vendors able to offer them programs. We can offer preconditioned fruit, including mangos, avocados, bananas and melons. You can put together the program for specialty products or commodities that you’re looking for.

We’re also a terrific source for local product. A lot of customers don’t realize they can come here and buy Pennsylvania, New Jersey or Delaware product in-season every single day. It’s all here.

We all just want as many people as possible to visit and see the opportunity PWPM has to augment their business.

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Let us know here if you wish to add this tour, or any tour, to your existing registration.

You can register for the tour and The New York Produce Show and Conference right here.




Sonic Drive-in Chef Scott Uehlein Gives Peek Into Process of Putting More Produce On The QSR Plate At New York Produce Show’s Ideation Fresh Foodservice Forum

One of the great dilemmas in foodservice is not how to utilize more fresh produce but how to do so in a scalable way. Chef Scott Uehlein’s career has been a journey from a specialized spa to a large scale QSR operation.

When we heard he was willing to participate in the Ideation Fresh Foodservice Forum, we asked Carol Bareuther, contributing writer for Pundit Sister Publication PRODUCE BUSINESSto find out more about his journey:   

Chef Scott Uehlein
Vice President of Product Innovation and Development
Sonic Drive-in
Oklahoma City, Oklahoma

Q: How did you decide that being a chef was your professional calling? I understand one of your early memorable food experiences as a kid was at a QSR.

A: I was always a foodie-type kid. When I was really little, my parents gave me a choice for my birthday. It was either to go to the little Carnival-type amusement park in town -- Bridgewater, NJ, where I grew up — or to the new KFC that just opened. I chose the KFC because it was something new to our area.

Then, as I got older, I enjoyed cooking for family and friends, moved on to a job in the restaurant business and soon-after attended and graduated from the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, New York. I did my externship in New York City, worked up and down the east coast, and then headed west where I worked as the executive chef at the Los Abrigados Resort in Sedona, Arizona. I went to work as the corporate chef at Canyon Ranch in Tucson, Arizona, in 1999.

Q: Could you describe the evolution of your culinary career especially as it relates to fresh produce? For example, let’s start with the role produce played on the plate when you attended the CIA?

A: In the 80s at the CIA, the principals of Escoffier focused primarily around the protein, and the animal protein specifically. A vegetable was there to surround an animal protein. You learned how to cook and coddle the high dollar items and really make them shine.

Q: How did your views of fresh produce change over the 17 years you worked in the upscale health-and-wellness side of the industry at Canyon Ranch?

A: I began to think in a different way when I came out of the world of big steaks and big baked potatoes, Flavor is first. It has to be. After all, people are not going to eat something if it doesn’t taste great. I adopted this philosophy when I started at Canyon Ranch. Not that this way of thinking wasn’t there before me, but when I arrived it coincided with an era that ushered in an emphasis on more simple food -- food that isn’t a science experiment or something that’s highly processed.

Not only did we adopt this Flavor-First philosophy, but we also looked at simpler ingredients. Produce, in and of itself, has great flavor. Take mushrooms, for example. Even back in my CIA days, mushrooms were used with protein because they enhanced flavor in a natural way. We emphasized this Flavor-First philosophy more and more, and as time went along, there was gradually a de-emphasis of the animal protein.

Q: From this foodservice utopia for fresh fruits and vegetables, what led you back to the protein-centric world of QSR? What excited you about making this change?

A: That’s a good question. To begin, I felt like I had made all the impact I was going to at Canyon Ranch. [Editor’s note: During his tenure, Uehlein authored The Canyon Ranch Nourish: Indulgently Healthy Cuisine, and co-authored Canyon Ranch Cooks; made guest appearances on local, regional, network and cable TV shows; and was featured in national and international newspapers and magazines.] So, it was time for a change. I had to decide if I wanted to continue in the health and wellness world or not.

I sat on my first panel at CIA’s Menus of Change Leadership Summit in 2016, about six months after I started working for Sonic. [Menus of Change: The Business of Healthy, Sustainable, Delicious Food Choices is a trailblazing leadership initiative launched in 2012 by The Culinary Institute of America and Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health that encompasses public health, environmental stewardship and social responsibility]. The audience there was filled with people in the big restaurant and QSR worlds. I felt like I was on a soap box saying they should do this, this and this.

It’s funny, I had a bit of a heckler and I shut that person down by saying, ‘Look, you want more people like me to move into this world. Why? Because it’s possible to have a bigger impact.”

I learned a lot about flavor at Canyon Ranch. If you’re going to take calories out, you have to put something else back in, and many times that was fresh produce. So, I thought it would be fun to spread my wings, and thought it would be amazing to be part of something as big as Sonic is, to see my products on a national scale, and impact the quality of food and how people eat in a positive way.

I no longer have the nutrition restrictions of Canyon Ranch to contend with, yet there are other restrictions in QSR. The challenge of these restrictions is pretty exhilarating, because you have to innovate in a very specific way.

Q: Just how do you innovate? What does it take to come up with something that’s successful on a national scale?

A: You do a lot of trend watching, and you eat a lot of food! You eat fast food, slow food… you just eat. You mine for data with Datassential and Trend Hunter, and some of the other services that are out there. You read magazines, blogs, look at Pinterest, and Instagram; so, you’re always mining for trends information. Then, there are things you try at home, you like and think, “Could I scale this up to millions and millions of servings?” And the answer is that we probably can find a way to do it. It’s part art, part science, with a definite process behind it.

Q: Can you give us a sneak peek of your presentation and the secret behind putting more produce on a QSR menu?

A: Sure! I’m going to take the audience through the process using the blended burger as the example. Others have played with other burgers like veggie burgers. However, we are always going to innovate in a way that is unique and true to our brand. For us, the blended burger is right. Why? It’s innovation in our own land and yet it is potentially a breakthrough. As a result, I think my presentation will be interesting and, unlike other demos, because I’m going to bring a different perspective. That is, the standpoint of big numbers and a lot of tonnage when it comes to produce. Volume is a huge thing. One of the longest lead-time items we have for the blended burger are the mushrooms. We’re buying a lot of mushrooms.

Student chefs watching my demo will see they either have to embrace the process or it could be a real source of frustration. I have conversations with our interns, who have internships with us at Sonic for several months, and I tell them that the product they work on could be years away from seeing the light of day. It’s not like coming up with something in the afternoon and seeing it on the menu tonight as a special.

For producers, I think the value-added piece will be most interesting. I’m not going to show things we have in test, but examples of items that would be more appealing to a big restaurant chain like us versus, for example, just another lettuce blend. It’s a very creative and dynamic time to be in QSR. We have a busy calendar next year with many produce-based initiatives, test products and national launches with some really creative things. I’m very happy I made the jump into this world.

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Make sure you are at the Foodservice Forum to learn how the whole industry facilitates high volume adopters of more fresh produce on the menu.

You can register for the Ideation Fresh Foodservice Forum right here.




EPC President And Longtime New York Regional Retailer Vic Savanello Talks About Treasure Hunt Opportunities on NYPS Bus Tours

The last day of The New York Produce Show and Conference offers a panoply of tours. We asked Carol Bereuther, contributing writer for Pundit sister publication PRODUCE BUSINESS, to speak with Vic Savanello, Senior Director of Produce and Floral at Allegiance Retail Services, and President of the Eastern Produce Council, to get a heads up on the opportunities available.

Visiting a supermarket might seem like a boring chore. Instead, it offers a golden opportunity as part of the New York Produce Show’s annually anticipated industry bus tours on Thursday, December 14. In fact, according to Vic, a 35-year retail industry veteran in this region, what these tours offer is a treasure-hunt chance to see produce retailing first-hand in one of the most populated, most prosperous and most ethnically diverse metropolitan markets in the world.

What’s more, two of the tours also feature a look at how produce arrives to market via two very different types of terminal markets. We spoke with Vic to get the scoop on what attendees can expect, what the treasures are and where to find them.

Vic Savanello
Senior Director of Produce and Floral
Allegiance Retail Services
Iselin, New Jersey
President
Eastern Produce Council

Q: With your retail hat on as Senior Director of Produce and Floral for Allegiance, a company that supports independent supermarkets in New Jersey, New York and Pennsylvania under banners that include Foodtown, Freshtown, D’Agostino, Market Fresh and Uncle Giuseppe’s Marketplace, why should attendees go on one of the New York Produce Show’s five bus tours?

A: The bus tours appeal to many different people. No matter what arm of the industry you’re coming from, it shows you the flavor of this region. If you’re a retailer, for example, you’ve got over a dozen retail establishments covered by the different tours. If you’re a wholesaler, you can see probably two of the busiest terminal markets in the country. In essence, the tours are an opportunity to see what retailers and wholesalers are doing to sell more product and succeed in a region that’s really saturated with retailers and other options.

Q: Could you give us a sneak peak of the retailers on these tours?

A: Sure. You’ve got the Manhattan tour, New Jersey retailers and those in Brooklyn. In other words, you have inner city, suburbia and a place that’s somewhere in-between when talking about Brooklyn. It’s not inner city, but it’s an urban setting. Retailers in each of these areas attack their businesses a little bit differently.

Q: Let’s start with a preview of retailers on the Manhattan tour.

A: These are much smaller footprint stores. These retailers try to deliver both groceries and meal solutions. In a city like Manhattan, there can be five restaurants in each block, so there are so many options for meals. Now, in addition to foodservice, this includes everything from supermarkets right down to the convenience stores throughout the city.

This focus on meal solutions, or feeding people whether it is giving them groceries, or items to put in their refrigerator, or dishes to bring home and heat up that night, is something you’ll see at retailers like D ’Agostino, Le District, Brooklyn Fare, Morton Williams and Whole Foods. Meal solutions seem to be these inner-city stores’ immediate focus now.

Q: How about the New Jersey retailers? What can you tell us about them?

A: Out in the suburbs, whether it’s the ShopRitesKings, Morton Williams or Whole Foods, these are the more traditional supermarkets. They are also trying to provide customers with meal solutions, but it’s more about being a brick-and-mortar supermarket. There’s all the different varieties of packaged grocery-type items as well as perishables.

Q: Now, how about the Brooklyn stores?

A: One interesting thing about Brooklyn people coming from outside the area might not recognize is that this is really where the epicenter for Millennials is today. Sure, you think of Manhattan and that’s where the youth is, but it is really Brooklyn today that’s at the heart of the hipster movement. All the young and artistic people in the city are residing more now in Brooklyn than Manhattan.

As a result, there’s no question about it, you are going to see the latest trends in Brooklyn. For example, Square Roots is on this tour. This isn’t a market that you’d go to buy groceries but an urban farm with home delivery service of exclusive produce items. A place like Brooklyn, as well as Manhattan, is where home delivery thrives moreso than the suburbs. Plus, people in Brooklyn are more receptive to new ways of shopping. These people are usually working in the city and they find more value in their time than their money and make choices accordingly.

Another cool thing about Brooklyn is that you have stores like 3 Guys From Brooklyn, which has some heritage to it. When you see it, you feel like it could be straight out of the 1950’s. It’s an open-air store, on a corner, with produce spilling out onto the sidewalk. Very produce-centric. But it also has those other things like meal solutions going on too on the inside. City Acres Market is another one of those small stores trying to supply meal solutions and groceries.

Also on the Brooklyn tour is C-Town Supermarkets and Whole Foods. Whole Foods has always done their own thing. They’re focused on clean ingredients and healthy foods. They have their niche and are obviously quite successful. This niche could change slightly based on their new ownership (Whole Foods was purchased by online retailer, Amazon, in August 2017), but that’s yet to be seen.

Q: The Philadelphia market tour includes a stop at Wegman’s. How would you characterize Wegman’s?

A: The store on the Philadelphia tour is in Southern New Jersey. This is a traditional large supermarket chain that fits in perfectly in suburbia because of the wide range of grocery items, but they really go after meal solutions too. In fact, there is in-store dining serving many different types of food. It’s a real destination for lunch and this will be the lunch stop on the tour. Wegman’s is a truly a unique supermarket experience.

Q: Beyond retail, could you describe the two tours that visit terminal markets?

A: The great thing about the two tours, one to the Hunts Point Market in the Bronx and the Philadelphia Market, is that these are two completely different experiences. They both accomplish the same task, meaning they both service the produce needs of retailers and foodservice operators in this market.

The difference is that the Hunts Point Market is an older market. It has been upgraded, but it’s still an old traditional market, open-air, old-school, something that if you squint you’d think you were watching a video from the 1970s. It has a lot of tradition, and it has a lot of people who have been on the market for their lifetime.

Hunts Point is a great market. It screams New York. It IS New York.

Now, when you go down to Philadelphia, which is a relatively brand new terminal market. It’s a closed market, such that when you’re walking down what you’d term to be the street, you’re inside. Controlled atmosphere, cold-chain maintained… very modern. These are two completely different terminal markets that accomplish the same task.

Q: Every tour sounds interesting. What are your tips for how New York Produce Show attendees can choose the best fit for them?

A: I would choose something based on what I was looking for. If I’m a retailer and I’m looking to see retailers like myself so I can get some ideas, then I think the descriptions I just gave would help you make that choice.

If you’re looking to see something completely out of the norm, if you’re a suburban retailer and you want to see something cutting-edge and new wave, go on the Brooklyn or Manhattan tours.

If you’re a wholesaler and want to see how the terminal markets operate in this region, it’s one or the other. Do you want to see an older and more traditional market and how they still manage to operate and to be successful, or do you want to see what the newest one looks like? I think it really depends on what you’re trying to get out of the tours more than anything else.

Q: That said, what is the best way to prepare to get the most out of the tours?

A: Plan to network. You’re going to have plenty of time to talk with the people on your tour, and I highly recommend you put down your cell phone and talk to your neighbor seating near you. It is always good to get a retrospective of how everybody else sees things.

However, I always find it is interesting to talk with somebody in the store. Maybe one of the clerks working in the department or someone that is a member of the staff. Mostly, though, look at the customers in the stores. Whether it’s the Manhattan, Brooklyn, New Jersey or Philadelphia tours, each of those retailers, for the most part, targets a different demographic of shopper, a different generation, a different income level, a different ethnic background.

Keep track of the neighborhoods and take note of the diversity that you see. It’s a very important aspect to what makes that retailer tick and what makes New York so unique and so exciting. In fact, the new name for these bus tours in the future could be the Retail Treasure Hunts!

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If you would like to add a tour to your existing registration, please let us know here.

Or you can register for the tours and the entire New York Produce Show and Conference right here.

We look forward to seeing you at the show … and out across the region!

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