Pundit Interviews

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Perishable Pundit
P.O. Box 810425
Boca Raton FL 33481

Ph: 561-994-1118
Fax: 561-994-1610


email:
info@PerishablePundit.com

a

Produce Business

Deli Business

American Food & Ag Exporter

Cheese Connoisseur



Facing The Global Challenge

In three decades of hard work we never worked harder than the ten days we spent in South Africa  when Danie Kievet arranged our schedule. He thought the Pundit should earn his keep so we were down in the hotel lobby at 5:00 AM each morning and after a whirlwind of speeches, meetings, tours, site visits and business breakfasts, lunches and dinners, we were dropped off well after midnight each night. Yet we have no complaints. We learned so much and met so many intriguing people, not least of all getting closer to Danie and his wife and family. So we were thrilled when Danie was willing to speak out on a controversial and serious issue at The Global Trade Symposium. We asked Liz O’Keefe to find out more.  Liz is, an experienced journalist and conference coordinator, who recently joined our efforts  to take all we have learned in producing the New York produce show and Conference and create a new world class event, The London Produce Show and Conference.

Danie Kievet

Proud owner of a 40 year career in fresh produce, South African-based Freshworld Danie Kieviet has nearly seen it all. After literally being brought up in the business on his family’s flower bulb, tomato and onion farm, the executive chairman has experienced most parts of the supply chain from wholesaling to packaging, supplying to retail. Ahead of his presentation at The New York Produce Show and Conference, Kieviet tells Liz O’Keefe that a massive challenge looms for the global fresh produce industry

Q: What advice would you give someone going into the fresh produce industry today?

A: “It is all about the consumer and that’s where anyone’s focus in the industry, wherever you are placed, should be. The fresh produce business is a lot easier now compared to when I first started out. Information and technology are more readily available and handling and storage are much more advanced, but produce hasn’t grown wings. It still has to get from the produce to the end-consumer from one end of the world to the other in pristine condition.

“You have got to be hands-on with your business to be successful. Some people think that you can find all the answers on the Internet, but living it and mixing with your suppliers and customers in this fast-paced industry is the way to gain experience.”

Q: Kieviet set up his own company, South African citrus and table grapes exporter Freshworld, in 2001. The business has a particular focus on supplying the Far East/South East Asian marketplace, as well as supplying Japan, Korea, and the US under the Sunkist brand. We asked Kieviet, what made you branch out on your own?

A: “In 1989, I co-founded the company Freshmark that supplied fruit and vegetables to South African retailer Shoprite/Checkers, which I then sold to the retailer in 1996, remaining with the company as MD until 2000. It was a great achievement to join such a retailer and I learnt a tremendous amount, but I’d always dreamed of having my own business. In 2001, I suddenly got the urge to break out on my own again and follow my own goals without limitations.

“After a couple of years establishing Freshworld, Walmart approached me to open a global procurement food hub in South Africa. It was a fantastic opportunity and my children took care of Freshworld for two years while I completed it. I have managed to have my own company, yet still be involved in other businesses, so I have been very lucky and blessed that it all worked out well for me.”

Q: The company has just completed its 13th season. What changes have you seen in both your business and the fresh produce industry in that time?

A: “We have increased our product offer and broadened our customer base over the years. We started with citrus and then a couple of years later added table grapes, as well as a topfruit offer a little later than that. In recent years, we have also been exporting blueberries, mangoes and avocados.

“The business was a one-man show at first, with me and another employee and now we are a medium-sized business in the export industry. We are still focused on the strategic aims that I set out for myself initially; I wanted to do business as directly as possible with supermarkets and trade with the Far East, and they still make up the main core of the business.

“We acquired the Sunkist brand in 2003, almost as soon as the company started, and the brand has grown in value. I think the importance of one of the most recognised fresh produce brands in the world will only increase.

“There is a huge potential to grow it further in a counter-seasonal way to the US. Especially in the Far East/South East Asia, the Sunkist marque has really proved popular and been an effective way of singling out quality compared to other offers. Now we are going to grow it in the US counter-season, the brand will have a year-round offer and we’ll just build on its reputation.

“The fresh produce industry has exploded with lines in the last 10 years and it is more focused on customer appeal. It’s wonderful – new varieties are popping up like mushrooms and they all come with additional benefits, like improved taste and storage possibilities.”

Q: The title of your presentation at The New York Produce Show and Conference is ‘Market Access: A major challenge in the global fruit trade’. Why did you choose this subject?

A: “I was asked what I thought the single biggest challenge to our industry was and, for me, this is encompassed in all the barriers that surround global trade. Of course, there are natural barriers to the trade, such as the timings and logistics involved in exporting fruit, which in itself causes quality-control problems and then pricing challenges. But it’s the uncontrollable elements, like restricted barriers to market through various different government controls – for whatever reasons: disease, quality or the issue of politics between nations. This is a massive worry, as these trading restriction incidents are definitely increasing.

“Global produce trade has grown in overall value from $67bn in 2001 to about $216bn now. Apart from 2009 when trade declined because of the economic crisis, we have experienced double-digit growth in produce globally each year. International fresh produce trade is very good for the consumer as there is more choice, as well as for national and international traders and for the producers. So, it is worthwhile for the global economy if the individual governments can get international produce trading straight. I think the solution is to try and eliminate the politics in the industry and go back to letting the consumer voice be heard, along with scientific backing for issues with pests and disease, etc. We need to get politics and producer-pressure groups out of the fray. There is too much at stake to not fight for this tooth and nail.”

Q: Is there enough collaboration throughout the supply chain globally? What would you like to see happen in the future?

A: “Fresh produce associations around the world, whether they be in Europe or the US, must aim to get further global trading straight and this needs to be done relentlessly. Producers must realize the opportunities that lie ahead of them if global trade increases; they can expand their production to then reach certain efficiencies and put more varieties on the market. Global trade is beneficial to all. We all need to sit down and work out how to get the message across that we need uninterrupted trade across the globe.”

*****

It is a  stark question. Who will stand up for the consumer? There are all kinds of fears and parochial interests that push for obstacles to free trade, but these can’t be countered just with exporters pushing self-interest, the only effective argument will be the moral case for what is good and just and right.

Come here Danie and get the case for putting the consumer first. You can sign up for The Global Trade Symposium here or register at the door.




Industry Veteran Dawn Gray To Speak About Transparency At Global Trade Symposium 

Last year she wowed the audience with a presentation we previewed in a piece titled Industry Veteran Dawn Gray To Discuss The Concept Of “Glocal” At Global Trade Symposium. Now she proposes we do business, well, naked. We asked Keith Loria, a well-dressed Contributing Editor at Pundit sister publication PRODUCE BUSINESS to give us  a sneak preview of her talk at The Global Trade Symposium, co-located with the New York Produce Show and Conference:

Dawn E. Gray
Dawn Gray Global Consulting
Vancouver, BC Canada

Q: As a return speaker of the New York Produce Show and Conference, what has been your impression with the event over the years?

A: The company I was with prior to going on my own was there at the beginning, so through my partnerships or on my own I have been coming to this since it started. I love the show. It is intimate, and yet robust. It gets a great draw. People are excited to be there, they’re engaged when they are there and you have the opportunity to have meaningful conversations with people in an amazing venue.

Q: Once again, you’ll be speaking at the Global Symposium; what will be the subject of your talk this time around?

A: The title of my speech is, “Doing Business Naked: What Does Transparency Mean to the Produce Industry?”

Q: Interesting topic. Why did you decide to tackle this subject?

A: I think we hear the word kind of constantly now—typically in government or big business—but I think it’s very relevant in the produce industry. What makes me really passionate about it is that I think we have a phenomenally great story to tell. I have been in this industry a little over 37 years and most growers have that great story to tell. These guys are busy running their businesses, growing their produce and they don’t necessarily have the time or inclination to think beyond that. Yet today, people are really interested in where their food is coming from and how it’s grown and who is growing it, and in our case, transparency can be really positive.

Q: What is the biggest challenge of transparency in the business?

A: There’s a lot of negativity around food safety and that gets lots of play. There isn’t enough transparency around all the good-news stories and the phenomenal people who produce the food we need to survive.

Q: Give a little sneak peak of what your talk will cover. Can you provide a bit more details on some of what you’ve already mentioned?

A: It will touch on food safety and why and how it behooves the industry to create an opportunity to enter the dialogue. It will look at the fact that with the way consumers communicate and gather information today, they are going to talk about you, and you can be part of the conversation or choose not to, but you’re not going to cause the conversation to cease, just because you’re not participating in it.

Murphy’s Law says anything bad that can happen will happen and at the most inopportune moment and I decided there’s ways corollary to that, if there’s information out there, people will find it.

The organic community has done a pretty good job with organic growth registering double-digit growth in a less-than-robust economy and I think part of that is because of their transparency. I think the conventional grower community can take advantage of that as well. It shouldn’t be organics are good, conventionals are bad. Organics are a choice, people make the choice I think largely because of that desire to know who is growing the food, where it’s being grown and how it’s being grown. There are passionate organic consumers for sure, but I think a large proportion of these organic consumers really are just seeking information.

Q: You mentioned there are some great stories to tell. How are you gathering those stories for the talk?

A: It is largely based on my being in the industry for so long. I’ve had the good fortune to work in a bunch of different countries over the years and have met growers from as many as 25 different countries, and I’m a big fan of them. I want the growers to become the next big celebrity chef because I think the growers are an amazing, unique bunch and so passionate about what they do. They have to be, to do the work they do, take the risks that they do, it’s more than just a business to them, it’s a real passion and a lifestyle. It’s phenomenal to watch them engage with consumers when given the opportunity and consumers love it. I think we can lose sight to the fact that people who work in this industry live it, love it and know a lot about how things are produced and shipped. Consumers don’t know what we know and when we share it with them, they are really excited.

Q: What are you hoping participants walk away with after listening to your talk?

A: I hope they walk away feeling that transparency isn’t negative. It doesn’t have to be about revealing things that put you at risk. It can be empowering for businesses as well as consumers. Also within their own businesses, transparency can help engage a staff as well.

Q: Is there one target group for your talk or do you feel it’s something everyone can learn from?

A: I tried to take the subject matter and make it applicable to as much of the audience as I can. For sure, the grower community, but the message is relevant to retail and foodservice. I try to make it as broadly applicable as possible, but my passion for growers probably rings louder than anything.Although, of course, growers can’t prosper if their customers aren’t able to buy more produce so telling our story in a transparent, trust building way, helps the whole supply chain.

Q: Why do you feel the New York Produce Show and Conference is an important event?

A: If you look at where trends tend to come from in the U.S., generally the East Coast, they are the thought leaders, they are the ones that are going to create the future for our industry and I feel they are early adopters of good ideas and change. I think people flock here to see what is new and how they can apply it to their business.

Q: Anything else you’re looking forward to?

A: New York City is one of my favorite cities in the world. It’s so vibrant, not just in terms of the industry but the city itself. It’s a great time of the year and I’m excited to get there and be in that Christmas spirit.

******

One of the most useful traits in business …and in life…is to understand that just because you wish a situation didn’t exist, does not mean it is necessarily the wisest choice to disengage from the situation. Dawn challenges executives to not merely be transparent, but to conduct oneself so that transparency becomes the optimal strategy.

Want to learn what is the optimal strategy for you and your business. Come sign up to attend The Global Trade symposium, co-locatedw ith The New York Produce Show and Conference. You can register onsite or save some time and register right here




Fresh Produce Marketing: The Real Deal

The produce industry has a lot of trouble investing in marketing. It is hard to get the margins in produce that support the kind of marketing campaigns that consumer packaged goods companies are able to sustain.  One woman though, has a cause of her own, global marketing guru Lisa Cork, an American girl who adopted New Zealand as her home, has said the growing trend to package produce creates a billboard for companies and the industry to sell produce and she wants to make sure the trade uses this asset. We asked  Liz O’Keefe, a well-established journalist who works with The London Produce Show and Conference to find out more:

Lisa Cork

With 26 years’ marketing experience behind her and an award-winning history for increasing growers’ revenue through packaging solutions, New Zealand-based Fresh Produce Marketing’s creator Lisa Cork brings her own distinct brand of enthusiasm to The New York Produce Show and Conference next week with no fewer than two presentations. Liz O’Keefe gets a sneak preview and finds out why no one dare diss broccoli while Lisa’s around…

From seed to field, packhouse to retail, Lisa Cork has worked throughout the supply chain to then set up her own business Fresh Produce Marketing in 1995. The first to put retail buyers through their own paces out in the field and the person behind that broccoli truck turning up to the White House during the Bush presidency, Cork is a fresh produce force to be reckoned with.

Q: Starting out

A: Describing herself as ‘lucky’, Californian-kid Cork bounced into the fresh produce industry straight from university, after a friend told her about a job at the “amazing company selling fresh produce” Apio Produce Sales near her hometown. She soon found that this passion for produce was infectious, as she made her way from sales co-ordinator to an innovative marketing role. “I thought: Why not?” she says of the job opportunity. “So I went down and ended up spending a couple of days there, just observing, and was totally hooked. I knew I would love to come work for this company. So I started as sales co-ordinator, as part of a group of four of us. We were young and passionate – it was an exciting time.

“We had a growers’ group and covered 70 lines. I would get there at 4.30am and manage this huge pad and paper that would hold all these commodities and I would do the hold over numbers, the harvest numbers and orders – working out if we’d need any extra broccoli, etc. After six months I said, I am happy to be co-ordinator, but I’ve just got some really interesting ideas, like an Apio newsletter.

“Basically, that’s how this all got started – I eventually moved from doing the occasional bit of marketing to Apio’s first-ever marketing manager, full time, after getting some traction for various ideas. I was really lucky that they realized I had a talent for marketing and they just let me run [with it].”

Q: The big break

A: It was during Cork’s five years at Apio that, on a whim, the Bush Administration decided to ban broccoli from Air Force One. When the former President Bush stated in 1990 that he never, ever, wants to see another sprig of broccoli on his plate, whether he was on Air Force One or at the White House or anywhere else in the land, Cork was not giving up without a fight. “At the time, Apio was one of the top-five broccoli producing companies and broccoli was big business,” says Cork. “We got the growers together and said that we had to do something about this ‘ban’. Broccoli was cheap, so we got the growers to get-together a 10-ton truck full to send to the White House and, as the new marketing manager, this was literally the first press release I put together. It went global. I went from struggling to get CNN to take me seriously on the Tuesday night to it being big news all over the world by Wednesday morning. Some 150 journalists ended up reporting on it.”

During the 1990s, Cork was also part of the team at Apoi that brought the concept ‘Produce University’ to life – making sure the retailers knew exactly what it took to get perishables through the supply chain. “We got the major retail buyers up to California and I put them to work,” she explains. “We gave them a tour of the business; they had to go to the seed company to understand the process with the seedlings and then through to the fields. What was quite unique at that time, considering in those days these were quite powerful men, is that I put them in overalls and placed them in the field. It was really important that they had a sense of empathy. You’d get them packing and you would reject what the retailers’ standards would reject, so they would see that it isn’t easy.”

After planning to travel the world, Cork stopped at New Zealand and gained residency in 1994. The following year she started up her own company, Fresh Produce Marketing. After working with the likes of the California Tree Fruit Agreement, the Californian Table Grapes Commission and California Pistachios, Cork’s reputation in the US preceded her and she began to look after the market of these imports in New Zealand. “The company has evolved and we concentrate on what I call on-pack communication and category strategy,” she says, who now takes on up to 10 projects a year. “We aim to optimize sales through packaging and the way we deal with consumers, which is a niche that is getting some great traction. Unfortunately, in fresh produce we do packagine and category strategy really poorly.

“If you walk down a grocery aisle, every single pack is selling you on why you should buy that product, be it a cereal or a candy bar. You walk into the produce aisle and we’re caught up in telling you, not selling to you. We tell you they are strawberries, but we don’t sell to you on the fact the strawberries are freshly picked or that they were bred for early season sweetness. We are so busy telling that we are not selling and that leaves a huge gap in growers’ revenue.”

Q: Giving something back

A: “If the delegates go away with one thing after hearing either one or both of my presentations, I want them to think: I’m already paying for packaging, so I’m crazy if I don’t make it work harder for me,” says Cork.

Cork’s first presentation at the Global Trade Symposium, as part of the New York Produce Show and Conference, is entitled ‘Using produce packaging to drive sales’ and the second will concentrate on what has evolved as the main focus of her business, category strategy.

“Category strategy is an easy way to optimize sales by making the most of what you have,” says Cork, who is adamant that growers can counteract the squeeze that they are under from both sides of the supply chain and won the PMA Marketer of the Year Award 2013 for following this mantra with sweet potato producer Delta Produce and it’s ‘Love Kumara’ rebranding project. “We take a product and then target particular customer demographics. This could mean several different groups – for example, what a young foodie couple want from a bag of sweet potato is completely different to a large family on a budget. When I started working with Delta the sweet potato market was stagnant in New Zealand. There was a distinct mismatch between want the growers wanted to produce and what the shoppers wanted to buy. Growers where putting bigger sweet potatoes out on the market because they got a price per ton, but consumers wanted a smaller, smoother skinned product that was easy to peel or didn’t need peeling. So we started growing and packing differently, partially redesigned the packhouse, and grading according to what the consumer wanted. We separated the smooth/medium product for the high-value pack; the little ones for the ready-to-cook 500g ‘Little Gourmet’ pack; and the larger, knobblier sweet potatoes for processing. We changed the quality of the product just by reorganizing the perception of it, according to different target audiences.” 

According to Delta, the introduction the Little Gourmet pack achieved a more than 200% increase in sales value. “In the old days, the fresh produce sector owned health and wellbeing, but we have rested on our laurels,” Lisa points out. “We have become a bit lazy with marketing. We let brands like Betty Crocker take the lead, but also, the reality is that everything on the grocery aisle has become better for you health-wise. We had a gap, but it is closing and we are losing the advantage on health claims. We need to pull back that lost consumer interest now, and the best and most cost-effective place to start is in changing the way we think about packaging.”

*****

Her enthusiasm is infectious and her idea is a winner. Turn packaging from an expense into a source of profit.  Yet her life story,  -- a journey in marketing through produce -- is at least as interesting. She has flown from New Zealand to  exchange ideas in nNw York. We hope you will be there to engage with her.

You can register to hear Lisa give two separate presentations,  one at The Global Trade Symposium, one on the show day of The New York Produce Show and Conference just register here  or come register on site




Dr. Roberta Cook Will Talk About Increasing Produce Consumption At Global Trade Symposium 

When Roberta Cook addressed the inaugural assemblage of The Global Trade Symposium, co-located with The New York Produce Show and Conference we titled the preview piece on her talk: Riding The Roller Coaster: Roberta Cook Of UC Davis Explains How Economic Fluctuations Create Marketing Opportunities. Now, in a sense, with a new talk titled Global Trade in Fresh Produce and Consumer Demand: Strategies for Increasing Consumption. She squares the circle and takes us through the Great Recession to show how we come out the other end with strategies for building demand and increasing produce consumption. We asked Keith Loria, Contributing editor at Pundits  sister publication PRODUCE BUSINESS to find out more:

 

Roberta Cook, Ph.D.
Dept. of Agricultural & Resource Economics
UC Davis

Q: As someone who has been to the New York Produce Show and Conference in years’ past, what have your impressions been?

A: I thought it was outstanding from a variety of perspectives. One perspective is you get a different type of attendee in these regional shows than in national shows, so there are all these wholesalers from the New York and New England areas attending that I ordinarily wouldn’t meet at a show. If you are a vendor and displaying your wares there, I think it’s a great opportunity to meet new customers and consider how they might expand their markets. The other thing is it is very creative with the food service ideation and I thought that was very useful for everyone. Then of course, just the excitement of being in New York, the Big Apple, makes it a really high energy show.

Q: What will be the topic of your talk at this year’s show?

A: Global Trade in Fresh Produce and Consumer Demand: Strategies for Increasing Consumption.

Q: What’s the gist of the talk?

A: The presentation will discuss factors influencing consumer demand and strategies that both firms and commodity groups use to impact consumer demand. I plan to give a big picture overview talk of some of the trends in the fresh produce industry that are affecting the demand for fresh produce and local trade. I want to highlight some commodity sectors as examples. I want to consider a variety of forces that are impacting demand and the food and marketing system, and that includes the recession. I also want to bring up a variety of topics I think may be important to the industry as a whole. Those include things like better utilization of information technology to better align the supply chain to improve vertical coordination of the food distribution system.

Q: How does aligning the supply chain help?

A: With better supply chain alignment, you can serve consumers better and do a better job of getting the right product to the right consumer at the right price. In order to do that, you need more information sharing between suppliers and retailers and if you’ve achieved that goal, you are able to reduce waste in the system and that reduces cost, which is something that can help increase demand.

Q: What else will you be discussing?

A: I want to discuss the waste issue somewhat and the importance of postharvest technology, packaging and other things like that for improvement for efficiency and greater productivity in the fresh produce distribution system. One of the reasons I want to address that is because waste in the system is becoming more of an issue today. Commentators, researchers, people who look at consumer advocacy groups who look at the fresh produce distribution systems, are paying a lot more attention to. Our industry is starting to receive negative attention based on that issue and I want to have that as a segment of my talk. What we can do through information technology in improving coordination and supply and demand to reduce that.

Q: How about the strategies that firms and commodity groups are using to impact consumer demand?

A: One of the ways you can impact demand is through managed varieties. I want to talk about the growth in managed varieties of fresh produce where these are proprietary, seed varieties that are controlled in some way. For example, you can control the acreage planted and in some cases you can control who markets the product, called a club, the most restricted form of a managed variety. You have these specialty varieties that generally have improved flavor or other attributes and then you control the supply so the market is not flooded with those items and hopefully you can maintain a premium price, which helps the firms that developed these varieties to cover the cost of offering these.

Q: Can you give me some examples of this?

A: In the apple industry, there are over 30 managed varieties globally. Grapes are also starting to participate. We’re having niche markets evolve where you do have proprietary varieties that have some kind of specific characteristic. The Grapery is a grape shipper in California that has a close relationship with International Fruit Genetics and IFG has developed grapes that taste like cotton candy. Tasti Lee tomatoes is an example in the tomato industry, where you have specific tomato varieties developed in Florida that are being controlled in terms of who the growers and shippers are who can market the product.

Q: You’ll also be talking about the history of branding in fresh produce. What will your talking points be for this?

A: Another strategy is branding without having proprietary varieties. I’ll discuss some of the limitations to branding but also from the new entrance involved in branding and fresh produce today, such as the Halo brand from Mandarin.

Private label is also growing rapidly within produce today and I’ll be discussing the various pros and cons to that. Then there’s industry-wide strategies for demand expansion and that would be generic promotion. I want to put a spotlight on avocados and what the industry has been able to achieve.

Q: Let’s talk some about the avocados. What have they been able to achieve?

A: A couple of years ago they realized imports would be increasing substantially from Mexico and the California Avocado Commission which had been doing generic promotion for decades, was faced with a position where imports would be free riding on their investment and promotion, so they helped to obtain a national marketing order for avocados, which is administered by the Hass Avocado Board. What’s happened is we’ve had this major increase in imports and volume sold and California is now the minority supplier in the U.S. market, consumption has more than doubled in the last two years and average grower prices are relatively stable. That’s a great example of demand expansion. The industry was able to push the demand curve to the right through a huge investment in promotional dollars. It’s been a huge success story.

Another case study that I think everyone is interested in is the berry case because there’s been a major growth in berries, and that’s happening internationally and in the U.S. market, and there are lots of lessons learned from that.

Q: Do you feel the talk is designed for any one particular segment of the industry or is it germane to everyone coming to the show?

A: Although I think it’s a very international audience that will be coming to hear this, there will also be U.S. retailers, U.S. grower shippers, U.S. wholesalers, etc. Today, however, everyone is affected by global trade, producers from other parts of the world, including shippers who export to the U.S. market obviously, but the US grower who gets affected by international supply portions, just as much. Retail and foodservice and the wholesalers and distributors that supply them are very dependent on a global supply base. I want to present information that’s relevant about the U.S. market and the connections to international trade. I think it will benefit a lot of the audience members.

******

Anyone who has ever heard Dr. Cook speak knows she is a blessing because every speech is veritable celebration of data, of case studies of information. Nobody can leave one of Dr. Cook’s speeches without being more informed that they were when they sat down.

There is still an opportunity to see Roberta Cook in action and to become more knowledgeable than you are, you can register right here or on site.




Capespan International's Hazel Akehurst Talks About UK Retailing At The Global Trade Symposium

Each year we invite a special delegate from outside the US to participate in The New York Produce Show and Conference. In 2010 it was Johan van Deventer from the Freshmark subsidiary of the Shoprite Group in South Africa. You can see the piece we wrote about his visit here

In 2011 we had Peter Pokorney from Australia. Last year, our special guest was Zeina Orfala from Marks & Spencer in the United Kingdom, and we wrote about her visit here.  For 2013, our distinguished delegate is Hazel Akehurst. We won’t spoil the surprise but Hazel, who now serves as Head of Sales and Marketing at Capespan International Ltd, has worked at the confluence of some of the most important and influential projects in and relating to the United Kingdom. Projects that deal with local, with sustainability, with ethics and standard setting; projects that have focused on the idea that selling fruit is not enough, that consumers are buying a package of things when they purchase produce and they want to buy sustainability, ethical sourcing and more with each strawberry.

Hazel will be on our main panel  on Wednesday morning and will be addressing our student program. She will also be giving a presentation to the Global Trade Symposium, so we asked Tommy Leighton, a distinguished British journalist in the produce industry and the man spearheading the launch of New York’s sister event, The London Produce Show and Conference to find out more:

Hazel Alehurst
Head of Sales and Marketing
Capespan International

Hazel Akehurst will address the New York audience during a Thought Leadership session. Her talk is entitled “how UK retailers have transformed the way they sell produce and set a new standard for global procurement” and she will give a fascinating insight into the changing face of retailing across the Pond.

Hazel began working in the fresh produce industry seven years ago, as a market analyst for Fresca, the UK’s largest privately owned Fresh Produce company. Using till rolls, Kantar and AC Nielsen data, she steered premium retailers M&S and Sainsbury’s on their sales and marketing strategy.

Since then, the increasingly sophisticated insight gleaned from supermarket loyalty cards has had a huge impact on the way the retail industry markets fresh produce to its customers, which in turn has altered their procurement agenda. Hazel’s first-hand experience of this was at Thanet Earth – a pioneering greenhouse development built in 2009, growing hot house veg that can claim the lowest carbon footprint in the industry. From here Hazel moved on to work for Red Tractor - the UK’s leading quality standard across all fresh food, which has provided British farmers with a brand to promote all that is good and ethical about their products to consumers. That brand has been so successful it is now found on £12 billion of British fresh food a year. Now with Capespan, Hazel is UK head of sales and marketing, and as well as working closely with every British supermarket chain, she collaborates with Capespan’s network of growers around the world to ensure that they fulfil and deliver on the changing demands of their customers.

Tommy Leighton caught up with Hazel to get a preview of what she’ll be talking about.

Q: UK supermarkets have always been held in high regard around the world. So how have they changed in recent years and why do you feel they are setting new standards?

A: In the last decade, retailers in the UK have got a heap more in tune with their customers. They understand what they want, when they want it and where they want to buy it, and have formed a far more targeted approach to fulfilling these needs.

This change has been brought about by the rise of loyalty card data. In the earlier years of loyalty cards, the information wasn’t being used fully. Dunnhumby came along and changed the scenery. It began to delve deeper than ever before into shopping habits and purchasing patterns and every chain stepped up their own efforts to understand their own customers.

Q: What have they found out?

A: Price is definitely still king for the customer and the supermarkets have all addressed that in different ways. Asda have their 10% price guarantee, Sainsbury’s launched the Price Match, which refunds the difference on brands between their prices and those of their competitors, and Tesco went a step further, by including own label in a similar scheme it branded Tesco Price Promise.

But they’re also using their loyalty cards to target lapsed customers with price discounts to bring them back into the category. If someone hasn’t bought Tesco Finest Piccolo tomatoes for three months, they know that now, and will give them incentives to add that product to their basket again.

But they also know that consumers are interested in much more than the products themselves – they want to know the story behind the product – its provenance, who grew it and where and whether it is grown responsibly and ethically. They also need to know it’s safe to eat and traceable. One of the other big changes is that UK supermarkets, working with their suppliers, have become far better at communicating these things.

Q: These are just some of the ways the supermarkets have used their new-found wealth of consumer data. How has the way they’ve responded affected the marketplace?

A: They have created a huge pull in the marketplace and innovative growers have stepped in to fill that demand.

I’ll be using the three places I’ve worked as examples in New York, as they have all in their own way adapted their offer to match the market demand.

Thanet Earth is a great example of growers responding to the changing market. They recognised the growing demand for British salads and invested £100 million in the UK’s largest greenhouse in Kent. It has an impeccable sustainability record and fulfils consumer demand for home-grown, sustainable tomatoes, peppers and cucumbers.

Thanet Earth is truly inspiring - it harnesses technology to make the most of nature’s assets, using high performance glass to take advantage of superb light levels in Kent, collecting rainwater and recycling water leftover from the previous days watering as well as the condensation on the inside of the panes. From the customer point of view, Thanet Earth has also fully committed to communicating its story, through all forms of media, but prominently through Facebook and Twitter, working alongside its customers.

At Capespan, a leading international fruit company, we are growers ourselves, but also have very strong grower partnerships dating back 87 years. We own 16 farms growing citrus, top fruit and table grapes in Southern Africa and while UK customers want to know that the fruit is grown sustainably, they also want to know about ethics, specifically how people who work on our farms, and the communities they live in, are being treated.

Namibian Grape Company, Capespan’s Namibian farm is a great example of this. Our 778ha farm in Aussenkehr, the largest in Namibia, is helping to create employment in a country where unemployment runs at 51%. In fact, grape production in Aussenkehr accounts for 5% of Namibia’s GDP. There is a significant local community that depends on the grape farms and Capespan is investing heavily in social infrastructure. We have fully equipped pre-school facility in partnership with Maersk Shipping Line; donated a 4x4 ambulance to the Aussenkehr community; constructed an administrative office-wing, classroom and ablution facilities for the school too.

Our customers want to see this type of commitment and so do their customers. We are communicating that back to consumers on-pack, online and through features in magazines.

Q: How else is the UK retail market changing?

A: There have been huge changes in the way the supermarkets market fresh produce in recent years. But the real revolution is not how they are selling it, it’s how they are buying it. Increasingly, they are buying direct from grower-exporters. Asda has its International Produce procurement model, Global Pacific is in place at Morrisons and of course Tesco has also gone direct through Global Fruit Sourcing.

The traditional grower-exporter – category manager – retailer supply chain is not redundant, but is significantly changing. What we’ve done at Capespan within this changing supply chain model is to focus on working with our growers by providing “value at source”. This means we provide specific, targeted help and support to our growers at farm level, so they can fulfil their orders to supermarkets from as far as 7,000 or 8,000 miles away.

In Namibia for example, they are growing the first grapes of the South African season into a critical pre-Christmas window in the UK. But it’s difficult for a grower at that distance, with such a short season of 5-6 weeks, to fully understand the needs and demands of a supermarket customer. We help and support by parachuting in a specialised team who truly know the customer who train the teams in all areas of the business on post-harvest handling and pre-cooling, specific to each retailer needs, so they do not disappoint their customers.

Each supermarket will always want something slightly different. I even found that when I was at Red Tractor, where all retailers would use our standard as a foundation for their quality specifications then apply additional requirements over and above Red Tractor. Although there has been some narrowing across the market place, the priorities of a Marks & Spencer customer will always be distinct from that of an Asda customer.

The nuances in the demands are important for growers to recognise and our on-the-spot training aims to help them do that.

Q: We look forward to seeing you in New York.

A: I am really looking forward to being there too, and to meeting the growers there. I think these shows are invaluable to the industry, as an opportunity to get together and discuss the direction in which things are heading. Growers and suppliers into any sector can learn from the event, take that information away and position themselves to be even more relevant in the future.

******

Hazel’s whole career has been devoted to working with projects that  remind us that the produce trade of tomorrow will not be like the trade of yesterday, that consumers want more.

Find out what they want and who will give it to them by registering to hear Hazel at both The Global Trade Symposium and The New York Produce Show and Conference. You can register on site or sign up now and save the wait. Register here




Andrew Sharp To Address Global Trade Symposium On The Moral Dilemma Of Food Security

One of the reasons we count ourselves lucky is that in our line of work we have the opportunity to meet so many people who are passionate and engaged. Andrew Sharp is exemplary in these qualities. So when he offered to come to America and speak about sustainability and food security we counted ourselves lucky. We asked Keith Contributing Editor at Pundit sister publication, PRODUCE BUSINESS to learn a bit more about the subject of Andrew’s passion:

From Kent, known as the Garden of England, Andrew studied agriculture in the UK before moving to growing in California for JR Norton Company producing lots of lettuce in the Imperial and Salinas Valleys.

He returned home, voluntarily, and ran vegetable and fruit farms in Wales and in Kent.

From there he joined what is now the UK’s leading grocery retailer, Tesco, as a fruit technologist before spending 15 years at Marks & Spencer, one of the UK's high-quality retailers, eventually looking after the technical aspects of fresh produce, flowers and plants.

He has spent the last seven years as group technical director of Fresca, one of the largest importers and suppliers of fruit, salads and vegetables to UK retailers.

No stranger States-side, he was on the PMA board, reaching the heights of vice chairman, first getting involved the last time Fresh Summit was in NOLA... (before it was called NOLA) where he presented a paper on Food Safety and Retailer Standards in the UK.

He now finds himself getting more and more involved in the issues of Food Security and Sustainability, and will be sharing with the symposium what's happening on his side of the Pond.

Andrew Sharp
Sharp Enterprises

Q: What do people mean by “food security”?

A: It is how are we going to feed an ever-growing and burdensome world population that is due to grow by 35 per cent by 2050. We are going to need 60 per cent more food to feed everyone – a population of nearly nine billion.

We are already seeing the impacts of food insecurity – for example some responsibility for the Arab Spring (2011) has been apportioned to a rise in food prices. When food prices rise, we see unrest and rioting.

Developing countries will account for the largest percentage of population growth.

Q: So is it just a burgeoning population we will have to contend with?

A: No. What is also changing is that the population in developing countries are changing to more western-style diets. As people in Africa and Asia are moving out of poverty, they want to eat more protein-based, rather than traditional grain-based diets.

Q: So why is this a problem?

A: Well, if everyone in the world ate like an American, we would need three planets like Earth to produce enough food. But if everyone ate like some in Asia, say Indonesia, for example then we would be fine with the planet we have.

Q: Does that mean there is enough food to go round at the moment?

A: We don’t have enough food in the world – you can see that from the price increases. For example, in the last five years, rice and wheat prices have doubled and prices for maize are up by 200 per cent.

In my presentation I will be pulling together information from a wide series of sources to show what is happening around the world. For example, part of this is being driven by ethanol production  - growing crops to produce fuel. This might reduce greenhouse gases, but it is not going to feed the world.

Conversely, around the world we are wasting a third of our food. In other words, the calorific value of the food we waste in the developed world would go a long way to bridging the gap in the developing world.

Q: What about the effects of migration?

A: By 2050 almost two-thirds of the world’s population are forecast to be living in cities. That will be make corresponding demands on fuel and water; there are already pressures on natural resources. And unfortunately the countries affected most, are also those most affected by climate change and water shortages – namely African and Asian countries.

Q: So climate change is related too?

A: Yes. Sea levels are rising which will take more land out of food production and bear in mind too that the largest part of the world’s population lives in coastal areas.

What is needed is a change in diet but bringing that about will require a huge change in attitudes.

Remember, it is not just a case of restriction of productive land, but we also have constraints on fertilisers and fuel and on approvals and acceptability of pesticides.

There is a need for sustainability, to conserve rainforest and stop deforestation.

Q: The picture appears very gloomy. What hope is there?

A: We need to get more from less – the buzz words are “sustainable intensification”. For example, the Thanet Earth development in the UK growing salad crops on a vast scale shows that the carbon footprint goes right down when you produce intensively.

But we have to ask ourselves some important questions. What place is there in growing crops that are essentially luxury items, such as iceberg lettuce, when we should be using that water and energy required to produce crops with a higher calorific value to feed people? When you look at it this way, not a lot of salad and tree crops are sustainable.

Q: But don’t we need fresh produce for our health?

A: Yes, but go to Mali and look at those people who are living on the edge of starvation and hunger. Fresh produce crops are not going to pull people out of hunger. It is the higher energy crops such as maize that will.

Q: It sounds like a moral dilemma.

A: It is. With climate change, Europe will get more self-sufficient and places on our latitude will become the breadbasket for the world and exports will increase. Parts of South American and sub-Saharan Africa will become barren and desert-like. In those areas, we should really be looking after their biodiversity and trying to reduce their carbon emissions.

The dilemma is how we start to bring about the change in the way people think.

Quite simply, at some stage whether it is governments, retailers or a groundswell of popular movement, we will have to realise it is wrong to carry on with this high calorie western diet while the rest of the world is starving. It may take legislation and taxation on high calorie foods.

It is a challenge for us in the developed world to understand that our actions need to change now if we are to feed huge populations around the world 30 years from now.

The problem is we have had this abundance of cheap food for so long but now we need to think further ahead.

Q: So what happens next?

A: Well, this is where technology comes in. Technology has a huge part to play in sustainable intensification. In the UK, the retailers’ sustainability agendas have been taking this into account and their programmes reflect that.

Taking Sainsbury’s as just one example, a lot of the retailer’s 20x20 sustainability commitments are concerned with how they will source their supplies faced with growing global demand. They have set up focus groups on protected crops, field crops and tree crops and these go cross-border – it is not about fortress Britain. It is about securing food supplies in a future where there will be greater demand from markets around the world.

But I don’t think the retailers will lead the charge on this as governments are not imposing legislation, retailers will not have to act.

I think it will probably lie in the hands of ordinary people to change their buying habits, but I don’t know what the catalyst for that will be, unless we go back to food riots and the effect that hunger might have on human behaviour.

Food is the world’s biggest industry, but we all take it for granted.

******

This  is a fascinating subject and Andrew is both a passionate and informed believer. Still, we are going to listen carefully to Andrew’s presentation as we are not fully sold. It was just a couple of years ago that we were being told that the world had come close to approaching “peak oil” and that energy prices would rise for as far as we could imagine. Then came fracking and the shale oil boom and suddenly prices are dropping. Technology changes things, and just as the green revolution saved an earlier generation from a supposedly certain shortage of food, perhaps the genetic revolution will save another.

When we look for speakers though we don’t look for people we agree with, we look for people to challenge us and expose us to new ideas and new arguments. So we will be paying close attention to the case Andrew makes.

If you can, you should as well.  Just sign up for The Global Trade Symposium and The New York Produce Show and Conference. You can sign up online right here or on site.

 

 




Former Sobeys And Wal-Mart Executive Wayne McKnight Will Speak About The Promises and Pitfalls of Global Procurement Operations.

Lots of people have jobs of all sorts, but only a select few do their work and live their lives in such a way that they draw insight from all they do. One of these rarities is Wayne McKnight. Sure he has had important jobs, as when he was at Sobey in Canada and he headed the Global Sourcing for Wal-Mart, but he did something else. He was put in positions to see things…and he saw. Not just the literal occurrence but the significance and implications of what was ongoing. We consider ourselves most fortunate that Wayne has agreed to share his insight with the industry. We asked Keith Loria a Contributing Editor at Pundit sister publication, PRODUCE BUSINESS, to find out more:

 

Wayne McKnight
McKnight Insights & Solutions Inc.
Toronto, Ontario Canada

Q: This will be your first year at the New York Produce Show and Conference. What are your thoughts going in?

A: Yes, it’s my first visit to the conference. I have heard good things about previous shows, so I hope I can make a meaningful contribution to this year’s edition.

Q: You’ll be a featured speaker at the Global Symposium; what will the subject of your talk involve?

A: I will discuss “The Promises and Pitfalls of Global Procurement Operations.”

Q: What is it about this topic that’s so important to our industry?

A: It continues to be more important to know more about what happens up and downstream from your business. Many companies have done this to a high degree domestically and it makes sense to examine that same capability globally. Visibility to working globally, on the surface, tends to be more complex. The benefits are great if you can dial them in, the risks are great if you don’t. Everyone is looking for a competitive edge or a point of differentiation. The import/export arena is one area where you can potentially create distance from your peers.

Q: Can you offer a sneak preview of some of the main points of your talk?

A: I’ll cover the subject from my experiences and give the audience some insights into the dos, don’ts and what you need to prepare for.

Q: Can you expand on one of the pros of direct importing?

A: Most people lose sight of the primary objective, which is creating Surety of Supply of the right merchandise that meets the needs of the targeted end user (consumer). All other goals really are just a subset of this. Cost savings, food safety and security are all important but don’t play out if you don’t have supply. There are no guarantees in supply today with weather, labor, logistics, security and regulatory components but working directly between primary production and the final buyer provides a huge opportunity to collaborate, plan and make commitments.

When the focus shifts to executing a joint business plan with built-in contingency plans, it is a much more effective engagement than negotiating PO by PO. The talent and innovation in this industry is incredible. We need to make sure our business practices and objectives create the right behaviors and seize the opportunities in innovations, technology, sharing resources and improving financial returns.

Q: What is the biggest challenge of global procurement?

A: There are several, but let me mention one—underestimating the “change management” necessary in your organization. From the commitment that is necessary at the executive level of companies to the tools and training that front line staff need is usually a shortfall and in “catch up” mode for too long. Investing in people, infrastructure, systems and new work processes must be a strategic piece of the mission and done at the beginning. Building those new core competencies or enablers can’t be part of a tremendously long learning curve. Mistakes and risk get magnified if it’s not done right up front.

Q: What are you hoping participants walk away with after listening to your talk?

A: I hope to highlight a few areas that people should be aware of in their planning exercise so that they can proceed with their eyes open. Get to know and test your own DNA and appetite for change, ensure you understand your investments needed to build new core competencies and communicate clearly to stakeholders inside and outside your organization so they may adjust their products or services to the new paradigm. There are consequences and unintended consequences of your plan, direction and performance… or non performance.

Q: Is there one specific target group your lecture is aimed at or do you feel it’s something all attendees can gleam something from?

A: I believe in Global Procurement discussions that there are potential learnings for buyers, sellers, service providers and everyone in between. If the playing field is changing and potentially your role, it would be pertinent to understand the impact on your current company and what applicable help you need in order to re-position your activities so your services can continue to be valued. It is possible to resist change and be on the outside looking in.

Q: Why do you feel the New York Produce Show and Conference is an important event?

A: This show is becoming a must attend on the fall calendar for key folks in the produce business both domestically and internationally. The leadership of the Eastern Produce Council and Produce Business bring instant credibility to events such as this, which will just keep getting better. These organizations are keenly aware of current events and education as well as the benefits of important and cost effective networking opportunities amongst the industry personnel.

Q: Anything else you’re looking forward to at the show?

A: To participate in all of the shows events, listen to the speakers from the various panels and catch up with many friends that are also attending. Seeing the lights and decorations of New York City this time of year must be amazing, so hopefully there will be some time for that as well.

******

The question of how global trade will be done is pregnant with meaning and importance. We wonder if there aren’t external factors that drive big companies in the direction of buying direct. For example, if a global company wants cooperation for a government on siting stores, isn’t it helpful to have bills of lading showing that this same global giant is the biggest customer of the farmers in that country?

Fortunately, this session is supercharged as in addition to Wayne’s presentation we have a respondent panel consisting of Rich Dachman of Sysco, Reggie Griffin, formerly of Kroger; Bruce Peterson, formerly of Wal-Mart; Dick Spezzno, formerly of Vons, These people work now, or have worked for buyers of many sizes, in retail and in foodservice. One can expect a lively debate on the pros and cons of this important issue.

You can be part of the debate, just register for the Global Trade symposium and The New York Produce Show And Conference on site or right here




New York Delegates To Receive An Education In Ethnobotany From Eminent Italian Professor

 

Last year at the New York Produce Show and Conference, we invited students and professors from the University of Pollenzo, in Italy, to join our student exchange program. Their input was fascinating and of course, we’ve invited them back for a second bite.

This time around, Andrea Pieroni will address our audience with a presentation on “Ethnobotany: new perspectives for neglected vegetables and fruits?”



Andrea Pieroni is an associate professor of food botany, ethnobotany and Ethnobiology at the University of Gastronomic Sciences in Pollenzo. Heis also the academic co-ordinator of the international post-graduate Master´s program in Pollenzo. Trained in Medical Botany (Pharmacognosy) at the University of Pisa (Italy), University of Antwerp (Belgium), and at the University of Bonn (Germany), he has been Research Assistant at the University of London since 2000, and was appointed as Lecturer (and, later as Senior Lecturer) at the University of Bradford in northern England in 2003, where he remained until 2009.

Andrea has been the President of the International Society of Ethnobiology (2010) and he is since 2005 the Editor-in-Chief of the Journal of Ethnobiology and Ethnomedicine and a member of the boards of several international ethnoscientific associations and peer-reviewed publications.

To find out more and give you a preview of what you’ll hear in New York next week, I asked Andrea a few questions.

Q:  Can you explain a little more about what lies behind the science of ethnobotany and its history?

A: Ethnobotany is a trans-disciplinary, multi-disciplinary science, which focuses on the links between plants and human societies. The basic idea is that we need to know more about plants and their links with human cultures.

So, our research studies how all forms of plants are used, perceived and managed by humans, in order to build an understanding of how humans have interacted with plants traditionally and how it has evolved and is evolving.

Although the term was first used by an American scientist in 1896, in order to define the study of plant uses by Aboriginal people, the discipline only really began to become popular in the 1970s in the USA – mainly due to the study of anthropological linguistics at Berkeley. It wasn’t until the 1980s that interest in ethnobotany really took hold in Europe.

It is a relatively new science therefore and that interest grew because there was a realization of the need to match plants with societal needs and how important niche and neglected products could be to achieving that. Ethnobotany came in on the same wave as Slow Food, as people were beginning to explore ‘new’ tastes and sensory experiences and recognized that an understanding of the local traditions of the past would help them to do that.

Q: What are the main methodologies that you use?

A: One of the key methods to our research is interviewing elderly humans around the world, who have a natural link back to the time when a lot of what we now see as traditional knowledge was still the base of how humans linked with the plants, nature and the environment. Much of that knowledge has been transmitted orally over the generations, but even though it is traditional, it is not static. It’s dynamic, because what’s traditional has changed and the older people in society have first-hand memory of how it used to be.

In Italy, for example, Jerusalem artichokes were one of the core ingredients of the diet in the North West for many years, but now they are consumed on a very regional basis. Younger people have significantly different eating habits now than even 40 years ago, so our research is not all about the distant past. It’s also about understanding how our attitudes to plants has changed in the recent past.

Q: You’re mapping the evolution of plant use by humans then. How do you feel a greater understanding of this process will benefit society?

A: To paraphrase Oscar Wilde, tradition is a successful innovation, i.e. what has been accepted and adopted by the community, and I don’t think we can assume that what has happened in the past is better or worse than it is now. What we try to do is to find out why things have changed, In order to build a picture of the dynamic and why, for instance, people have a different relationship with plants today than they did 50 years ago.

Plants have been central to communities for centuries; they have been part of their history and given them a sense of identity.

In the last few years, ethnobotany has been instrumental in bringing plants that have been widely used by indigenous peoples in the Amazon into the world of phytotherapy or into food niches and the nutraceutical market (e.g açaí berries). We don’t expect to find the solution that will enable humans to live for 150 years, but some of these plants play a very important part in local economies and we’ve linked them successfully to studies by nutritionists and pharmacologists and have a great influence on societies around the world for many years to come.

Q: In New York, you’ll be talking to a largely commercial fruit and vegetable industry crowd – what can your research uncover for them?

A: What we may be able to discover is how to bring some of the plants that have been neglected back and to link people with nature again in a culturally sensible way, through ‘new’ tastes or ingredients. We can also provide a great deal of insight into the manipulation and transition of food uses. Understanding the ways different cultures view plants and how this influences what they eat and how can be very interesting commercially. 

The Mediterranean diet has been studied from many angles and perspectives over the last few decades, but some of the plants that were integral until the 1970s to that diet have now been neglected and forgotten my the majority of people. In areas of southern Italy, Crete and Turkey, there are still communities who routinely harvest the same wild vegetables and plants, but for some reason, these plants have never made it into the consumer marketplace. We know very little about the potential economic relevance about these plants and we’d like to know more.

 

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