I went to my first Fresh Summit in 1995 and I was amazed. I couldn’t believe the scope of the industry, the number of people, all the different products and the diversity of booths. Looking back, I can’t believe how small it was then.
I wrestle with today’s Fresh Summit. We want to be there, we need to be there, our customers expect us there, we expect and hope our customers are there. I leave this year’s Fresh Summit both inspired and full of questions.
My questions come from the messages we are delivering to consumers, retailers and to our own teams. Are we the big farm selling millions of boxes to the masses, or, are we the small farm delivering our produce via pickup truck to the farmer’s market? Many of us are portraying the individual grower, capitalizing on the trend of local and regional produce, creating packaging that shows the family farm and making it look like we are all harvesting and selling our own product to a farmer’s market. On the other hand, as you walk the show floor, we display ourselves as the biggest, creating larger, more intricate booths complete with our own meeting space. Does it work to be both?
Do we as an industry understand who we are? Most of us are vertically integrated in some form or fashion. We understand the daily complexities of the industry from the field to the consumer. Every step is an important step and we all pride ourselves on delivering a product that consumers will enjoy. For the show, we build large booths and have large teams make the trek to Fresh Summit. However, one of the messages that we work hard to convey to consumers is we are about being small, personal, individual. Shouldn’t we be more consistent?
We are walking on both sides of the fence. The industry perception we want of ourselves is that we’re big enough to supply a retailer’s needs year round with the right product, quality and consistency. However, for consumer’s expectations we want to be the small family farm out in the middle of the country. Small is the new big. I think that’s called an oxymoron if I recall my high school English days correctly.
The same is true about PMA’s Fresh Summit. Every year the event seems to get bigger, yet, the world feels like it is continually getting smaller. We had a very productive Fresh Summit and had meetings of consequence with many of our key partners. However, Fresh Summit is also so big; we had good conversations but not great conversations because we are all overscheduled. For this reason, we are finding the regional shows are where the great and impactful conversations occur. Less is more. I’d say from Fresh Summit we get the masses and tremendous industry energy. From the regional shows I find we get tremendous conversations and the ability to focus on planning and solving problems.
I was asked by a Senior Merchandise Director of a very large retailer, who was new to the industry, why PMA needs to fall over a weekend. My answer was simply that our industry believes it can’t take its hands off the wheel. It’s all hands on deck to keep the day-to-day supplies moving in an orderly fashion.
My biggest inspiration leaving Fresh Summit was what a great industry we are in. I know I don’t always fully appreciate the value we add into people’s lives and I’m sure others are in the same boat. We aren’t just selling commodities, we are selling health and wellness and it is something everyone benefits from. It also makes me wonder why agriculture isn’t considered a more prestigious career choice. Produce and farming are cornerstones of our country yet we continue to struggle to retain and hire quality people within the industry. “I’m going to work in agriculture” isn’t the first thought you hear from many people as they head off to college and think about degrees. If we want to draw talent we need to use technology to solve the lifestyle problems that prevent our industry from drawing talent. We need to be sustainable with our people the same way we aspire to be with our products. Weekend tradeshows may disappear with the future generations the same as our business dress has changed over the years. Understand the future market. Thinking back to my first PMA, nearly everyone on the floor and in booths was wearing a coat and certainly a tie, at this year’s show, slacks and a polo shirt are considered business dress. Our business models continue to evolve and we need to evolve with them.
Fresh Summit 2011 is now behind us, and we already have the 2012 show in Anaheim on our calendar. 2011 was another great show and we thank those that took the time out of their busy PMA schedule to meet with us or swing by our booth.