Last week I attended the annual Horticulture NZ Conference, held in the picturesque Mystery Creek. This conference serves to bring together the whole fresh produce industry from across New Zealand for the purposes of knowledge sharing, discovery and networking, with the focus of this year’s conference being ‘Our Food Future’. As we look towards the future of food, there were a few key takeaways from the event that will affect the direction this takes.
The way we are consuming and interacting with food is changing, particularly fresh produce. Consumers are becoming more health conscious and reaching for snack-size fruit and vegetables with ‘superfood’ connotations. With various forms of vegetarianism and veganism on the rise, is this a threat to the industry or an untapped opportunity? Whilst plant-based meat alternatives have muscled their way onto supermarket shelves, to the health and environmentally conscious consumer, surely a purely vegetable-based option is a better substitute than a lab-grown, processed impersonation? The growing popularity of plant-based and plant-only diets hold a massive opportunity for the fresh produce industries to increase their portion on the plate – the bigger question is how we get that through to consumers.
In taking hold of a larger portion of the plate, one of the largest points of concern for the fresh produce industry in New Zealand is biosecurity. Geographically isolated with an annual industry turnover of NZD $15.2 billion (PMA A-NZ Fresh Produce Industry: State of Industry Report 2019), the safety and security of the industry to invasive pest and pathogen species, including the Brown Marmorated Stink Bug (BMSB) is paramount to the integrity and longevity of the industry within the country. Preventive and proactive measures are required across the supply chain, however is the current biosecurity response plan enough to protect businesses in the event of a crises?
The most prominent theme noted at the 2019 Horticulture NZ Conference is the importance of collaboration across the fresh produce industry. Whether it is about driving greater consumption of fruit and vegetables or maintaining the biosecurity integrity of the industry, collaboration throughout the supply chain is essential. From growers to retailers, collaboration and proactive response in the face of challenges and solution generation will ensure continued growth and improvement of the New Zealand fresh produce industry and its grasp on international trade.