With the goal of elevating the role of fresh fruits and vegetables in the foodservice channel, PMA's 2019 Foodservice ThinkTank created the environment to forge stronger relationships and connections within the industry. As with other meetings in the ongoing ThinkTank series, this invitation-only meeting held just prior to the 2019
Foodservice Conference allowed participants to think creatively and collaboratively to address industry issues, strengthen relationships and ideate solutions. These are some of the key takeaways from the discussions.
Challenges within the supply chain
Some of the top challenges with elevating the role of produce in the foodservice sector include developing and nurturing strong partnerships, fostering an innovative spirit and securing year-round supply. Strong partnerships that increase the prosperity of all stakeholders are crucial to business success. They are built on a foundation of trust, open-mindedness and clear and consistent communication.
The importance of relationships in the produce industry cannot be overstated, whether it be with supply chain partners or consumers. Our participants agreed that strong partnerships are critical to business success and can be strengthened through respect, trust, transparency, open communication and collaboration. While opportunities exist through the many industry meetings and events that take place, there aren't enough high-touch relationships and candid conversations between supply chain partners.There remains a strong desire for the "handshake-and-a-hug" relationship in the industry.
An important step in creating strong relationships is breaking down silos to bridge the gap between growers, distributors and end users. Giving all supply chain partners a seat at the table for strategic collaboration brings valuable insight to the conversations and helps break down silos. Open dialogue with all stakeholders who have a clear understanding of the vision, strategy, each partner's responsibilities, and each partner's expectations fosters trust.
Reactive, proactive or creative?
In every situation, we decide — consciously or unconsciously — to be reactive, proactive or creative. From our participants' perspective, the produce industry is proactive in its approach to ensuring year-round supply and reactive when it comes to innovation. A lack of clarity exists with regard to who drives innovation in foodservice. Some wonder whether it is the chef, the consumer or the supply chain. And in some cases, innovation is restrained as a result of trying to mitigate risk. Risk aversion coupled with lack of clarity, communication and collaboration are some of the key barriers to innovation and "profit prevention."
Our participants identified traditions and competition as two of the most obvious barriers to becoming more creative in approaches to increasing year-round supply. They described the industry as still very transactional for the most part, with buyers holding leverage over sellers and only a few companies evolving from that traditional approach. Given that they are already squeezed for profits, growers are cautious of long-term contracts because they are based on known costs but do not factor in unexpected costs as a result of Mother Nature, which they sense buyers don't understand or appreciate.
But there is optimism that the industry can become more innovative in how it approaches challenges. This starts with bringing together a cross section of industry thought leaders to accurately define the challenges, align on what innovation means to all partners, and remain focused on achieving outcomes. A key component of these conversations is recognizing that each segment of the supply chain has their own challenge and the solution needs to solve everyone's challenge, not create additional competition or frustration.
While easier said than done, to successfully become more creative and innovative, industry members will need to be open-minded, flexible and ready for change, get past the "hoarding mentality" of protecting information, and build on shared values to elevate the role of fruits and vegetables in the foodservice channel.
Food for thought
Participants acknowledged a deeper understanding of and empathy for their colleagues in other parts of the supply chain after the working group. They recognize the importance of working together as the produce industry continues to evolve, mindful that strategies and tactics which worked in the past won't necessarily carry the industry into the future. Some of their insights include:
Consumer expectations are evolving, which means the produce industry needs to move past focusing on size, shape, color and shelf life because consumers are focusing on taste, flavor and aroma.
Focus on creating emotional connections with consumers and their goal of feeling good, not guilty. Also help them understand that regardless of what eating pattern they are on, produce fits it.
Helping end users gain a better understanding of seasonality, preserving taste and flavor, and improving consistency and performance, are crucial to drive sales.
Increase the share of presence of fruits and vegetables in every occasion, at every touchpoint and in all market segments so that like Coca-Cola, produce is always "within arm's reach of desire."
As the industry tells its story to consumers, it should continue to leverage the trust consumers have for farmers and chefs, in addition to highlighting the passion of all members of the supply chain: from the farmers to distributors to chefs and everyone in between.
Special thanks to the 2019 Foodservice ThinkTank participants:
Joe Ange, Markon
David Bolosan, Black Angus Steakhouse
John Coker, Foodworks, division of Compass Group USA
Valda Coryat, National Mango Board
Ernst van Eeghan, Church Brothers
Roger Harkrider, Meijer, Inc.
Julie Krivanek, Krivanek Consulting, Inc.
Mark Linder, Culinary Institute of America
Diane Mavica, Stanford University
Jeff Miller, Cutting Edge Innovation, LLC
Patrick Mulvaney, Mulvaney’s B&L
Amy Myrdal Miller, Farmer’s Daughter Consulting
Jill Overdorf, Naturipe Farms
Susan Renke, Pacific Northwest Canned Pear Service
Sharese Roper, Produce for Better Health Foundation
Matt Roy, US Foods
Alexei Rudolf, California Avocado Commission
Rafi Taherian, Yale Hospitality
Ken Toong, UMass Amherst
Nichole Towell, Duda Farm Fresh Foods
Robert Verloop, Coastline Family Farms
Michelle Weaver, Centralized Supply Chain Services
Max Yeater, PRO*ACT
Catharine Yoo, Sodexo