Driscoll's Frances Dillard Discusses Upcoming OPS Panel, CEA Growth, and More
SALINAS, CA - Controlled environment agriculture (CEA) is the buzzword of the education side at this year’s Organic Produce Summit (OPS). So much so, the Organic Produce Network (OPN) is hosting a two-part deep dive into the topic offering both a retailer and supplier perspective on the upward trajectory of indoor growing.
“Growth of CEA—What’s Real and What’s Hype from a Retail and Consumer Perspective,” moderated by Walter Robb, former Chief Executive Officer of Whole Foods, will include panelists Victor Savanello, Vice President of Produce and Floral, SpartanNash; Shawn Peery, Vice President of Produce and Floral, Albertsons; and Frances Dillard, Vice President of Brand and Product Marketing, Driscoll’s.
“The OPS panel will foster meaningful discussion of how we can collectively embrace and support innovations that will benefit the consumer and increase consumption of fresh produce. The pandemic lockdown has impacted how consumers shop and eat,” Fran recently shared with me. “It’s been positive to see an increased consumer focus on healthy eating and snacking for fresh berries. However, even the recent Dietary Guidelines show more than 80 percent of American dietary patterns are low in vegetables and fruits.”
Driscoll’s has been an active sponsor and participant in the summit since its inaugural event in 2015, so I was certainly not surprised to see Fran on the list helping to tackle this conversation.
“The Organic Produce Summit is a key event bringing together thought leaders who want to create broader industry collaboration and support to meet the growing consumer demand for organic produce,” she said of supporting and attending OPS.
When I asked about the CEA landscape’s continued evolution, she shared how Driscoll's has been a pioneer in the berry industry across many fronts.
“In October, 2020, Driscoll’s and Plenty announced our agreement to grow strawberries indoors. Driscoll’s 100 years of farming heritage and focus on delivering Only the Finest Berries™ is the ideal complement to Plenty’s industry-leading, sustainable, indoor farming technology and commitment to growing the best-tasting produce," Fran stated. "Together, our two companies will work to bring flavorful strawberry varieties to market, leveraging the benefits of a controlled growing environment while also creating opportunities for berry expansion into regions that have historically been difficult to serve.”
Already Driscoll’s brings to market all four organic berries—strawberries, raspberries, blueberries, and blackberries—available year-round. Now, the combination of the two companies looks poised for creating a competitive edge expanding in the direction of the future consumer.
“That’s the exciting part,” Fran agrees. “Continuously innovating practices and moving agriculture forward in meaningful ways to meet the needs of the marketplace. Marketing’s role is to understand the needs of the consumer and translate them into business strategies that drive category growth. Driscoll’s spends significant time and money in consumer research, deep diving into insights on what consumers want and expect from their fresh produce.”
What has stood out as the consistent purchase driver in macro trends, Fran points out, is flavor, complemented by awareness and cause branding.
“With the rise of Gen Z and the Alpha generation, all aspects of sustainability or value-based purchasing (for people and the planet) are accelerating. From water stewardship to the concepts of less pesticides and locally grown, these are gaining importance. It’s important our industry collectively share how we can all come together to grow the consumption of fresh produce,” she emphasizes.
Unequivocally in that conversation is CEA, especially as organic acres race to meet climbing demand.
“While organic berries are a smaller part of Driscoll’s overall fresh berry offering, we are seeing the organic growth increasing at a faster rate than conventional. In 2020, around one in three U.S. households now buy organic berries, and household penetration was driven heavily by an increase in organic blueberry supplies,” Fran explains. “All four organic berries deliver significant premiums over conventionally grown berries. We are at a demand-exceeds-supply market and the consumer is clear with their needs: They want more organic berries.”
As to how to accomplish more organic produce—berries and beyond—the conversations not to be missed are at Organic Produce Summit. If you have not yet registered, click here and meet us in Monterey, California, next month!