Organic Produce Summit 2019 Wraps with Amazing Buyer Turnout and Dynamic Conversations
MONTEREY, CA - The Organic Produce Summit (OPS) is one show that consistently exceeds my expectations. In a fresh produce world that is so exceedingly impacted by the trade show circuit, it is nice to find such a high-quality, intimate setting that revives and relishes the passion in each of us. Now, having wrapped its fourth year in Monterey, California, OPS is revealing the numbers that brought us together in force, including over 1,500 attendees. Of those, more than 260 were retailers from nearly 100 different banners and tens of thousands of stores in the U.S. and Canada, plus 148 organic fresh produce grower/shipper exhibitors. And let’s not leave out another number that draws us all here: a $14 billion organic fresh produce industry.
Mark Munger, Vice President of Sales and Marketing of 4Earth Farms, was one of many industry members whose high hopes were most surely met as well.
“Once again, OPS knocked it out of the park. The quality and number of buyers and the level of engaged customer dialog exceeded even our high expectations,” Mark shared with me. “OPS continues to demonstrate that the excitement, innovation, and growth around the organic category is stronger than ever. We are already making plans for next year!”
But let’s start at the beginning. The show kicked off July 10 with OPS attendees spending the morning on exclusive field tours of Ocean Mist Organic, Driscoll’s, Taylor Farms, Braga Fresh Family Farms, and Tanimura & Antle facilities and operations. The evening then brought attendees together to enjoy the opening reception, sponsored by Starr Ranch Organics and Divine Flavor. Between clinking glasses and energized conversations, the excitement for the show seemed almost palpable.
Thursday had everyone on their feet with an early start for breakfast with coffee and bites to ease the transition. The day then brought us a wealth of knowledge from Educational Breakout Sessions, from What Lies Ahead for Wholesalers of Organic Produce and International Insights and Trends on Organic Produce to The Future of Organic Meals at Retail, and Tackling Food Waste-Good for the Planet and the Bottom Line.
Micah Shea, Vice President of Sales for Earthbound Farm/Taylor Farms sat on The Future of Organic Meals at Retail and shared many insights with the crowd.
"When it comes to product planning, our inspiration definitely comes from white table cloth locations, but we also glean a lot of information from consumer feedback and research we conduct directly,” Micah said. “Even looking at a resource like recipes that are proliferating on Instagram is amazing. We are taking what we are hearing and supplying a product in the same vein or giving them the ingredients they need to create those meals themselves and add their own creativity to the meal."
Later that morning the keynote presentations kicked off with food and health expert, best-selling author, and Vice President of RePlant Capital Robyn O'Brien, who spoke about how the way we have been producing and growing food has impacted the health of the nation in both beneficial and detrimental ways. Dan Barber, Chef, best-selling author, and Co-Owner of Blue Hill and Blue Hill at Stone Barns then took to the spotlight to share his insights on how the future of food is in the flavor and quality, and how he approaches his menu as both observer and artist, ever perfecting the dimensions of his food.
“Not only is the Organic Produce Summit a great way to see innovation in organics, but the content of the programming has also been insightful to say the least. The information on food waste, especially what Sprouts is doing with their food recovery program, is motivating and sets a great example for what the rest of the industry can do to recover food and help feed the country,” Alex Berkley, Director of Sales, for Frieda’s shared with me. “Robyn O'Brien forcing us to face the facts of how important our food production is and the way we can help organic growers was intense and inspiring.”
Greg Kurkjian, Crosset Company Vice President/General Manager, also sat front-and-center on the panel What Lies Ahead for Wholesalers of Organic Produce and shared his thoughts with me.
"Today's retailers are truly welcoming fresh new organic produce ideas and not just in the form of varieties but also new packaging innovations,” he told me. “There is a great opportunity for growers and shippers to partner with retail customers to open the dialogue around what consumers are looking for, the products they are seeking, and how to go to market to benefit all parties. It is an exciting time in organics and one that is ready for evolution and change."
The keynotes were tied together with a fantastic bow when Tonya Antle moderated the Retailer Roundtable session with three of the nation’s largest and most progressive retailers: Vic Savanello of The Fresh Market, Greg Corrigan of Raley's, and Don Barnett of SunBasket. Each spoke about the impact of organic on their business models and what they see as ways to stay relevant and ahead.
Greg is all about organics and so is the leadership at Raley's. He spoke about the new 5-ONE-5 format, the brainchild of Mike Teel, and how 5-ONE-5 is a 100 percent organic produce format that allows the team to test different ideas and directions. This is just one organic move in Raleys' rooted and long-term growth plans.
"There are some years where we've grown 33 percent in one year and others where we have plateaued, but the consumer's desire for organic real estate has not changed,” Greg reflected. “The demand is going to continue to grow and, as you can see, a lot of the mainstream suppliers that never used to handle organics are now growing organics. We are going to see the supply chain improve as retailers continue to grow the business and that will be a great opportunity for the industry."
Vic added that, for The Fresh Market, everything organic is fully integrated into its produce department.
“The way I go to market and make decisions is that I actually carry organic over conventional whenever that's an option, and lately it's been an option on almost every commodity. I try to keep everything fresh by eliminating duplication when I can. So, many of the commodities that we can carry in organic, I carry strictly in organic,” he stated.
The end of the day brought attendees together in the individual spotlights of 148 organic fresh produce grower/shipper exhibitors for an afternoon of networking, relationship building, valuable conversations, and lasting vision.
This year’s OPS was not only the highlight of my July but will remain a highlight of my year! I imagine we will all brave the trials and tribulations of the trade show circuit with gems like this event promising value. Afterall, a rising tide lifts all boats, right?