A Look Inside the 2022 Organic Produce Summit; Jeff Cady, Michael Schutt, and More Discuss
MONTEREY, CA - Solutions lie in accelerating through the disruptions and seeing the opportunity beyond the danger. This is the knowledge I gleaned as speakers shared their wisdom with those of us who made it out to this week’s Organic Produce Summit. Folded in with the show’s signature chance to discuss innovations and strategies to strengthen the organic segment of fresh produce was a tone of acknowledging that there are significant and multiplying challenges toward our industry.
“Crisis has two definitions in Mandarin, one about danger and one about opportunity. Let’s focus on the opportunity,” GIANT Senior Vice President and Chief Omnichannel Merchandising Officer John Ruane reminded us just a couple of hours before the show floor doors were opened.
His words, which were meant to open the audience’s mind to perceived crises generated by digital demands in grocery as positive possibilities, tied in serendipitously with words I had just heard from Richard Gonzales, Vice President of Global Produce Sourcing for Walmart, in education session Organics in an Era of Inflation and Changing Consumer Behavior.
He explained that Sam Walton’s history as a pilot had heavily influenced Walmart’s cultural strategy, asking if any of us knew how to deal with turbulence while in flight: “When a plane hits turbulence, the pilot accelerates. We have to start accelerating through the turbulence,” he shared, a quote I heard repeated back several times as the Summit progressed.
A record 1,700-plus attendees descended upon the Monterey Convention Center in Monterey, California, July 13-14 for the 2022 Organic Produce Summit. The sold-out show delivered on its promise of maxed exhibitors and attendance from a range of retail banners including Albertsons, Sprouts Farmers Market, Kroger, Costco, Mother’s Markets, Raley’s, and more.
Busses departed bright and early Wednesday morning each heading to the operations of either Driscoll’s, Braga Fresh, or Earthbound Farm to bring buyers directly to the farm to see what these cutting-edge suppliers are currently developing and working on, while also having the opportunity to interact and ask questions in a hands-on environment.
“Being out in the fields, everything is about being out with the growers and making the connection,” Brent Chambers, Haggen, shared of what it means to have an event offer the opportunity to connect with suppliers. “Getting to meet with the growers to understand what they are going through helps to do my job better. I visit a lot of eastern Washington, but not often California, which is such a different experience with the amount of growing going on out here, so that is an awesome experience.”
Having such options as part of the OPS schedule provided all the incentives of hands-on interaction, not the least of which is the opportunity to see your teammate—even your boss!—get into the field and harvest a couple bunches of cilantro, as I did when joining Braga Fresh’s sneak peek.
This gave plenty to discuss at the Welcome Reception Wednesday evening as many connected and reconnected over great food, cocktails, and music. But, while OPS is known well for food and entertainment, the education is a true point of pride for its organizers.
Back-to-back windows of sessions offering three parallel conversations tackling relevant topics of today like CEA and hydroponics, posing the question of whether regenerative ag is the “new organic,” what is and is not working for sustainability through the supply chain, and more. Needless to say, attendees had a smorgasbord of access to expert insights.
Among the discussions was Private Label vs. Consumer Brand: The Competition for Shelf Space.
“We often get feedback from consumers reaching out to say, ‘Hey I got your kiss melons in Florida, now I’m in California. Where can I get them?' You won’t get that in a private label,” Josh Leichter, Chief Executive Officer of Pacific Trellis/Dulcinea, pointed out as the panel discussed brand advantages despite the savings private label can provide.
Digging into the data of inflation impacts and organic, Tom Barnes, Chief Executive Officer of Category Partners, tackled how categories, strategies, and online shopping factor into current organic trends. Spoiler alert: inflation is and will continue to impact input costs, but as this continues, Richard Gonzales had his strong words of resilience for our industry when discussing Sam Walton’s pilot-fueled business perspective.
The finale of knowledgeable insights was a collection of keynote speakers in sequence. David Katz, Founder and Chief Executive Officer of Plastic Bank followed John Ruane’s digital enlightenment to call for a shift in the thought paradigm toward plastic, stacking a well-informed deck before a panel of retail powerhouses took the stage to discuss The Future of Grocery Retailing.
“Here’s the headline: Physical stores matter, the digital evolution is going to accelerate, the customers continue to evolve with new demands, and the relationships between the suppliers and the retailers are here to resolve and meet those needs,” Walter Robb, Principal of Stonewall Robb Advisors and Senior Executive Partner at S2G Ventures, began, kicking off the discussion with Edmund LaMacchia of Whole Foods, Michael Schutt of Raley’s, and Jeff Cady of Tops Markets.
Among the four of them, inflation and margin impacts led into retail value propositions and delivery, how partnerships play into this, communication and transparency opportunities, and, of course, what buyers are seeking in terms of innovation.
Brimming with all that had taken place over the prior 24 hours, it was little wonder that the auditorium was standing-room-only before we poured out to the official expo. Thus, not only were products and packaging among show floor conversations, but education topics and panelist conversations as well.
“OPS 2022 was our largest event to date with over 1700 attendees. We had demands exceeds for this years retailer field tours and had overwhelming positive feedback regarding the quality and timely information of our educational and keynote sessions. The tradeshow floor was standing room only and we were thrilled to see the exchanges taking place between exhibitors and retailers,” Susan Canales, President for OPS, shared. “We are so appreciative and grateful for the continued support of our sponsors, exhibitors, and the retail community for making this years event so successful.”
My wheels were certainly turning as I navigated the heavily populated rooms of exhibitor rows, as well as the Innovation Showcase, and from the conversations buzzing around me I was far from the only one.
It was an event that made every minute count while time flew by, establishing itself as a continued must on the produce calendar.
Natalie J. Machado, Director of Marketing, National, FreshSource
“OPS continues to bring value year after year! It’s amazing that this event continues to grow, yet it still manages to keep that intimate personal touch! This year’s OPS kicked off the inaugural OPS Ambassador Committee, which helped facilitate the field tours, educational sessions—which provided the networking opportunity with organic manufacturers along with key retailers throughout the event. We are looking forward to continuing to bring value to OPS and being the leading Organic Show for years to come.”
Kori Tuggle, Vice President of Marketing and Product Development, Braga Fresh
“This year’s OPS felt like a homecoming for the industry with the strong retail attendance this year. The Braga team appreciates the chance to host the retail tour at the Braga home ranch. It’s an opportunity to not only share our story, and new products but showcase what’s new in organic farming. Our goal with the OPS retail tour is to show our guests a side they don’t normally see.”
Here is to accelerating through any turbulence crisis may bring, yielding the opportunity that lies beyond. No industry knows how to navigate such situations as ours, and I cannot wait to see what new solutions emerge by OPS 2023!