Nick Bertram, Jonathan Steffy, Greg Kurkjian, and Whit Grebitus Discuss CEA Leafy Greens at United Fresh LIVE!
UNITED STATES - One of the first-ever Controlled Environment Agriculture (CEA) Leafy Greens Pavilions, hosted by the CEA Food Safety Coalition, graced the virtual stage this past June as United Fresh LIVE! took over the screens of many and gained the interest of even more. Amongst the pavilions’ many digital resources and lively panels was one hosted by our very own Whit Grebitus, Vice President of Sales, who moderated the conversation with industry leaders Nick Bertram, President and CEO of The GIANT Company; Greg Kurkjian, Executive Vice President of Sales, Marketing, and Procurement for The Castellini Group of Companies; and Jonathan Steffy, Vice President and General Manager of Four Seasons Produce.
“Topics during the United Fresh LIVE! CEA panel converged around the multi-faceted value that retailers and supply chain partners get from developing a robust relationship with CEA leafy greens producers as they prove to be rich with benefits—especially in today’s shifting universe of supply chain needs and consumer buying behaviors,” Whit shared with me while reflecting on the event.
With such enormous value, panelists discussed why each company chose to work with CEA growers and what motivated their decision, including Greg, who shared on behalf of The Castellini Group of Companies.
“We are reacting to our customers, which serve the consumer. Our customers really insist upon their distributor partner/wholesale partner keeping a finger on the pulse of the business, and innovation is really probably the first thing that drew us to CEA,” Greg expressed. “Our customers always want us to bring them the best of innovation and produce. The other thing that they insist upon when you talk about the consumer is quality. And it's hard to argue that CEA products—leafy greens—don't bring both of those in a very large way.”
Greg also added that the other big factor that drives Castellini’s business is local demand, and CEA plays right into that need. Much of Castellini’s business on both the conventional and organic side are driven by local suppliers. And to the benefit of the Cincinnati, Ohio-based company, there's already approximately four or five different CEA operations within 100 miles of its location.
Jonathan then took to the Zoom platform utilized by United Fresh LIVE! and shared his insights around Four Seasons’ customers, noting that consumers are really looking to connect with local as well. When there's a CEA leafy green option that identifies with a given area that customers feel is close to them—that's definitely a high value proposition for the relationship, he reflected.
“As a wholesale distributor serving independent retailers, natural food stores, food co-ops in the Mid-Atlantic and Northeast, we have to be there...and aggregate demand for them and, so, when we can be a final-mile provider for a CEA producer and provide the critical mass coming to our facility—then back out into smaller quantities with a frequency of delivery to these independent retailers and natural food sources—that's what can create the win for us,” Jonathan reflected.
Whit looked to Nick to speak as a key retail player tapping the CEA space, noting that retail powerhouse The GIANT Company has been a leader in sourcing local produce and making it a priority for consumers.
When asked how CEA leafy greens fit into this local strategy and how those benefits help GIANT differentiate itself from competitors, Nick pulled back the curtain.
“I think local, and actually claiming local, do offer differentiation—if it's real and if it's true,” Nick expressed with a smile. “That's why I think you need to have transparency on the spot where [leafy greens] are actually grown. When I think of CEA...there's a lot of different players that I could talk about, but it's hard not to talk about leafy greens and BrightFarms, who we've worked with since 2016 out of Culpeper, Virginia...That relationship really yielded, I think, a lot more credibility to our consumer, but also knowledge for our category teams and our buyers, and it became a fruitful relationship.”
And all this took place in just the first five minutes of the CEA panel conversation! You do not have to imagine the amazing insights that followed—just check out the video and bend the ear of some of our industry greats.
Sending virtual handshakes and hellos to all of our friends, and we will see you at the next show!