Inside the 2021 Organic Produce Summit
MONTEREY, CA - 1,200-plus produce professionals gathered in Monterey, California, this week for the sold out Organic Produce Summit (OPS) and what a week it was. National and international organic purveyors made an appearance, as well as retailers from across the nation.
“We are so grateful to have been able to come together for OPS 2021 to exchange information, see friends, and bring our industry back together,” Susan Canales, President of OPS, shared with me. “Our heartfelt thanks truly goes out to the organic produce industry for their continued support of us and of what we do, showing up and making this all possible.”
For those who did not arrive early to connect over dinners and business—which many I connected with did—organic field tours in the region kicked off the 2021 event, bringing a host of industry members out to the product origin of many fresh produce items for the first time in a long while.
Opportunities like these were only a handful of the many attendees discussed as they connected at Wednesday night’s opening reception, among everyone greeting each other warmly and with excitement. For many, this was the first in-person meeting in a while, despite many phone, Zoom, or e-mail conversations.
“The Organic Produce Summit was very productive for our team. We were able to see existing customers as well new ones coming on board. In addition, the show offered a great opportunity to catch up with peers in the industry we haven’t seen in quite some time,” shared Anthony Innocenti, Co-Founder and Managing Partner of LIV Organic Produce. “Overall it was a great way to set the tone for the upcoming holiday season!”
Tackling some of the more contentious topics around the organic industry, educational sessions zeroed in on e-commence and controlled environment agriculture (CEA) yesterday morning.
Growth of CEA: What's Real and What's Hype? Part 1 brought together Philip Karp, President, Shenandoah Growers; Marc Oshima, Co-Founder, AeroFarms; and Paul Mastronardi, President and CEO of Mastronardi Produce®, moderated by Walter Robb, former CEO of Whole Foods.
“In all my years in grocery, I have not seen anything like organic,” Walter said of the industry’s continued growth as he introduced the panel, driving a conversation regarding the “reality or hype” around this aspect of the sector.
By the end of the session, all on stage were in agreement that the potential and existing success of organic is a reality, with parting words of wisdom from Philip, who emphasized keeping consumer trust is how that will remain.
“It Is our job to collectively keep that promise, otherwise then it’s a hype,” he said.
Looking into the future, Paul had an interesting idea of where organic is going.
“Organic is a term that might change over the next 10 years,” he observed, discussing how Mastronardi found consumer interest lies more with getting away from chemicals rather than any discussion or question of soil.
The conversation continued on the retail side with Walter Robb moderating Growth of CEA—What’s Real and What’s Hype Part 2, from a Retail and Consumer Perspective, interviewing Frances Dillard, Vice President of Brand and Product Marketing, Driscoll’s; Victor Savanello, Vice President of Produce and Floral, SpartanNash; and Caitlin Tierney, Senior Director of Innovation for Sprouts Farmers Market.
Simultaneously with the above, the educational session Obstacles and Opportunities for Organic Produce Post-COVID, moderated by Randy Riley, Owner of GoldenSun Insights, with Heather Fuller, Vice President of Sales at Braga Fresh; Ricardo Crisantes, Chief Commercial Officer, Wholesum; and Robby Cruz, Vice President of Produce/Floral, Target, drove insights even deeper.
Not to be forgotten were the impacts of e-commerce, discussed in What Lies Ahead for E-Commerce, moderated by Steve Junqueiro of Steve Junqueiro Associates, with Michael Schutt, Director of Produce and Floral, Raley’s; Micah Shea, Vice President of Sales, Taylor Farms; and David Bishop, Partner, Brick Meets Click.
Brimming over with information already, we made our way to the keynote while dreaming about lunch.
Journalist and author Larissa Zimberoff gave an investigative perspective on how “new food” and the tech-driven scape is disrupting the food industry, pointing out areas where plant-based foods have cornered a market that may just be ripe for the organic taking.
And according to the next speakers, a big part of that market potential lies in sharing the stories our industry holds.
Jim Donald, Chairman, Albertsons reunited with Kevin Coupe of Morning News Beat to discuss navigating a competitive, consumer-driven landscape from the organic market. Bridging virtual with in-person, Kevin hosted from the stage while Jim did a live broadcast on the screen, emphasizing the importance and lasting impression of stories as the avenue to the organic sector’s continued success.
After a great lunch with great people, the show floor opened under a giant canopy on the grounds of the Hyatt Regency, allowing for wide aisles, fresh airflow, and an atmosphere for all comfort levels.
While many of us may have felt like we were still getting our sea legs back, there was community in that feeling sealed with the knowledge that everyone was excited to have the opportunity to gather once more—one I know I certainly won’t be taking for granted any time soon!
As OPS 2021 closes, so does this article. But, if there is anything this week has proven, there is much much more story left to tell.