United Fresh Comes to Sacramento for Town Hall Meeting
SACRAMENTO, CA - The fresh produce road is a long and winding one. We’ve overcome challenges, discovered innovations, and always manage to have some fun along the way. Though that road is ever moving forward, it’s important to make pit stops every now and then. United Fresh is carving out time in its journey for all of us industry stakeholders, kicking off its All Roads Lead to San Diego Tour yesterday with a Town Hall meeting at Raley’s headquarters in Sacramento, California. I was one of many who attended and got the inside scoop of all that United Fresh is doing to pave the way for fresh produce.
Tom Stenzel, President and CEO, began the afternoon by discussing an array of pressing topics such as food safety, labor, and sustainable practices. The Town Hall then transformed into a question and answer forum in which growers, distributors, and all in attendance could present their ideas and concerns. First up, the group discussed methods of tracking product in order to develop food safety.
“We need to have and keep records of what people bought. And we’re not there. I don’t know anybody in the country who is there today at retail,” Tom began. “We’re already using the Produce Traceability Initiative (PTI), so case labels are great. We can scan cartons as they’re dropped into the store, but this is usually a big labor expense. Some of the foodservice distributors are starting to do it because of their own liability. The other thing businesses are looking at is the UPC codes and customer scan data. It would be great to know where a sick person bought their product and on what day. The FDA doesn't have the authority to ask retailers about the shopping patterns of everybody in the store. They have to get permission from the sick person, and it’s a much longer answer than we wanted. That’s one reason why it hasn’t happened yet.”
The room then turned its attention to the question of single-use plastics. How can we navigate sustainable practices while maintaining the high-quality produce we are known for? It’s a topic all in the industry are trying to digest, and Tom gladly took the lead on this conversation.
“There’s no infrastructure for recycling—every county does its own thing,” he began. “The public is very concerned, and we want to manage the use of plastics. We also have to be cognizant of why packaging has evolved to be what it is today. What we’d like to do is ensure is that the industry handles this together so that retailers aren't demanding different things. That’s one of the advantages of our association—we’re vertically-integrated, so we can discuss with everyone involved in the supply chain. We need to be consistent across our industry.”
For all of us, plant-based is a concept that continues to be at the forefront of all food industries. We, in particular, though, have a unique claim to this category as plant-based has been the name of the game all along.
“Being part of plant-based is good for us. I worked in the CPG business before this and fresh produce continues to wear the white hat. We have the healthiest food you can eat and people want fresh, organic, local products as near as possible and as far as necessary,” explained Tom. “People will eat the best quality with the best price from the best source. There is a demand for high-quality produce year-round. The industry is doing fairly well on consumption. While the total numbers don’t show overall growth, there is a huge decrease in some categories and a huge increase in others. We’re still the number one reason that people come to a store--people choose stores that offer the best produce.”
The afternoon culminated with a reminder that at the end of this produce road will be the United Fresh 2020 Convention and Expo. Overflowing with industry opportunities, Mary Alameda, Manager of Industry Relations, took a beat to describe what we can expect from this year’s show.
“We’re really excited to bring this show back out West. This is the first time that we’ve been back in southern California in seven years!” she said. “We will highlight networking, promotional, educational, business, team-building, and let-your-hair-down opportunities.”
As we all shuffled out of the impressive Raley’s conference room, the building was abuzz with friendly interactions and fresh produce discussions. Needless to say, we all left feeling a little more secure in the road we are travelling. I extend my thanks to United Fresh and all of the incredible produce purveyors who were in attendance yesterday.
United Fresh also held a concurrent event in San Francisco, California, yesterday at the San Francisco Wholesale Market where Robert Guenther, SVP of Public Policy, dicussed similar topics. The day concluded with a reception in Salinas at Tanimura & Antle. The Town Hall Tour is continuing today in California's Visalia and Santa Maria regions. On Wednesday and Thursday, the association will make additional stops and conclude the tour in San Diego, California, on Friday. These events are open for folks to join in along the way, so click here to find an event near you!
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