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PMA’s Burns touts 'new extraordinary' during State of the Industry address

By
Tim Linden

Produce Marketing Association President and CEO Cathy Burns opened the virtual Fresh Summit event this morning imploring the industry to forget about a “new normal” and instead bring about a “new extraordinary” as it envisions post-pandemic life.

In her annual State of the Industry address, Burns acknowledged the tremendous change that has occurred over the past six months due to COVID-19, but she asked the virtual audience, which was tuning in from all over the world, to resist the urge of remembering pre-pandemic times as the rosy past that was free of concern. She said there were many pre-pandemic challenges and indicated a preference to view the past six months as a period when the fresh produce and floral industry both shined and rose to the challenge.

While industry events were “paused and postponed,” PMA’s top executive relayed that the flow of product to the marketplace continued with two of the best weeks in retail produce history occurring in late March and early April, with increases in sales continuing to this day in mid-October. She added that on-line grocery and produce sales have taken a big leap forward, and both the products the industry sells and its work have been deemed “essential.”

She commended the industry for adapting to change, calling it the “power of the pivot,” and applauded the effort that colleagues and competitors employed to work together to overcome challenges. She said those that had adopted new technologies ahead of the pandemic were ahead of the game and called “collaboration” the “new currency.”

Business rules have fundamentally changed, Burns said, noting that those willing to embrace this transformation will emerge on the other side better for it.

“Change is what happens to us,” she said. “Transformation is what happens because of us.”

The pandemic has obviously caused much disruption, but Burns said it has also brought heightened interest in the value of fruits, vegetable and flowers and the companies that provide these products. She called the industry’s goal of increasing the consumption of our physically and mentally healthful products a worthwhile purpose and noted that “purpose-focused” companies are more relevant than ever before.

She said working for purposed-driven companies is important to employees, and these types of companies tend to outperform their competitors. “It’s an incredible competitive advantage,” she said.

Embracing the diversity movement that has gained so much momentum in the past six months, Burns spoke about PMA’s diversity goals and said much more has to be done to make sure that we “grow a healthier world for everyone, not just a few.” She praised the geographic diversity that exists in the produce industry, noting PMA members from all over the world were attending Fresh Summit but specifically singled out gender and ethnic diversity as areas that needed more attention within this business sector.

Burns also focused on some opportunities that the produce industry has in front of it.  She discussed “personalized nutrition,” a fast-growing customer segment in which fresh produce can play a vital role. Forecasters have predicted that personalized nutrition products will see a doubling of sales next year to $16 billion from $8 billion. She said fresh produce can play a larger role in that arena, noting that in the United Kingdom, doctors are actually writing prescriptions for flowers and plants as a way for consumers to improve their health.

She called on the industry to improve their collective marketing efforts to show consumers how they can use fresh fruit, vegetables and flowers to enhance their lives. “Every [produce] brand should act like a health and wellness brand,” she said.

Burns sees another opportunity in the fact that the United Nations has designated 2021 as the year of fruits and vegetables, and she said PMA is exploring collaborations with the global organization. Because of the extraordinary events of 2020, in which good health moved to top-of-mind for virtually everyone, Burns said the success for the industry “is teed up for a once-in-a-lifetime moment. Everything we do ultimately grows a healthier world.”

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October 19, 2020

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