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2017 Tech Trends: Solving for Labor

Wednesday, 14 June 2017 | Posted in Technology by Renee Harrison

The shortage of labor has had significant impact on the produce and floral industries in recent years.

The crisis has grown to the extent that many commodity groups rate labor as the most concerning issue they face today, surpassing water availability and food safety. At the same time the industry is facing labor uncertainties, a number of new technologies are emerging that offer produce and floral growers and distributors across the global supply chain options for mechanizing or automating select operations or alternatives that permit them to work more effectively and efficiently, thereby reducing overall labor needs.2017 Tech Trends: Solving for Labor

Tools to enable precision agriculture, automated field and processing operations, artificial intelligence (AI), an array of new sensors, and increased computational capacity are fueling serious efforts to reduce reliance on manual labor and evolve the produce and floral industries to their next growth phases. Believing that we learn best from our peers, we will examine current produce and floral innovations focused on automating various tasks within the industry and discuss the opportunities and challenges they represent.

We will also explore the potential impact of AI and the gains that are being made to harness this technology that will permit machines to take on tasks that heretofore have been the province of humans. We will also describe how to evaluate your operation to identify areas where automation might make sense and how to develop a technology road map to guide your efforts. However, the effort to reduce reliance on manual labor is more than just automating operations; it can also be about simply working smarter and more efficiently.

We will look at several areas where technology is driving the development of tools that can facilitate a more efficient and productive workplace and thereby reduce labor dependence. Lastly, we will focus on the impact the adoption of new labor-related technologies will have on the remaining labor force and the expertise that will be required to operate that technology.

The current labor issues we face are real and not likely to be solved by a wave of new immigrants willing to take on the challenges of agricultural work. Therefore, the decisions we make in the next 5-10 years to evolve our industry via the adoption of new technologies and away from its dependence on heavy manual labor will be critical for its sustainability.

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PMA Research: Trends Influencing Consumers’ Menu Choices in 2017

Friday, 12 May 2017 | Posted in Industry/Consumer Trends by Renee Harrison

Produce growers and marketers are well positioned to take advantage of the growing appetite for natural, simple and flexible diets, as this preference will drive further expansion of flexitarian, vegetarian and other plant-focused formulations. Simplicity is an important component of a successful menu, and as the clean label/clean menu trend continues, more chefs are responding with a “less is more” approach to their ingredient lists. But featuring on-trend dishes infused with vibrant flavor on menu offerings is key to driving growth for your business.

2017 Restaurant Industry Outlook

Restaurant industry sales are forecasted to reach US $799 billion in 2017, a 1.7 percent gain (adjusted for inflation) over the industry’s estimated 2016 sale, according to the National Restaurant Association’s “Restaurant Industry Outlook 2017”. Significant variance among geographic regions and industry segments will affect restaurant sales performance, with quick service and fast-casual sales expected to total $233.7 billion in 2017, a 5.3 percent gain over 2016 sales volume.

Consumer Expectations

Much of this outlook is based on meeting consumer expectations. As their food-decision matrix grows increasingly complex, consumers will be even more engaged and discerning. Diners continue to become more knowledgeable about food and they expect menu options that fit their dietary preferences no matter when or where they visit restaurants. This has resulted in food trends becoming more concept-based than ingredient-based, with an evolving focus on production, sourcing and preparation. (2017 Restaurant Industry Outlook)

Local, hyper-local, natural ingredients, clean menus, and environmental sustainability are some of the top trends influencing consumers’ food choices when dining out, according to the NRA’s What’s Hot in 2017 survey of 1300 professional chefs

“Menu trends today are beginning to shift from ingredient-based items to concept-based ideas, mirroring how consumers tend to adapt their activities to their overall lifestyle philosophies”. (Hudson Riehle Senior Vice President of Research, NRA)

Global Comfort Food

A sense of uncertainty and the unpredictability of current events is leading consumers to seek products rooted in comfort - and more recognisable than revolutionary. Authentic connections to the past provide an element of trustworthiness. But trust in the familiar does not eliminate the need for revolutionary, which has chefs figuring out ways to delight consumers with twists on tradition. (Mintel, Food & Drink Trends 2017).

While global flavors continue to influence menus in 2017, chefs are paying close attention to the quality and provenance of the raw ingredients they use. They’re focusing on minimally processed food items, and serving a larger variety of natural, whole foods that are healthful and great tasting.

With regard to putting produce on menus, chefs seem to be prioritising exploration, reflecting consumers’ growing appetite for exotic flavors, as well as connections to the past, with chefs ranking heirloom fruits and vegetables as the top influence. The other influences rounding out the top four are:

  1. Unusual/uncommon herbs
  2. Hybrid fruits/vegetables
  3. Exotic fruit
  4. Dark greens

According to chef Margarita Fores, named 2016’s best female chef in Asia, a vibrant food scene means farmers and producers are more creative and adventurous as they try to grow and create new products wherever they are.” (The hottest food trends for 2017 from the hottest chefs,

Veg-Centric Goes Mainstream

The veg-centric trend will continue to influence commercial menus well into the future as 62 percent of the ACF chefs surveyed agreed that veg-centric cuisine continues to be a hot trend. And “Flavor and the Menu” magazine finds that the trend is experiencing another surge in momentum as chefs increasingly experiment with vegetables as center-of-the-plate ingredients and dining consumers enthusiastically follow their lead. Vegetable-centric cooking continues to have strong sales-building potential for operators across the country. (Flavor and the Menu March/April 2017).

The evolution of this trend is in part due to consumers’ aspirations for healthier and cleaner lifestyles and the growing adoption of more flexible approaches to eating in mainstream culture. Consumers’ aspirations for healthier and cleaner lifestyles are motivating them to prioritise fruits, vegetables, seeds, and grains in their diets – and they want to include some protein as well. For consumers, it’s less about restricting themselves and more about indulgence and flavor discovery.

This flexible approach includes eating both protein and vegetables, but just a lower proportion of protein. The careful inclusion of boldly flavored proteins in a dish provides a huge new flavor arsenal for chefs to work with, but result in dishes that are not vegetarian. The upside is that veg-centric dishes appeal to the vast majority of diners who do not adhere to a meatless diet. It is now apparent that having vegetables and meat in a dish is no longer an either/or proposition and dining consumers are proving that they will order more vegetable-based dishes in restaurants if they possess increased levels of craveability. (Flavor and the Menu, March-April 2017)

“Chefs are on an endless quest to redefine how consumers eat. By masterfully transforming the ordinary into the extraordinary, culinary professionals are at the forefront of changing the culinary landscape.” (Thomas Macrina, CEC, CCA, AAC American Culinary Federation National President) 

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PMA Research: As Consumers Opt for Healthier Lifestyles, Fresh Food is King

Friday, 12 May 2017 | Posted in Industry/Consumer Trends by Renee Harrison

What’s driving fresh purchases?

When it comes to the dinner table, everything is a competition. Restaurants, take-out, meal kit services and grocery stores are all vying for consumers’ dollars, but one dominant trend has emerged in recent years – consumers are eating out less frequently.

According to a 2017 Reuters/Ipsos survey, about 72 percent of Americans cook from home at least four nights a week. Meanwhile, 40 percent of Americans now work from home all or part of the week, so they are going out to lunch less. And many consumers are trying to eat healthier, fresher, and consume less processed foods. When you consider these factors, it should come as no surprise that fresh foods are now driving total store sales and produce is a major contributor to that growth.

Produce is second only to the meat department when it comes to total fresh sales. According to Fresh Facts on Retail:

  • Produce accounts for 33 percent of total fresh sales and $52,098 of weekly per-store dollar sales — up 3.6 percent from 2015;
  • Fruit makes up 47 percent of produce per-store weekly dollar sales, and vegetables come in at 43 percent;
  • Berries reign supreme in the fruit category, contributing $4,561 to weekly per-store dollar sales — up 7.4 percent from 2015; and
  • Packaged salads dominate for vegetables at $4,081 weekly per-store dollar sales — up 4.7% from 2015.
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PMA Research: Personalised Nutrition Now and Into the Future

Thursday, 23 March 2017 | Posted in Foodservice by Renee Harrison

The market for personalized nutrition is widespread, fragmented and here to stay, according to Personalized Nutrition – Today and into the Future, PMA’s new report by the Hartman Group, commissioned exclusively for PMA members. This overview provides insights about:

  • How consumers currently personalize their diets, including technologies they use.
  • What the future holds for personalized nutrition and how produce marketers can capitalize on this growing trend.

As they live longer and better, consumers worldwide and across all generations recognized that food is central to their overall wellness and want to make food choices that help them feel their best. They are increasingly turning to fruits and vegetables as a tactic to maintain or improve health, creating a need for dietary information connected to their own personal needs. This cultural shift to a proactive approach to wellness cuts across all demographics and traditional consumer groups and has given rise to a growing interest in personalized nutrition.

Consumers increasingly want to be the expert on their own lives and their own bodies. As they seek more customized health and wellness information, they research a variety of specific topics – food, fitness, sleep, fun – to see what “everyone” is saying, ultimately they rely on their own assessments of how they feel to make decisions about their health and wellness.

  • 64% say they are proactive about their health
  • 68% consider themselves to be knowledgeable about their health/nutrition
  • 88% say they are responsible for choosing the right foods, not manufacturers  

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PMA Research: Healthy Lifestyles Executive Summary

Thursday, 23 March 2017 | Posted in Industry/Consumer Trends by Renee Harrison

Statistics and studies continue to show that far too many consumers—youth and adults—are at weight levels considered unhealthy. While there are multiple cultural and lifestyle factors contributing to rising weight levels, consumers’ eating behaviors remain the focus of the problem—and the solution. This overview of the Hartman Group’s Healthy Lifestyles and Weight Management 2015 for executive and mid-level produce retailers and foodservice operators as well as their supply chain partners provides insights about:

  • How healthy eating behaviors intersects with consumers’ aspirations to achieve a healthy lifestyle, which includes maintaining healthy weight levels.
  • How healthy eating and its role in a healthy lifestyle creates opportunities for new products and service innovation and brand marketing.

Consumers perceive healthy living and improving their health more broadly than they do weight management. So while getting/staying healthy is a key motivator for those who are trying to manage their weight, living healthy involves more aspects of life, including managing stress, getting enough sleep, maintaining a healthy diet and exercising.

According to the Hartman Group’s recent report Weight Management & Healthy Living 2015, weight management in the 21st century is increasingly not as much about short term efforts (“dieting”) as it is about permanent dietary alterations guided by healthy lifestyle guardrails. The newer approach to weight loss through permanent dietary alterations is triggering consumer discussions about their perceptions of the undesirable nature of processed foods. This evolution threatens some very entrenched food categories whose portfolios are skewed to these kinds of foods (e.g. fast food, lollies and soft drinks). Meanwhile, the demand for fresh, less processed food is widespread and growing, whether consumers are managing their weight or looking for healthy alternatives bringing opportunities to other categories (i.e.: fruits and vegetables). 

Generally speaking

According to the Hartman report, most adults are overweight (63%) with a substantial number being obese (32%) or extremely obese by CDC standards. And although over half of adults were trying to lose weight in 2015, in general, there is greater acceptance of being overweight in today’s society and being “heavy” is now the social norm and much less stigmatized than in the past. In fact, 32 percent of research respondents said they didn’t see anything wrong with being overweight as long as person is healthy, which is up 11 points from 2010. Yet, despite the greater acceptance being overweight, there is still an emphasis on weight loss in society and 71% of those that are overweight or obese are trying to lose weight. 

People recognise that they are primarily responsible for their own weight and know that poor eating habits and lack of activity are dominant factors causing people to become obese. Yet they increasingly blame fast food, processed foods and food manufacturers as causes/contributors.

  • 76% believe people consume too many processed foods (up 5 points from 2010)
  • 52% believe food manufacturers are contributors to the problem (up 6 points from 2010)

This increasing willingness to blame processed foods and food manufacturers combined with consumers’ growing preference for fresh, less processed food signals a growing threat to companies and brands that process and package ordinary foods that consumers can make in their kitchens.

Weight Loss/Weight Management Strategies 101

Improving overall health, feeling better and having more energy are key weight-loss drivers for ad, as are improving their appearance and healthy aging. They accomplish their goals by focus on controlling quantities, eliminating types of foods, and increasing positive behaviors.

Most consumers talk about the importance of moderation when making dietary changes aimed at weight loss and point to portion control as a key weight-management tactic, but Hartman Group research found that consumers are becoming more likely to eliminate certain food categories (sweets, sugar, candy) in practice. This is because consumers find it harder to practice moderation with tempting foods and beverages than it is to just eliminate them altogether. According to the Hartman research, the consumers use the following tactics.


  • 34% watch portion sizes
  • 28% control the amount of food they consume
  • 24% watch the calories consumed


  • 25% limit the amount of junk food they consume
  • 21% eliminate or limit snacks
  • 21% minimize sugar/sweets
  • 17% eat low calorie versions of products
  • 17% eat a low carb diet
  • 16% minimize carbohydrates

Seek and Increase

  • 18% cook meals more often instead of going out to eat
  • 17% increase vegetables in their diet
  • 16% look for healthy options when eating out
  • 16% use calorie/nutritional information when deciding what to order at a restaurant

Key Takeaways

Marketers have opportunities to increase relevance among the general population as well as those who are trying to improve their overall health by providing products and/or messaging to address the different experiences and approaches of each of these segments.

Snack marketers who are weighted heavily to non-iconic brands in ordinary categories (example: sweet biscuits) featuring high levels of sugar and/or processing will find more opportunities diversifying into salty/savory snacks and/or extending upmarket to premium products. Investing in low-sugar or no sugar snacks will offer an opportunity to tap into the trend away from traditional sweet snacks.

Nutrient-dense beverages (especially those with fruit, vegetables and/or high-protein levels) are well positioned for growth moving forward and should be on the radar of produce marketers who are interested in capturing those consumers who will drift away from non-nutritious snacks and meals in pursuit of their healthy lifestyles and weight management goals.

Marketing Recommendations for Produce Marketers
  • Focus on segments with distinct motivations, challenges and experiences – and engage with consumers as partners in their weight loss and healthy living journeys – not just as commodity sellers.
  • Use digital analytics to locate consumers pursuing healthy lifestyle and provide them with targeted solutions and advice to which they will be apt to respond.
  • Produce marketers have a unique opportunity to find ultra-convenient ways to deliver their products directly to the consumer as an easy-to-integrate healthy lifestyle and weight-loss tool.
  • Provide more information on their products and how to stay healthy while cooking at home and eating out.

In this new era of healthy living and weight management, one size doesn’t fit all and food marketers have to understand each of the more refined segments with whom they need to have more relevant conversation about eating practices. Some of these segments include obese and overweight consumers and the emerging group the Hartman Group calls “Sophisticated Weight Managers”. Read the Healthy Eating & Weight Management 2015 report from the Hartman Group to gain a more in-depth understanding of the opportunities for new product and service innovations as well as brand marketing presented by consumers focused on healthy eating and weight management. 

 PMA Research: Today’s Hottest Ingredient: Technology

Thursday, 23 March 2017 | Posted in Industry/Consumer Trends by Renee Harrison
Know your consumer: Increase consumption, increase sales.
The consumer purchasing experience for fresh produce is changing rapidly, thanks to a number of technological advances that are creating customers who are more empowered than ever when they walk into the grocery store. These technological advances are helping consumers in their pursuit of quality, sustainability and accessibility. And the produce and floral industries are adapting to the latest developments in order to remain relevant to consumers.

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