US trends in produce retail
Grocery retail is becoming both more and less personal and consumers are demanding higher standards of safety and sustainability – all factors food producers need to pay attention to.
That was one of the messages from Cathy Burns, chief executive of the United States based Produce Marketing Association, who was one of the keynote speakers at the Zespri Momentum Conference at Mount Maunganui in February.
Amazon Go has cashless stores where customers scan their credit card on entering, select the products they want and walk out.“they never connect with anyone in the store. It’s a fast, quick in-and-out system which is catching hold,” she said.
However, at the same time customers are expecting retailers to personalise their shopping. As an example, Cathy said a Swedish company is developing an app which will allow consumers to scan a product on the shelves to find out if it is suitable for their diet or meets their allergy restrictions.
There is an international movement towards a more plantbased diet and consumers also want to know where their food comes from, that it is safe to eat, produced in an environmentally sustainable manner, and workers who produced it were paid and treated fairly.
In the United States organic sales broke through the $US50 billion mark in 2018 with pre-packaged salads, apples and carrots among the top 10 organic categories ranked by highest dollar sales that year.
“I don’t see a slowdown (in organic sales) based on who is buying. Millennials spend 14% more on organics and make 10% more trips to purchase organic food.”
A change to farming practises, including the use of technology and artificial intelligence will help food production become more sustainable, Cathy Burns said.
Regenerative agriculture which uses farming principles designed to mimic nature, to build healthy soils and fertile, thriving ecosystems, is receiving a lot of attention and financial investment in the United States.
“One project in Florida, inserting beneficial fungi or bacteria into the soil, has been able to produce citrus which is bigger and sweeter. By treating an acre of land this way, it is also possible to offset the carbon emissions of one passenger car for a whole year.
“A robot used in Californian lettuce and cauliflower crops uses AI vision as it goes up the rows detecting weeds, and a probe to weed out the crop, saving labour and also reducing the reliance on herbicides.”
Robots and AI (artificial intelligence) are also being used to monitor plant health, again reducing labour costs. Concerns over the declining population of bees have led to the development of a drone which can hover over a flower and pollinate it, and a new robot has been developed to carry out 3-D mapping of blackberry bushes and pollinate them too.
Another device developed to assist the human workforce is an electric wheelbarrow. “These are assigned to individual pickers, following them up and down the row. Once a crate (of produce) is ready it is placed on the wheelbarrow which takes it away for packing, almost like a conveyor system.”
International “mega trends” show that consumers have a new focus on health. “Building a better me, shedding things not good for me and being healthy is becoming a social currency. There is acceptance that what is good for me is good for the planet.trends related to a healthy me are around organics and plant-based food.”
Quick serve restaurants like Burger King are getting into plantbased diets, with burger patties made from plants instead of meat, Cathy said.
Fruit and vegetable producers “are the original plant-based diet, but someone else is telling that story.”
The industry has an obligation to tell the story of the health benefits of fruit and vegetables and a vital role to play in reversing concerning poor health trends.
Americans spent $3.65 trillion on health care in 2018. Research shows that 40% of people did not eat enough fruit and vegetables; half had an unhealthy diet and 14% of the US health budget was spent on treating diseases related to obesity.
“Six in 10 adults in the US have chronic disease and four in 10 adults have two or more chronic diseases. Based on the current trajectory, adults will live four years less. If we don’t change that trajectory, young people around the world will be the first generation not to live as long as their parents, and we cannot stand for that.
“We have part of the answer, which is to eat more fruit and vegetables.” Cathy predicted doctors would be prescribing fruit and vegetables, including kiwifruit, to improve the health of their patients and reduce health care costs.
“We have the opportunity and responsibility to change the trajectory of what’s happening with disease by encouraging healthy eating, and we have ultimately the responsibility to leave the world in a better place than when we entered.
“I can’t think of a better opportunity than now, with the wind behind our sails, to tell our stories, put stakes in ground and drive demand for fruit and vegetables around the world. If we don’t do it, who will?”
“I can’t think of a better opportunity than now, with the wind behind our sails, to tell our stories, put stakes in ground and drive demand for fruit and vegetables around the world.”