Jul 27, 2023
Organic Produce Summit gathers suppliers, retailers

New organic rules and regulations, the challenges facing controlled environment agriculture, and the ability to effectively connect the benefits of organic fresh produce to consumers were among the hot-button topics at the Organic Produce Summit.

With more than 1,800 attendees, the seventh annual event, July 12-13, wkwas the largest turnout ever, with organic fresh produce growers, shippers and producers meeting with more than 300 retail representatives from across North America to discuss the growth of organic fresh produce and the opportunities to bolster sales and consumption.

Kevin Coupe, left, of Morning News Beat, moderates a roundtable discussion about retail organic issues. Other roundtable participants are Abhi Ramesh, foiunder and CEO of Misfits Market; Sonya Constable, vice president of produce for Sprouts Farmers Markets; and Daniel Bell, director of produce for Grocery Outlet. Photos courtesy of Organic Produce Summit.

“Based on feedback from attendees, OPS 2023 was a tremendous success,” Susan Canales, president of OPS, said in a news release. “As our largest show yet, OPS attendees had opportunities to discuss the growth, opportunities, and challenges of the organic fresh produce industry.

“From the retailer field tours, engaging ed sessions and a sold-out trade show floor, OPS attendees celebrated the organic fresh produce industry and explored what the future of the industry may look like.”

Day one of OPS 2023 kicked off with a series of retailer field tours to Taylor Farms/Earthbound Farm, Driscoll’s and Braga Fresh production facilities, followed by a gala opening reception in the evening. The second day featured five educational sessions and a pair of keynote presentations that explored the growth and evolution of the organic produce industry.

Mark Kreiner, left, of Mother Earth Mushrooms, talks with Joseph Strumolo of Wakefern Food Corp.

The event concluded with a sold-out tradeshow floor of 170 organic producers highlighting their products to retailers and buyers.

Among the standout activities of OPS was a retailer roundtable keynote presentation featuring leadership from three of the nation’s most progressive retailers. The panel shared that educating consumers about various organic produce items and the backstory of how those items are grown and brought to market represents a tremendous opportunity for producers and retailers to grow and sell more items.

Misfit Markets CEO and founder Abhi Ramesh told audience members that as a digital operation, his company has ample space to tell the story directly to consumers on its website.

“We have a massive storytelling opportunity,” he said, urging suppliers to figure out what they want to tell consumers and get those stories on the company’s website.

In the other keynote presentation, Divert CEO and co-founder Ryan Begin Divert addressed the $408 billion food waste issue and his company’s goal to eliminate wasted food and double net profits in the retail space. According to Begin, 35% of the content in American landfills is wasted food, and those landfills can only hold 17 more years of accumulation at the current rate of disposal.

He said the questions we should be asking are “What is being wasted and why?” and “How do we close that loop?” Begin said Divert uses a “prevent, provide and power” approach to its multi-faceted business model with 5,000 retail partners.

OPS 2023 featured five educational sessions, which explored a range of topics:

OPS-Braga Tour
On the summit’s first day, retailers toured farms and facilities of growers in the area, including Braga Fresh.

“Change is Coming: Getting Fresh Produce Ready for the New Organic Enforcement Rule” — Discussed the biggest update to USDA organic regulations in more than 20 years and how growers, distributors, and retailers are preparing for the new SOE rule.

In “CEA: Where do We Grow from Here?” panelists discussed how consumers are responding to indoor-grown items as well as the current landscape of CEA growth in light of the millions of dollars poured into the segment.

“The Value of Sustainability Compliance” explored how retailers are collecting data from suppliers and how the information is used in guiding companies’ sustainability efforts.

“The Shifting Organic Assortment at Retail” featured an overview of organic sales in the past year from a pair of retailers and a discussion of the growth opportunities that exist.

“Powered by Plants” explored the benefits associated with a plant-based diet and featured athletes who changed their diet and achieved outstanding results in their performance.

Following an outside lunch in a sunny and cool Monterey, California, setting, attendees spent the afternoon on a sold-out trade show floor networking with 170 producers of organic fresh produce.

With more than 300 retail representatives in attendance, attendees raved about the connections and business opportunities made during the event.

“This show is awesome, and I can’t believe the number of retailers I’ve been able to connect with,” said first-time exhibitor Darrel Beyer of Bluebird Mountain Organics. “I connected with a retailer I’ve been trying to do business with for a long time, so it was a great day.”

Robert Backer of The Giant Co. was another first-time attendee praising the show and its format.

“I came out here early to visit with some customers and just love how the show did a great job of spreading out companies across the trade show floor. [I] look forward to returning next year.”

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