Consumer purchasing of healthy and ‘fresh’ products is on the rise, in fact it is one of the fastest growing segments in the grocery category. Similar to other industries, the fresh produce sector is being transformed by technology. Technology is driving efficiencies and the overall quality of the supply chain, but also the consumer experience.
I recently attended the United Fresh Conference and saw many technologies and trends that piqued my interest.
Will Collaboration Unlock the Power of Blockchain
In the age of collaboration, open source and network participation are no longer reserved for select industries. In speaking with several attendees at the conference, I was struck by the fact that fresh produce manufacturers are focusing their efforts on integrating digital and physical systems, which improves visibility and traceability, increases efficiency, provides flexibility, and lowers cost. Emerging technologies, such as the highly collaborative blockchain, are starting to show how the breakdown of barriers, and interdependency of participants can accelerate adoption across the value chain.
We all stand to benefit from this emerging trend.
Don’t Trust, Verify
Blockchain makes a supply chain more transparent at an all-new level. As the perimeter of grocery is growing 2.7x faster than the whole store, grocers are more exposed to food safety risks. I cannot help but notice the seemingly regular scares regarding pathogen outbreaks overtaking our news feeds. Retailers cannot innovate to meet consumer demands for transparency and safety without the participation of the entire supply chain, and nowhere was this more evident than on the show floor where many classrooms and speakers highlighted critical issues in food safety.
New innovations are being developed to that go beyond help to strengthen the current blockchain systems, but also deal with the food safety challenges. For example, several innovative companies were showcasing traceability using DNA tags, as well as several companies showcased “real-time” pathogen detection technology that would strengthen our current food safety systems.
Loyalty no longer exists among consumers. Instead, consumers respond the most to authenticity, both in their retail experience as well as with products. Purchasing trends are impacting supply chains as retailers desire to provide more fresh, more flavorful, more convenient and more traceable products. Grocers can no longer stand to push out products in an effort to find customers. Today grocers must first understand their customers and rapidly adapt their assortment to meet the changing consumer.
In an OMNI channel environment, it seems one thing is clear: the consumer is voting with their pocket book, and the food industry is working overtime to meet this new consumer. Consumers have the choice of how to shop for the goods and services they desire, and I would expect retailers will continue to focus on cultivating an authentic in-store experience to continue to gain loyalty.
From innovative packing systems to food loss reduction and natural resource management, new technologies are driving innovation throughout the produce supply chain for more sustainable practices. While walking the floor, I saw many promising technologies demonstrating their ability to extend shelf life and improve produce waste (the #1 food waste category).
The most notable trend: fresh produce as a snack, sent sustainability alarm bells off in my mind. The amount of packaging needed to have safe, ready-to-eat, snacks generates a HUGE amount of plastic waste. Surely, I cannot be the only one concerned about the prospect of mini, single serve plastic containers lining the fresh produce department (Produce News intro video). Fresh produce is not an area where I naturally think of mass single serve packaging. Instead of addressing concerns for potential sustainability impact, I think it’s more important to highlight the tremendous opportunity for entrepreneurs and innovators to find more sustainable options for distributing these new ‘on trend’ products.
As technology is changing, many of the fundamental concerns within the produce industry are being exposed: inefficiencies in transactions, traceability, and food safety have further eroded consumer trust, leaving tremendous opportunity within the industry for innovation. It was promising to see growers, packers, distributors, entrepreneurs, AgTech, foodservice and retailers engaging with one another as they determine how to best service you, the consumer.
The consumer can propel market adoption faster than industry alone – this link is arguably nowhere more evident in the produce industry. YOU as a consumer have an increasing amount of power to propel an industry to innovate and drive change.