More than 200 produce industry members from the greater New England area gathered last week for the first ever New England Organic Produce Conference at Gillette Stadium. The daylong event featured a series of educational sessions focused exclusively on organic fresh produce and culminated in a featured keynote presentation from Shannon Allen.
“Great presentation and very informative. It was nice to focus specifically on all aspects of organics. We highly recommend a repeat performance next year!” said Mike Maguire, Director of Produce, Market Basket supermarkets.
Kicking off the educational sessions was a data dive into the growth of organic fresh produce, focusing on the bright future that lies ahead. Given its current growth trajectory, organics fresh produce sales could easily grow to 15 prevent of all fresh produce sold and result in more than $10 billion within the next few years, according to presenter Matt Lally, associate director for Nielson.
Lally noted that organic fresh produce sales in the greater New England area are near or above the national average in many products. He said an opportunity exists to significantly grow the overall organic fresh produce category by capitalizing on some key items. Specifically, Lally said kiwifruit, herbs and both blueberries and blackberries have strong growth opportunities in the region for retailers.
Lally’s presentation followed by an Organics 101 session featuring Tonya Antle, co-founder of the Organic Produce Network and Johanna Miranda of the Organic Trade Association. The pair providing an overview of what constitutes an organically grown item and discussed the rules and regulations to be followed throughout the supply chain.
"It was a power packed day with lots of great information on the trend of organics and as a retailer how important it is to stay on top of this growing segment. Shannon Allen was amazing and so inspiring with her story it brought tears to my eyes," said Jodie Reardon, produce procurement manager for Shaw’s.
Antle talked about the importance of protecting the integrity of the organic brand and the role of the brand in the eye of the consumer. Miranda also discussed some of the protocols that go into the rules and regulations of developing organic standards and opportunities for the fresh produce industry to have their voices heard.
The final educational session, was the Retailer Roundtable. Co-moderated by Matt Seeley, co-founder of the Organic Produce Network and Mark DeMichaelis, founder and owner of State Garden. The panelists included Brian Fleming, director of produce for Stop & Shop; Mark Jewell, category Manager for Produce for Hannaford Brothers, and Kevin Barry, director of Produce for Big Y. The session featured discussions on the role of organics in each of the retailers operations in both the produce department, and its impact on the rest of the store.
Each panelist noted the double digit growth of organic fresh produce this decade and how it has provided a gateway for consumers to try other organic items. Further, the organic shopper produces a larger basket for each retailer, enhancing the bottom line, the discussion found. Each of the retail panelists’ believe organic fresh produce will be between 25-30 percent of their total sales within 10 years, if not sooner.
Following lunch, conference attendees were treated to a keynote presentation from Shannon Allen, founder of grown, a USDA certified organic fast food restaurant.
“I was excited to see the great attendance from retailers and suppliers. For our first OPN event, we have built a base to build on," concluded Jewell.