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Cathy Burns' State of the Industry

“Don’t wait for the new normal, let’s create a new extraordinary”

On Tuesday October 13th, the very first virtual edition of the PMA Fresh Summit kicked off. While the setting and circumstances surrounding this year’s Fresh Summit are different from what any of us expected, the show started off as it usually does: with the State of the Industry, delivered by PMA CEO Cathy Burns. In this year’s State of the Industry, Burns shared the trends that were prevalent prior to and during the pandemic, reflected on the community’s response and identified where the fresh produce and floral industries have opportunities to continue to grow the Joy of Fresh among consumers.

A new extraordinary 
“I sure do miss being with you in person, but not even a global pandemic will keep us from getting together, even if it is virtually,” Burns starts off her address. “While this year’s Fresh Summit will be different, it will not disappoint,” she promises. The core theme of this year’s State of the Industry was laid out in a few choice words: “Change is something that happens to us, but transformation is something that happens because of us.” Burns explains: “That’s what the next three days are really about. Whatever is weighing us down as individuals is truly light waiting to break through and shine on our community. Many are working to survive, much less thrive, but thrive we will, I know it. I have no desire to go back to normal; all this talk of a new normal is just a way of settling for whatever may come. I am far more interested in a new extraordinary, one that we make together.” 

A new extraordinary, rather than a new normal, is what we should strive for, Burns says. The pandemic has brought forth challenges and changes that most of us could not have imagined a year ago, but working with these and improving our businesses, our supply chains, and our industry, will help shape a stronger community. “Among the turmoil of the pandemic, a remarkable thing happened: the phrase ‘essential’ emerged. More importantly, our products were recognized and celebrated as essential and the world had a newfound and long overdue appreciation for those involved in our food system. No matter where you are in the supply chain, we are in this together, and I am incredibly humbled and grateful for every member who has collaborated with us to help lift up our community. You are our heroes,” Burns says. 

The importance of purpose
As companies deal with pivoting their strategies on a daily basis in response to the world’s events, there is one thing above all others that will help drive people forward, Burns shares. “Purpose. I believe that purpose carries so much more weight and intention today than it did 7 months ago. It brings people together and embeds meaning into every aspect of your daily work. Throughout the upheaval of the pandemic, purpose can help provide a sense of belonging and security; it is a powerful tool to align your people and your resources to shape strategic outcomes. Our industry’s purpose of feeding the world and providing joy to consumers all over the globe is an incredible competitive advantage.”

In addition to utilizing purpose to continue growth and innovation in the industry, Burns also urged the audience to embed a diversity lens to their daily operations so that the purpose of growing a healthier world can reach everyone, rather than only a few. “For the produce industry, there is already great generational diversity, which is the nature of our industry, but I believe much more can and should be done to promote diversity and inclusion. That is why PMA and the Center for Growing Talent have formed a Diversity and Inclusion Taskforce to create better opportunities for people of color to enter, advance and do business within the industry. While this work is underway, we are committed to helping the community more fully understand the power in its purpose and its people,” Burns says. 

Re-emergence of the centrality of health and well-being
A well-reported result of the pandemic has been an increased consumption of produce by consumers who are looking to build healthier lives and sturdier immune systems through the food that they consume. “We have seen a more deliberate and intentional movement among consumers as it relates to mindfulness and purpose, which extends to the food they eat,” Burns says. “We must help consumers continue to celebrate the Joy of Fresh, and we can do this by establishing personal connections. If there is one positive for our industry throughout all this, it is the renewed and strengthened focus on personal wellbeing. In the US alone, a quarter of people are actively managing medical conditions through healthful food choices. Consumers are seeking us out. But are they finding us? We must win over their hearts and focus on what is possible, otherwise our future will only be an extension of our past.” 

We have reached the final quarter of 2020, and a new year is almost within reach. “Moving forward, we need to focus on what our reason and purpose requires of us now,” Burns says. “We must fully embrace this moment, this focus on a re-engineered food supply chain, a focus on the essential people and products that help our customers lead full and vibrant lives. I believe we are in this industry, and that everything we do is to support the goal of growing a healthier world. We cannot rewrite the events of the past year, but we are here together. While some of us may be competitors, we are a community. Transformation is something that happens because of us. And because of us, the world survives, and the world finds joy. So, don’t dwell on what used to be normal, and don’t wait for the new normal. Join us, along with every other PMA member, to create the new extraordinary,” Burns powerfully concludes, leaving the audience inspired and ready to make the most of this year’s virtual PMA Fresh Summit and build connections that will strengthen our purpose and our industry. 

PMA Fresh Summit will run through Thursday, October 15th. To register to attend the event, click here.