It seemed as if the entire city of New Orleans was alive and buzzing with excitement surrounding fresh produce and the 2017 PMA Fresh Summit Convention. Airport staff, Uber drivers and karaoke lounges alike couldn’t help but notice our industry's presence in their city. A journey down Bourbon Street in the evening was filled with familiar faces and greetings from industry peers (plus lots of potholes and construction obstacles – watch out!). These observations continue to underline Fresh Summit’s substantial growth each year. Innovation, creativity and marketing excellence shined at this year’s expo and it is evident that the FRESH category is positioned for success at retail and foodservice in 2018 and beyond.
Here’s what blew us away during this year’s Fresh Summit:
The Trajectory of Fresh Produce
The highly anticipated “State of the Industry” keynote spotlighted several exciting trends for our industry and provided marketers with a great deal to ponder for the future of their brands. Cathy Burns, CEO of PMA, addressed our industry and made the powerful statement that we cannot rest on the laurels of ‘health’ as our industry’s key message alone to grab consumers’ attention. Marketers in the fresh produce industry today must find ways to create a powerful and resonating voice for their brands that can and will stand out amongst the clutter and the competition (or center of the store). Following are a few of the trends Cathy has us excited about:
Fresh Produce Consumption is Growing
During her state of the industry speech, Cathy Burns reported that fresh produce consumption is in fact increasing. According to the NPD Group, this is in part due to a 52% increase in consumption from people under the age of 40, providing a signal to the marketers in the room seeking to connect more to this younger generation of consumers. On the other side of this key statistic is the decline in consumption of fresh produce for people over the age of 40 which begs the question: What can we be doing better as brands to more effectively activate this aging demographic to regain their appreciation for and consumption of fresh produce?
Image courtesy of PMA
Automation and the Uberization of Food
The “uberization of food” is a trend forcing companies to leverage technology in new ways to meet consumers where they are. We noticed a growing number of brands mention their presence on Amazon Fresh and their involvement with meal kit companies like Blue Apron in an effort to evolve with consumer demands. As we all know, when demand increases in any given economy, so does the need for labor. We were blown away to learn about advances in robotics being tested in our industry, including humanoid robotic arms that can handle veggies without damaging them and robotic bees that pollinate crops as the worldwide bee population declines. Each one of these technological advances plays a significant role in our industry’s ability to prosper in the future.
Growth and Demand of Plant-Based Proteins
We were intrigued to learn during the state of the industry that plant-based protein is becoming equally valued to animal protein; 47% of our protein comes from plants! The presentation went on to report that consumers continue to gravitate toward plant-based diets, with 59% of consumers reporting that they eat a meatless meal at least once a week.
Algae is expected to be the next big foodie trend to emerge that supports the shift to more plant-based protein, but we also saw several other fresh items on the show floor with an alt-meat protein focus:
- Jackfruit – This protein-packed fruit is incredibly delicious and awareness around its benefits will continue to grow in 2018. Frieda’s does an excellent job of showcasing jackfruit in a fun, quirky and millennial-focused way that is bound to attract adventurous young shoppers at retail.
- Mushrooms – Monterey Mushrooms introduced their new “Let’s Blend™: Finely Diced Mushrooms” as a convenient solution to blend with a protein source like ground meat to create savory favorites such as tacos and burgers with less calories. In addition, Sonic announced its adoption of the “blended burger” featuring, you guessed it, mushrooms.
- Brami® - This exciting new product and first-time exhibitor boasts “more protein per calorie than any other plant on earth.” Lupini beans are an ancient food source known as a favorite to Roman warriors, and this brand has taken that image and created an exciting, on-trend product that can be cross-merchandized with other fresh items as a salad topping or snack.
A Bigger Presence for Hydroponic & Urban Farming
The “locally sourced” trend has been on our radar for some time, but for many areas of the country, local isn’t always possible. That reality is changing due to the growth of hydroponic and urban farms. According to the USDA, while local food sales in the U.S. grew from $5 billion to $12 billion between 2008 and 2014, local food sales are predicted to jump to $20 billion in 2019 - outpacing growth of the country’s total food & beverage sales.
While many of the exhibitors across the tradeshow floor wouldn’t consider themselves a small urban farm, the presence of technology providers for indoor vertical farming was evident. Even companies like Phillips had first-time exhibitor booth space to showcase their horticulture LED offerings for vertical farming.
The Overall Show Experience
We offer the event team at PMA a big round of applause for providing its attendees with an elevated experience at the Ernest N. Morial Convention Center in New Orleans this year! There were aspects of the overall Expo experience show that were different - in a good way - and others that we can continue to improve for attendees and exhibitors alike including:
Friday & Saturday Expo Format
For starters, the move from three days to two in 2016 was a win from the DMA Solutions team’s perspective. This year we appreciated the shift to Friday and Saturday Expo hours giving us ample time to take care of business and be home in time to prepare for the upcoming week. We heard mixed feedback from exhibitors on the show floor including:
“I loved the Friday and Saturday expo. Friday was an extremely busy day, and Saturday had somewhat increased traffic over prior years’ day two experiences.” - April Flowers, WinterSweetz
“Friday and Saturday were fine, but now that the show area and the number of exhibitors is so large, I think PMA should consider expanding the show back to 3 days. This would give attendees the time to walk the ENTIRE show floor. Or, if they are not going to expand the days, then I think PMA should consider limiting the size of the booths, as many of the other regional shows do, and like PMA Foodservice. This will make it easier for all exhibitors to get equitable attention, and make it easier to walk the show floor for attendees.” - Karen Caplan, Frieda’s
Exhibiting companies make the investment to participate in Fresh Summit primarily to gain exposure to buying audiences attending the show. With over 1,000 exhibiting companies vying for attention, booth traffic and “quality” of booth traffic is a significant measure of success for exhibitors. Here’s what a couple of our industry peers had to say about their company’s experience:
“This is the busiest Fresh Summit my company has had in the past 6 years. Our booth had steady traffic and we had many more scheduled meetings than we’ve had in the past. Part of that is indicative of how our sales team and business style is evolving but I also think our customers are expecting to talk business at Fresh Summit.” - LeighAnne Thomsen, Mission Produce
“The quality was good. We saw the majority of the customers we were hoping to see. However, the quantity of traffic was less than expected. We were busy the morning of day 1, but after that it was just a slow, somewhat steady stream of people. My thought was it was due to the length of the hall, once people got to the other end, they didn’t double back. Also, with New Orleans being such a ‘party’ city, I felt like we lost some traffic to the other activities outside of the show.” - Jennifer Dixon, Green Giant Fresh
Navigating the Show Floor
Throughout the show we heard neutral comments from attendees and exhibitors alike about the daunting size of the show and the floor itself. As dedicated attendees to this show going on 25+ years, let us just say that we noticed it too. Now that we’re home and considering it as part of the experience, we must say, it was not easy to see it all. In fact, we didn’t come close to spending the quality time on the floor we had hoped. That said, we do appreciate the growth as we believe this is a direct correlation with the growing demand of fresh fruits and vegetables that Cathy Burns highlighted in her state of the industry speech. More produce demand + New entrants into the show = Higher Demand. Here’s what our friend had to say about her experience:
“This location provided some challenges due to the long and narrow show floor which really stretched out the exhibits. I prefer the format that has two broadways and keeps everyone a little closer from one end to another.” - Cindy Jewell, California Giant Berry Farms
Tracking Devices on the Badges
Upon first glance, we wondered if PMA was up to old marketing practices using QR codes to drive traffic to a secure landing page at the show. That said, we were pleasantly surprised to hear how these little doodads were being used to inform exhibitors and sponsors about attendee behaviors on the show floor. We can’t wait to see the data generated from that experiment!
“I think PMA is utilizing innovative resources to help plan for future Fresh Summits – which could lead to enhancing the experience for all attendees.” - Rebekah McMurrain, LGS Sales
Reception Room Proximity
There may not be anything worse than a long walk across a convention center at the end of a long day at Fresh Summit. Are you with me? Ok, maybe we are exaggerating a bit but did not want this key point to go unnoticed. Thank you, PMA, for conveniently locating the end of day receptions at the convention center so closely together. Once the show was over on Friday, we were easily able to pop from one networking reception to another with ease (and with a cold cocktail).
Your Feedback Matters
On Monday morning, immediately following the show, an email entered our inboxes from Cathy Burns requesting that we take a survey to tell us about our experience at the show. As marketers, we appreciate the reason for the timeliness of this request, especially while our thoughts about the show are fresh. If you received the link from Cathy, please be sure to take 5 minutes to answer the survey. The answers to the questions help the committees responsible for making decisions that will shape Fresh Summit for years to come.
As fresh produce marketers, we attend Fresh Summit for many reasons but one is to gain a pulse on the state of marketing from an industry-wide perspective. During this year’s show it was evident that marketing is not only evolving in our space, brands are also doing what is necessary to position themselves as available and differentiated from other companies that provide similar products. Here are a few examples of marketing take-aways that we gleaned from this year’s show:
Increased Pre-Show Marketing Efforts
We were impressed by the volume of companies that used public relations, advertising, email marketing and social media to get their brand in front of buying audiences before the show started in New Orleans. From strategic announcements highlighting new products, new brands and new marketing assets, such as websites, we noticed your efforts to elevate your brand and draw in more booth traffic.
How well did pre-show marketing efforts work for:
California Giant Berry Farms - “We think we experienced increased traffic due to our pre-marketing efforts but also feel like the interaction and engagement in the booth is essential to keeping people there once they arrive.” - Cindy Jewell
Winter Sweetz - “We had a ton of traffic on day one. It was the most that we have seen in the past 5 years. In fairness, some of the increase is likely due to the strong market and limited supply; however, customers certainly knew where to find us, so I’d call it a combination of factors.” - April Flowers
Green Giant Fresh - “Good! We saw the majority of the retailers we hoped to see.” - Jennifer Dixon
Frieda’s - “We were able to set appointments with clients at our booth – which was nice. However, because the entire convention was so large, and the produce areas were split by the large Floral area, we missed seeing many clients.” - Karen Caplan
Mission Produce - “I’m not sure if our marketing efforts specifically drove traffic to our booth but I received many comments like ‘I see you guys everywhere’ and ‘Mission is always in the news’. We did a small campaign leading up to Fresh Summit to promote our best practices guide which was well received. I’m not sure people came to our booth specifically for it, but they did recognize it when we showed them. We did not publicize our VR tour of our packinghouse beforehand because we we’re not sure it was going to be awesome until the week of but it was very well received and we’ll likely build it out and promote next year.” - LeighAnne Thomsen
LGS Sales - “My team and I always coordinate with our customers months in advance to make sure we have meetings scheduled. In addition to that – with the launch of our new product Tiny Tim’s Mini Avocados, display in the fresh idea showcase, and launch of our new website we had steady traffic at our booth throughout the two show days.” - Rebekah McMurrain
We will dive deeper into the marketing efforts that we noticed leading up to the show that made an impact at Fresh Summit in our next three posts from The Core Blog. Stay tuned!
Smaller Booths With Bigger Impact
It’s easy to see the impact that big budget booths can make on a tradeshow floor, but there is something refreshing and impressive about a 10x10 booth that makes you stop and take another look. DMA’s Seattle-based design team joined us in New Orleans and found themselves drawn to smaller booths with bright and vivid colors, standout graphics and beautiful photography. For our design team, finding solutions to accommodate any size budget is key, and it was clear that brands with a smaller space on the show floor did not make less of an impact. Here are a few of our design team’s favorites:
Overall favorite small format booth: Owyhee Produce
Great use of color: Babe Farms
Great display of product: Edible Garden
Great brand aesthetic: Açaí to-Go
Elevated Booth Experiences
Booths that offered an elevated brand experience also made a strong impact on the show floor! These type of experiential booth settings enjoy an increase in foot traffic, more opportunities to speak one-on-one and gain buzz amongst attendees walking the show floor. Here are a few of our favorite examples:
- California Giant’s Blackjack Table - Playing up on the NOLA gambling scene, California Giant Berry Farms featured blackjack in their booth and the opportunity to play for the chance to win prizes. On top of this food activity, Cal Giant extended their brand across every touch point, from branded playing cards featuring fresh berries to “joker” shirts and the tagline “Always a Safe Bet,” tying their booth theme together nicely !
- The “AvoMatic” from Avocados from Mexico - We featured the AvoMatic in last year’s WBUA, but that didn’t make it any less exciting to see back in 2017! This time, the AvoMatic featured several new on-trend recipes like Avocado Toast (which apparently millennials just can’t resist!). There was also a new feature asking visitors to smile into the camera to receive their food! You had to smile big enough to satisfy this “bot,” which made for some hilarious in-booth shenanigans on the show floor.
- Duda’s Oyster Happy Hour - What is one thing people look forward to eating when they visit New Orleans? Oysters! Duda Farm Fresh Foods hosted an “Oyster Happy Hour” each afternoon on the show floor featuring freshly shucked gulf oysters and Chef Todd Fisher’s own chopped celery and radish topping. It was a delicious way to capitalize on the convention’s host city and bring excitement into the booth during the last hours of the show.
Trending: Virtual Reality in Booths
The virtual farm visit experience was a popular attraction in booths at this year’s show. Growers used trendy virtual reality goggles to elevate their story by giving booth visitors and buyers an ‘in the field’ experience as well as an up close look at packing facilities and environmentally friendly operations.
We had fun experimenting with this demonstration at the Mission Produce (as evidenced by the photo on the right) and Sunkist booths! It was eye-opening to be able to walk through Sunkist’s orange groves as their farmers were harvesting and to walk through Mission’s pack house to get a visual of their day-to-day operations without having to leave the tradeshow floor.
As far as new products go, Fresh Summit is the time and place to introduce a disruptor or two to the fresh produce marketplace. We enjoyed our time experiencing new products that are sure to win in the eyes of the consumer. Here are the products that blew us away:
Meal-Kits - This trend has gained momentum over the past few years and isn’t slowing down! The teams at SUNSET, The Little Potato Company and Fresh Blends have created products and experiences similar to that of home meal delivery services like Blue Apron and HelloFresh, providing everything you need to cook a meal in one package. These types of products speak directly to the needs of millennials and shoppers with busy lifestyles because they offer convenient preparation without sacrificing flavor.
The Potato Renaissance – Move over zoodles, because potatoes are taking a serious position in reinventing their perception amongst consumers in the marketplace. Companies like Potandon Produce introduced their new Carb Smart™ Yellow Potatoes, with consumer messaging focused around potatoes being “carbs well spent” compared to other products. Schmieding Produce also showcased its “Skinny Potatoes” in the New Product Showcase, which included 100-calorie per serving messaging. We look forward to hearing more about consumer traction around this type of product positioning and seeing more creative value-added potato products enter the marketplace as a result.
Microgreens Blends - While microgreens continue to trend in restaurants and are making their way into homes across the country, Shenandoah Growers has taken the trend to the next level with their microgreens blends. The All American, Italian, and Mexican Fiesta blends make cooking at home easier by taking the guesswork out when it comes to flavoring your dishes. We anticipate that these types of products will continue to succeed with younger generations who are looking to make creative, trendy meals, but want convenient options as well.
Fresh Summit did not disappoint the DMA team during our time in New Orleans. The truth of the matter is the old days of thinking and approaching buyers and consumers are gone. Today’s successful marketers in our space are being thoughtful, positioning themselves uniquely from their competitors and are directly addressing the needs of consumers with innovative packaging, product development and promotion of their products.
There were many successful brand, website and product launches that we learned more about while on the show floor that we’d like to take time to highlight and feature on The Core. Stay tuned for more special posts about what blew us away in New Orleans!