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PMA Chief: ‘Now Is the Time to Grow Together’

Bryan Silbermann

Produce group updates logo, bolsters programs toward that goal

by Lorrie Griffith/editor

Growing the consumption of produce across the world is the ultimate goal for the Produce Marketing Association (PMA), and “now is the time to grow together,” Bryan Silbermann, the group’s president and CEO, told members of the produce industry gathered at the association’s 2011 Fresh Summit in Atlanta in October.

PMA is not just telling the industry it’s time to grow; the association has developed new tools for its members to use to reach that goal.

While many have defined PMA in terms of its annual gathering, which has been bringing buyers and sellers of produce and related items together for more than 60 years, members need more from the association on a daily basis, Silbermann said.

“Recently…you told us that your business needs and expectations of us are changing,” he said. “You need more, we all need more today. Now more than ever, keeping pace with a changing market and evolving consumers requires a new platform, one that not only creates connections but also delivers information and solutions to your business problems. So PMA has been working with you to identify the challenges and opportunities inherent in the key trends and the critical issues that have changed every single link across the supply chain forever. And while we will always retain the core values that got us here—and those values are character, community and courage—we must also replace traditional practices when we discover they no longer meet consumer needs, when they put us, in fact, in danger of being left behind, or, at worst, when those practices do us harm.”

New PMA logoFresh Summit 2011 marked the unveiling of PMA’s new branding, which includes a new logo that features the group’s acronym and the words “let’s grow.”

PMA had used its previous logo for the past 25 years.

When the group began to think about new branding, “we enlisted some of the smartest marketing minds in our membership…drawn from around the world, under the tremendous leadership of Jan De Lyser (VP of marketing for the California Avocado Commission). We embarked on the journey to create a new brand positioning and design to help us better communicate the full range of services we offer our membership.

“It was time to grow,” Silbermann continued. “We see the new brand as a natural evolution of the innovative strategic plan we put into place in 2008, created by our members and for our members. And here is what those members said they see in this new PMA: the rich brown of the letters signify the earth that sustains us and is a reminder that we are its caretakers for the next generation. The different colors of the leaves remind us that growth is a continuous process, and Billy (Dean, the country singer who performed his song “Earning Our Place on Earth”) talked about ‘making it healthy and fresh for you.’ Think of this as a renewal of PMA’s commitment to keep our connections strong, to anticipate your needs and develop the value to help you grow.”

The group also launched a new “connection” tool during Fresh Summit, PMA Xchange.

“PMA’s brand is based on real-world connections between buyers and sellers, but we are extending that now also to the virtual world with the introduction of PMA Xchange, a new social network that helps you connect with the ideas and insights from members all over the world,” Silbermann said. “It’s where contacts become connections and connections become a community, a community of new ideas. Working alongside our members, we are working hard to create new services and programs to meet your needs.”

Increasing produce consumption hinges on several factors

“We have no greater priority than growing consumption because no matter where you are on the supply chain, you prosper if we achieve that goal,” Silbermann pointed out.

“We have learned from experience, though, that there is no magic formula. Increasing awareness is a good first step, but changing behavior is very hard. And the flat numbers for consumption over the past 20 years have certainly driven that point home.”

While some produce categories have flourished, others have declined, and Silbermann believes the root cause of decline is “the flavor in some of our products. I’ve said it before, I’ll say it again: That is one of the key issues we need to drive for demand in stores, for demand in restaurants: Great-tasting products.”

Also taking the wind of out produce sales are food-borne illnesses linked to produce.

A “crisis of consumer confidence (is) created when the fruits we make ‘healthy and fresh for you’ cause 23 deaths, linked to one farm, one crop, one packing house,” Silbermann said, referring to the recent listeria outbreak linked to cantaloupes from a Colorado facility. “We are only as strong as our weakest link.”

He also reminded the group not to buy into, or perpetuate, “the myths that we have allowed to flourish about produce being more expensive than other foods.” He referenced PMA research that has shown that to be false.

Furthermore, “Let’s not believe our own preconceived notion about fresh foods appealing to only the affluent and educated consumers. It’s ain’t necessarily so,” he said. “Many of us in this industry have written off inner-city folks as wanting nothing except fried foods. But I’ve seen firsthand how innovative retailers like Jeff Brown at ShopRite in Philadelphia are bringing more fresh foods to so-called food deserts and how his customers are buying large amounts of fresh fruits and vegetables.”

There are many solutions to getting produce to underserved areas, in fact. Silbermann showed slides of some unique ideas: a convenience store set up inside a recycled shipping container in a parking lot; a school bus that has been converted into a movable fresh foods store that travels around inner-city neighborhoods; a greenhouse on a warehouse rooftop in a major city that grows high-value vegetables.

“And you want to talk about bringing the farm right to the supermarket? Grow the veggies on the roof. Far-fetched a couple of years ago, as of this week to become a reality,” Silbermann said.

Marketers and retailers must “listen to the needs of their consumers and engage them in defining what the offering is for those demographic groups.”

Food trucks have emerged over the past couple of years as one of the hottest trends in food away from home, and “new opportunities are being created every day across the supply chain. Are you waiting for them to find you? It’s time to reach out, to explore, and there is no better place to start than with the consumer,” he said.

‘The stars are lining up’ for growth

“Despite constant challenges that come from being so dependent on Mother Nature and constant changes in consumer trends, the stars are lining up,” Silbermann said. “We have arrived at the intersection of Main Street, Wall Street and Pennsylvania Avenue—that sweet spot in the middle where consumer demand, profitability and public policy have all converged.

“In country after country around the world, healthy diets that include fruits and vegetables are being promoted at the highest levels of government and in public and private partnerships,” he noted. “Inspiration comes from consumers connecting with more natural, fresher, less processed foods. It comes from USDA’s new MyPlate message and graphic. It comes from the World Health Organization’s global strategy on diet, physical activity and health, and surely inspiration comes from the tens of millions of online game players for whom Farmville is a favorite way to build better connections between a family farm and a family table.”

He credited First Lady Michelle Obama with getting the movement started with her “Let’s Move” campaign and the creation of the Partnership for a Healthier America.

“I was honored to be with Mrs. Obama at the White House for the recent announcement that she called ‘a really big deal,’ a game-changer for our kids and our communities all across this country to make the healthy choice the easy choice,” Silbermann said.

On stage with Mrs. Obama were executives from grocery companies who have signed commitments to bring fresh, healthy foods to urban areas determined to be “food deserts.”

Silbermann does believe there are some challenges ahead for the industry, in the form of the “new generation of consumers joining the marketplace.

“There is a major revolution happening all around us, and it’s going to impact our ability to connect with consumers. Not only to meet their demands for our products but also to hire them as the future leaders of our companies.”

Coming next month: Silbermann’s take on the new generation of consumers and workers—the “digital natives”—and more advice for the industry on increasing consumption.

After the past two years of uncertainty and changed plans due to the COVID-19 pandemic, we all hoped that 2022 might bring back a sense of normalcy.

However, with government and independent data confirming 40 years of inflation highs and Wall Street entering a bear market, grocers now have new challenges to face.

In this webinar, we will hear from Todd Taylor of Neighborhood Fresh and Darlene Murphy of Metcalfe’s Market about why shopper loyalty is so important in this time of inflation.

Register Now To Attend

CPG + Grocery Retailers’ Rapid Response to Shifting Consumer Behavior Is Impressive and Ongoing

At every twist and turn, brands and retailers have responded to crisis and disruption with innovation, ingenuity, and reinvention. Until the next big thing pops up, many of the changes to the way consumers now shop for groceries and purchase CPG retail items expect to remain. Despite their nimbleness over the last two-plus years, brands and retailers must continue to improve to meet evolving expectations and demands of consumers.

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