The International Fresh Produce Association was launched Jan. 1 to bring a unified voice to the global produce industry.
“United Fresh and PMA came together,” said Cathy Burns, CEO of the IFPA. “We established a new brand, a new vision, which is to bring the global produce industry together to create a vibrant future for all.”
Over the past eight months, the association has been “clearly focused on advocating, connecting and guiding,” said Burns, adding that is what trade associations do – connect and convene. “We bring people together to address the challenges that the industry is facing with a very solutions-based approach. We want to provide solutions to the industry’s greatest challenges.”
Burns noted that IFPA is the only trade association that represents a full supply chain and the world. In terms of guiding, she said the association has been doing that all along.
“[We have] everything from the content that we’re providing on our website, the virtual town halls that we have every Wednesday at noon Eastern time, to leveraging our subject matter experts on staff – whether it’s food safety, government relations, technology, sustainability, supply chain, any one of those topics.”
As far as advocacy goes, Burns said bringing the two organizations together has allowed IFPA to double its resources and efforts on U.S. advocacy. It has added staff and is taking on issues that its members care most about, such as immigration and labor, food safety and nutrition.
“Ironically, our Washington conference – where we bring our membership to D.C. – is the exact same week as the White House Conference on Food, Health and Hunger,” she said.
“The combination of the two organizations, having the data and research to support advocacy efforts, has been a real game changer for the first eight months of the year. Our eye is clearly focused on creating member value. That’s why we exist.”
While the conversation to bring United Fresh and PMA together had been going on for decades, the creation of IFPA was met with overwhelming support, according to Burns. This support has been shown through nearly 3,000 members joining “because they see the power of our impact and ability and unified voice.”
“Trade associations exist to do things no single company can do on their own, and there are plenty of issues for us to be attacking right now on behalf of the industry,” she said.
IFPA members appreciate the opportunity to convene with other parts of the supply chain and to take a solutions-driven approach to have one voice across the country, specifically in Washington, D.C., where it is looking to impact policy and regulations.
“Ultimately, our mission is to drive our members’ prosperity,” Burns said. “That’s why we get up in the morning, is to inspire people to eat fruits and vegetables and buy flowers and drive the prosperity of our members.”
The produce industry faces many challenges, perhaps the greatest of which is that people are not eating enough produce Burns said. IFPA wants to create demand for fresh produce and promote the understanding that it improves lives.
“Our job at IFPA is to clear a pathway for more produce in people’s lives, everything from cultivating personal curiosity to advocating public policy,” she said. “We’re committed to increasing access to fresh fruits and vegetables and obviously ensuring that they are safe, nutritious and cost effective to grow and buy.”
One of IFPA’s priorities is to drive demand for fruits and vegetables and to purchase flowers, “especially as it relates to mental well-being.”
“There’s a close connection between people that surround themselves with plants and flowers and their mental well-being, and mental well-being is a particularly hot topic these days after what we’ve been through over the last 20 months,” Burns said.
She cited the “obesity epidemic” as another major issue, one exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We spend approximately $50 billion annually on diet-related diseases – type 2 diabetes, heart disease, cancer,” said Burns, adding that those three combined and others kill nearly 700,000 people each year.
“While there are multiple policy levers required to reverse our obesity epidemic and solve nutrition insecurity, there are two policy areas in which Congress and the administration can make very important progress on right now – that’s driving fruit and vegetable consumption through the upcoming White House Conference on Food Nutrition and Hunger and the reauthorization of the Child Nutrition law,” Burns said.
The Child Nutrition Act regulates school lunch and breakfast programs, along with the WIC program, and has not been updated since about 2010, according to Burns.
IFPA also is focused on the Farm Bill, which expires in 2023. Burns said it is working with the specialty crop industry to create a common set of priorities to give Congress as it prepares to reauthorize the legislation. Other major concerns are food safety, which “knows no borders and no boundaries,” along with immigration and labor.
“We need a reliable workforce to be able to produce the products that end up on Americans’ plates,” she said. IFPA is advocating for modernization of the guest worker program.
State of the industry
Burns will be delivering the State of the Industry address, which she said will be “a fast-paced conversation,” at the upcoming Global Produce and Floral Show.
“I’ll be touching on emerging trends and innovations, consumer trends, advocacy issues that are important to our industry and as a collective, unified voice, the progress that we’re making in terms of moving them forward,” she said. “I’ll also be highlighting innovations that should be on our radar for the immediate future and the not so immediate future.”
This will include matters that can be executed today but also what could be “coming down the pike,” such as supply chain, sustainability, technology and floral, Burns said. The address will look at IFPA’s strategic areas of focus but also “making sure that we have an eye on innovation and what will be needed and required to take us into the future and continuing to challenge all of us to push the envelope on how we can inspire people to eat more fruits and vegetables and buy more flowers.”
For more information, visit freshproduce.com.
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