Organic Leaders Discuss Future of the Sector in United Fresh LIVE! Organics Session
- by Anne Allen
UNITED STATES - Organics continue to trend upwards—a surprise to no one in the evolving world of fresh. At this year’s United Fresh LIVE!, the first-ever virtual trade show of 2020, leaders in the organic space sat down with Tonya Antle, Co-Founder and Executive Vice President of Organic Produce Network, to discuss a variety of organics topics.
Among those in the Organic General Session included Jerry Callahan, Group Vice President of Produce and Floral, Albertsons; Rich Mendonsa, Vice President of Produce and Floral Procurement, Albertsons; Rodney Braga, President, Braga Fresh Family Farms and Josies Organics; and Brian Kocher, President and CEO, Castellini Group of Companies.
As the session kicked off, the elephant in the room needed to be addressed: COVID-19. Particularly, what exactly had the pandemic done to change consumer buying trends for better or for worse.
“The organic consumer is changing over time, and organic continues to grow at a pace that is faster than what we were seeing pre-COVID,” Brian Kocher explained. “Leafy greens went crazy. Online and e-commerce delivery for organics outpaced conventional. This shows us that this event opened up consumers’ eyes to a wide range of possibilities when it comes to organic, and for the buy-side, it meant that SKU assortments were getting consolidated in favor of organic.”
Jerry Callahan added that this time period at retail reflected a back-to-basics approach.
“As consumers took less trips to the store, they were stocking up on produce basics. Some organic items like celery, collards, and kale performed better during the beginning of COVID-19. We have to ask ourselves, is that a trend that will continue? And if it is, our approach to introducing a new organic item will change during this time,” he shared.
With this in mind, Rich Mendonsa remarked on how organic suppliers can be best prepared to launch new products.
“Essentially, it’s about what you’re doing differently. What makes your product unique?” Mendonsa commented during the session as he also challenged the industry to think outside the box. “Some things that help your product stand out is a flag tie with a Universal Product Code (UPC) on it because traceability in this market is key.”
“We are constantly trying to do the best that we can, from all 1400 members within our operation. Everyone within Braga Fresh is committed to communication with our retail partners, because this ultimately makes it easier to find out exactly what your customer is looking for,” he explained.
Toward the latter part of the discussion, we turned toward how retailers like Albertsons are approaching merchandising organics and whether or not we’re going to see a future where fresh gets the most square-footage in the store.
“We are expanding footage, adding more refrigeration, updating dry tables, which gives us more space for fresh than non-fresh,” stated Callahan. “Every time we remodel, we reset our tables. Being good at fresh—it’s not easy. Fulfilling our customers’ needs is a challenge, and the online retailers have experienced that challenge. That being said, we’re excited about the future and driving more organic sales.”
As we wrapped the session, I was struck by Tonya Antle’s parting words: “Organic continues to mean good business.”
Now, ain’t that the truth?