In Their Words - Fresh Start: Mark Carroll
OPN Connect: Mark, you have moved from California to North Carolina with your new position at The Fresh Market. How do you see the landscape of organic fresh produce today?
Mark Carroll: From a retailer’s perspective, the growth of organic, fresh produce at the retail store has been driven by retailers of all sizes, but the most significant growth has come from larger retail chains. The sheer volume of a larger retailer has increased the demand of organics and I see this continuing to grow as the demand over the last few years has far exceeded the supply of fresh organics.
Producing fresh organics typically costs more and since the consumer is willing to pay a premium for it, growers are more willing to convert; this will help increase the supply of fresh organic produce. I see continued growth in fresh organic produce as the growers and retailers feed the demand. It’s good to note, that if retailers rely on organics as a point of differentiation and as more and more retailers get into this space and grow their organic program, many retailers will likely look towards additional ways to differentiate.
OPN Connect: What’s been the biggest transition for you in moving from Gelson’s in southern California to The Fresh Market in Greensboro, NC?
Mark Carroll: California is where so much fresh organic and conventional produce is grown and being a retailer with such close proximity, it made it easier to have fresh produce, as it is a short ride to the retailer. Being farther east now is a little more challenging, but the industry takes extra care to get great quality, fresh produce which will only help to make us a better retailer for our guests.
OPN Connect: What are some the differences and challenges you see in marketing and merchandising organics on the West Coast compared to your new position?
Mark Carroll: So much fresh, organic produce is grown on the West Coast and is easily accessible to a large population. Besides retailers, there are scores of farmer’s markets that are open year round and many of them feature growers that sell fresh organics. We had to make sure that we competed not only on organics, but with minimum delivery time so that we could have the freshest available. This model worked well to differentiate us on the West Coast and we marketed it as having the freshest available and integrated organics into the set next to the conventional produce. We also called it out when merchandising in the stores by using signage that clearly distinguished it from the conventional.
On the East Coast, we will use some of these same strategies including integrating fresh organics next to the conventional produce and clearly distinguishing it with organic signage. We will work on increasing the product turns by featuring fresh organics in our advertisements and will look towards growers and shippers closer to us to help supply fresh organics. The Fresh Market seeks out and sources the best quality produce that it can and this holds true for fresh organics. We’ll market towards the consumer looking for fresh, flavorful and delicious tasting food, and organic produce will have to meet this test as well. I believe that there are just as many consumers in the east that want fresh organic produce as there are in the west. The more accessible it is, the more we can satisfy their demand.
OPN Connect: How will the produce department change over the next 10 years? How will stores look?
Mark Carroll: It’s always hard to tell what the future will hold, as the competitive landscape changes so quickly in a short time span – just within a few years. I believe retailers will always exist and will strive to bring produce to consumers in a cost-effective manner. The discount retailer will always have their market, catering to those that want access to the cheapest product available. Online sales will continue to grow in the food business and the brick-and-mortar retailer that sells produce will only benefit if they can figure out a good way to sell good quality produce online. The store itself will have to create a reason to get the consumer to come to them rather than have them shop online or elsewhere and creating in-store experiences will help make it a shopping destination. The produce department will be perhaps the most important department in making the retailer the destination of choice.
OPN Connect: How can the organic produce industry be of better help to retailers to increase their organic sales?
Mark Carroll: More than ever, consumers want to know about their food. Is it organic? Is it genetically modified? Is it local? Where did it come from? Organic produce has clear standards. Consumers know this and they trust organics as a result. I believe the organic produce industry should ensure the integrity of organics is kept so the consumer will continue to trust that what they purchase meets the strict organic standards. Perhaps an individual company or grower could go above and beyond to assure the consumer that they have their controls in place so that buying their particular product meets, or better, exceeds the industry standards.
Another way might be for a company or grower of organic produce to grow, supply and offer the retailer fresh organic items with attributes beyond the health and wellness – organic items that not only represent healthy eating but are also great tasting. This especially holds true for fruit. From what consumers have shared with me, they prefer to see their favorite fruit that they buy for taste offered as organic at a fair price. I have heard many consumers comment that organic bananas taste much better than conventional. Whether or not there is a difference in the way the organic banana is produced and brought to the market, is secondary to the fact that there are many that have commented that they believe it to taste better and are willing to spend the premium to buy it.
OPN Connect: What are the hot organic items for 2017 -- items that you think will be possibly future trendsetters?
Mark Carroll: This is always a guessing game, but consumers want to know and trust that the products they eat are as real as they can be. They will read ingredients on labels to be certain they know what they are getting. The beauty of produce is that the consumer can see the ingredient in front of them – so ingredients aren’t necessary. Certified organic fresh produce adds an extra layer of trust so long as the organic standards are met. This will help keep all organic fresh produce at the forefront as a trendsetter in 2017.
Particular organic items that will do well will be those that eat well. Organic fruit with exceptional taste will be the hot item!
Largely unnoticed by the organic produce industry, one of the largest---and most important---efforts ever to raise funds for organic research and promotion is becoming more visible. OPN is taking a look at the USDA marketing order impacting organic fresh fruit and vegetable producers, handlers and retailers. Today is Part I of an overview of the GRO Organic Program.
What Is GRO Organic?
The Organic Trade Association, in collaboration with the GRO Organic Core Committee, has formally petitioned the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) for a research and promotion check-off program for organic products, including fresh produce, dairy, meat, grain and processed organic foods (wines, for example). Under the GRO order, growers, handlers and importers of organic products will be assessed a fee and pool these resources to conduct research and promotion activities.Read More
The Organic Produce Network (OPN) and California Certified Organic Farmers (CCOF) are teaming up to host the first-ever Organic Grower Summit (OGS) in Monterey, California on December 13 -14, 2017
The OGS will bring together the entire organic production chain as well as service and supply partners at one informative event. Organic growers, producers and handlers from fresh produce, dairy, meat and grain sectors will have the opportunity to network and learn with suppliers, service providers, packaging and technology companies, equipment manufacturers and other companies critical to their success.
“CCOF growers look forward to this rare opportunity to network with each other and with other organic sector leaders and innovators,” says CCOF CEO Cathy Calfo, “Growers are key to meeting the demand for organic products and grower-driven events like this summit are important to their success.”
Following an opening night networking reception on December 13, informative and educational sessions on core issues related to organic production start a full day of thought-provoking and inspiring presentations the next day. Keynote talks by industry leaders and a trade show floor with exhibitors from packaging, technology and related service providers crucial to organic production success will round out the day.
“There is a tremendous appetite for information and education as it relates to organic food production and we are thrilled to be partnering with the nation’s leading organic certification organization to bring together the various facets of the organic production community under one roof to exchange ideas and information that will make our industry stronger, “said Matt Seeley, cofounder of OPN.Read More
OPN Connect is pleased to introduce our first contributor, Melody Meyer, vice president of corporate social responsibility, policy and industry relations for United Natural Foods Inc. (UNFI). Melody has been in the organic food industry since 1976 and is a founding member of the Alliance of Organic Food Funders and an active member of Sustainable Agriculture and Food Systems Funders.
Follow her Blog at www.organicmattersblog.com.
Peeling Back the Label: Organic, Natural and Local
by Melody Meyer
Walking down a typical food aisle can be a daunting experience—a cacophony of seductive labels resounding from every shelf—these missives entice you to make purchases based on a feeling. Buying that product will make you feel healthier, sexier or perhaps a sense of pride that you are somehow protecting humankind and the environment. Food labels are powerful instruments that determine our purchasing habits unwittingly as we fill our baskets with hopes and emotions. With so many labels vying for our attention, it’s high time we peeled back the truth to see what’s really behind some of our most popular food labels.Read More
Do you know what the top drivers in 2016 are? How does your product rank?Read More
Organic Produce Summit Announces Retail Roundtable as Keynote Presentation
Registration is limited and attendees are encouraged to sign up as soon as possible as OPS anticipates another sold-out event.
Are "Natural Foods" Undermining Organic?
According to the Hartman Report, greater access to private label organic products and the growth of the natural market have provided consumers with options that could dilute the “purity” and the price organic foods have enjoyed in the growth phase. Hartman Group’s research since the 1990s has helped growers and retailers alike stay ahead of trends. The new syndicated research report for 2016 explores key distinctions between organic and natural and continues to document the changing landscape of the organic and natural marketplace and culture.
Produce is Being Lasered in Sweden
Yes, you read it right. Swedish chain ICA is using low-energy carbon dioxide laser to brand produce – essentially removing the pigment from the skin to mark the produce with its name, country of origin and code. The technology doesn’t pierce the skin and does not harm the product, while helping reduce waste from stickers and packaging.Read More