More than 200 produce industry members from the greater New England area gathered last week for the first ever New England Organic Produce Conference at Gillette Stadium. The daylong event featured a series of educational sessions focused exclusively on organic fresh produce and culminated in a featured a keynote presentation from organic restaurateur Shannon Allen.
Shannon Allen, grown
The event was a collaborative effort from the New England Produce Council and the Organic Produce Network, designed to provide an in-depth look at the growth of organic fresh produce and exploring the opportunities that exist for greater sales in the future.
“Great presentations and very informative. It was nice to focus specifically on all aspects of organics. We highly recommend a repeat performance next year!!” said Mike Maguire, director of produce, for Market Basket Supermarkets.
Kicking off the educational sessions was a data dive into the growth of organic fresh produce----and the bright future that lies ahead. Given its current growth trajectory, organics fresh produce sales could easily grow to 15 prevent of all fresh produce sold---and result in more than $10 billion, within the next years according to presenter Matt Lally, associate director for Nielson, one of the world’s largest consumer data and research firms.
Matt Lally, Nielson
Lally noted that organic fresh produce sales in the greater New England area are near or above the national category in many products. He said an opportunity exists to significantly grow the overall organic fresh produce category by capitalizing on some key items. Specifically, Lally said kiwifruit, herbs and both blueberries and blackberries have strong growth opportunities in the region for retailers.
Lally’s presentation followed by an Organics 101 session featuring Tonya Antle, co-founder of the Organic Produce Network, and Johanna Miranda of the Organic Trade Association. The pair provided an overview of what constitutes an organically grown item and discussed the rules and regulations to be followed throughout the supply chain.
Shannon Allen with OPN and NEPC Board Members
Antle talked about the importance of protecting the integrity of the organic brand and the role of the brand in the eye of the consumer. Miranda also discussed some the protocols that go into the rules and regulations of developing organic standards-----and opportunities for the fresh produce industry to have their voices heard.
The final educational session was the Retailer Roundtable. Co-moderated by Matt Seeley, co-founder of the Organic Produce Network, and Mark DeMichaelis, founder and owner of State Garden. The panelists included Brian Fleming, director of produce for Stop & Shop; Mark Jewell, category Manager for Produce, for Hannaford Brothers and Kevin Barry, director of Produce for Big Y. The session featured engaging discussions on the role of organics in each of the retailer’s operations---in both the produce department, and its impact on the rest of the store.
Brian Fleming, Stop & Shop; Mark Jewell, Hannaford Brother; Kevin Barry, Big Y
Each panelist noted the double-digit growth of organic fresh produce this decade and how it has provided a gateway for consumers to try other organic items. Further, the organic shopper produces a larger basket for each retailer, enhancing the bottom line. Each of the retail panelists believes organic fresh produce will be between 25-30 percent of their total sales within 10 years, if not sooner.
“I was excited to see the great attendance from retailers and suppliers. For our first OPN event, we have built a base to build on, “said Jewell.
Gary Arsenault (Market Basket) and Chayla Balko (Apeel Sciences)
Following lunch, conference attendees were treated to a keynote presentation from Shannon Allen, founder of grown, a 100 percent USDA certified organic fast food restaurant.
“It was a power packed day with lots of great information on the trend of organics and as a retailer how important it is to stay on top of this growing segment. Shannon Allen was amazing and so inspiring with her story it brought tears to my eyes, “said Jodie Reardon, produce procurement manager for Shaw’s.