The International Fresh Produce Association (https://www.freshproduce.com/) was formed in January 2022 to “speak with a unified, authoritative voice, demonstrate its relevance to the world at large, advocate for members’ interests, and unleash a new understanding of fresh produce.” IFPA advocates, connects, and guides to enhance the prosperity of its members. IFPA membership is large and diverse and IFPA actions and resources can affect and inform growers of all types.
Dr. Max Teplitski is an OSU graduate and the Chief Science Officer of the IFPA. Dr. Chieri Kubota of HCS (https://hcs.osu.edu/) and the OSU Controlled Environment Agriculture Center (https://ohceac.osu.edu/) arranged for Dr. Teplitski to visit with OSU faculty and administration on Nov 4th. He also delivered a presentation outlining research expected to help ensure a sustainable future for the fresh produce industry. Areas of research he outlined were informed by intense evaluation of consumer groups and various trends across the U.S., Europe, and other locations.
Dr. Teplitski highlighted data and information that help explain current and emerging consumer interests. Like growers, the IFPA is interested in what is selling now and what is most likely to sell later. With that in mind, Dr. Teplitski’s summary included many important take-home messages for growers and others, but two messages will be emphasized here. First, recent analysis by IFPA and its partners revealed that consumers cited product quality, price, and nutritional value as their top three considerations when purchasing fresh fruits and vegetables. Interestingly, sustainability-related factors such as environmental impact or recyclable or reusable packaging showed up as consumer demands but not drivers of their purchases. In this analysis, consumers appeared to indicate: (a) that they assume growers and others are operating in a sustainability-driven framework, so (b) focus on other considerations, including quality, price, and nutritional value. This does not reduce the potential importance of sustainability-related factors. In fact, it may signal that consumers expect them to be an industry standard – i.e., in place before consumers begin to separate products based on their other characteristics. Growers may be helped in adjusting to this development by, for example, retailers that look to preferentially source produce from suppliers who use integrated pest management and other sustainability-oriented approaches.
A second message that stood out in Dr. Teplitski’s presentation related to: (a) the increasing consumer acceptance of novel (e.g., tasteful, colorful, pest/disease and stress resistant) varieties developed through bioengineering and gene editing and (b) technologies and systems that enhance the digitization of the industry. Growers familiar with the initial introduction of “GMO” fruits and vegetables years ago may recall their relatively weak acceptance in many markets. The pendulum has not swung entirely toward acceptance. However, use and presentation (labeling) of these genetic technologies is improving, and consumer acceptance appears to be following. This trend has the potential to benefit growers, consumers, and others. Further strategic digitization will have the same impacts. Fruit and vegetable production is a numbers-driven business throughout the value chain, from input supplies and farms to plates. Having and being able to integrate and use key weather, soil, crop, market, and other data will impact day to day and season to season practices.
Stay tuned to updates from IFPA and other member-led organizations working on behalf of their members, consumers, researchers and educators, and others.