With sustainability on the brain, industry leaders are building a network of earth-focused advocates to lead the charge. Sponsors of the California Central Coast Sustainability Exchange are some of such leaders, aiming to educate others through an epic event...
Sustainability has had a dynamic connotation over the years—sometimes off-putting, sometimes engaging, and sometimes it might as well come from a foreign tongue for many who look intently at their bottom line. But, as Nikki Rodoni has shown us this year, sustainability is not just good for the environment, it is good for business. At the recent two-day California Central Coast Sustainability Exchange (CCCSE), the industry turned its attention to the challenge of sustainability supply chain-wide and was shown how several leading organizations are making a difference.
“Our goal with the California Central Coast Sustainability Exchange was to create a venue for members of the supply chain to discuss the future of sustainability within the produce industry, see what successful sustainability programs look like firsthand, and to network with like-minded individuals,” said Nikki, Founder of Measure to Improve and facilitator of CCCSE. “This was not only an opportunity to learn more about sustainability, but one where attendees could build partnerships along the supply chain.”
This past October, Nikki and the CCCSE sponsors brought industry leaders together in sunny Southern California to discuss, learn about, and make plans for tackling sustainability challenges. The event took place over the course of two days from Tuesday, October 15 to Wednesday, October 16, and had some impressive numbers to bolster. During the two-day event, CCCSE hosted three agricultural tours, four sustainability video showings, and five insightful panelist discussions. 72 guests were in attendance on day one, followed by 27 guests on day two—13 of whom were industry buyers. In case you questioned whether this was a party, a whopping 60 bottles of wine were consumed, adding to the 85 percent of materials that were reduced, reused, or recycled at the event.
CCCSE kicked off at the Limoneira Ranch in Santa Paula, California. Limoneira Senior Vice President and Chief Operating Officer Alex Teague welcomed event attendees on Tuesday, October 15, encouraging everyone to network, learn, and enjoy the event in his opening remarks. Later that evening, the company provided a Sustainability Tour that would make even the most festive pumpkin patch jealous. Attendees climbed aboard a hay-furnished trailer and moseyed through Limoneira’s lemon and Calavo’s avocado orchards while listening to the history of their many sustainability initiatives, including a solar panel field, Tesla battery installations, a natural wastewater treatment facility, and compost applications.
"Whether you are just beginning your sustainability journey, already leading the way, or somewhere in between, there is always room to learn, grow, and improve our efforts and strive for a more sustainable future.”
- Nikki Rodoni, Founder, Measure to Improve
Aside from the aesthetically-pleasing produce that decorated the scene, CCCSE offered up specialty cocktails and appetizers featuring fruit and veggie offerings from grower sponsors Limoneira, Calavo Growers, San Miguel Produce, and Duda Farm Fresh Foods. As attendees trickled into the Ranch, an interactive graphic artist was hard at work depicting their perceptions of sustainability. While the night carried on, the artist remained with pen at the ready as the CCCSE panel and pop-up speakers mapped out the road to sustainability.
After much inspiring, dynamic, and engaging conversation, all returned to the dinner table for more local produce, because what are we if not enthusiastic eaters? Following dinner, attendees laid witness to a showcase of videos demonstrating sustainability in action.
Calavo’s video demonstrated packaging innovations, which have reduced the use of virgin plastics and cardboard while being able to increase the number of avocados shipped per pallet. Duda honed in on traditional farming practices, highlighting crop rotation and nutrient input analysis, both of which tied into its Stewardship Index for Specialty Crops (SISC) metrics pilot, aimed to quantify and validate its soil health practices. Limoneira’s video illustrated its on-site water efficiency projects with a low-carbon, natural wastewater treatment operation that treats over 30 million gallons annually, along with a 20 percent decrease in water usage, thanks to on-site compost initiatives. A new processing facility was the star of San Miguel’s sustainability video. The company utilizes a multitude of energy-efficient installations, including LED lighting, high-efficiency condensers, variable frequency drives, and wastewater cooling to save over 130,000 kWh per year.
The evening culminated with the CCCSE’s panel discussion about the road to sustainability supply chain-wide. The Produce Moms Founder and CEO, Lori Taylor, moderated the panel along with President of Atomic Brand Lab, Michael Hammer. Panelists included Ed Treacy, PMA’s Vice President of Supply Chain and Sustainability; Mimmo Franzone, Longo Brothers Fruit Markets’ Director of Produce and Floral; Alex Teague of Limoneira; Chris White, Fruitnet Media’s Managing Director; and Tom Stenzel, United Fresh Produce Association’s President and CEO. The panel focused on what sustainability means to these organizations, where the industry needs innovation for sustainability, and which sustainability issues will require a supply chain-wide collaboration. Following the panel, pop-up speakers Dana Gunders of Next Course, Jim Knutzon of SCS Global Services, Bob Daviduk of rPlanet Earth, and Chuck Bates of Netafim, each discussed their sustainable solutions to industry challenges.
"There are many ways to approach sustainability; it’s not a one size fits all."
- Nikki Rodoni
The morning of day two brought attendees to San Miguel Produce’s new processing facility in Oxnard, California. The company offered a tour of the recently-purchased and remodeled facility, hitting on its new energy-efficient additions along with a variety of produce offerings. Afterward, attendees trekked over to Duda Farm Fresh Foods’ headquarters for a tour hosted by Vice President Dean Diefenthaler. The tour highlighted the variety in Ventura County’s farming operations, as well as the company’s celery growing and healthy soil initiatives. Duda’s Farm Manager, Emilio Quezada, also popped in, sharing a deeper dive on the company’s work with SISC metrics and its efforts to quantify and validate sustainability practices.
“The CCCSE was striving to be a Zero Waste event, which means that we reduced, reused, and recycled as many items as possible,” explained Nikki. “We were successful in keeping nearly 85 percent of materials from the landfill. While we were targeting a 90 percent diversion rate, we are proud to share our progress and use it as a reminder that sustainability is a journey. Whether you are just beginning your sustainability journey, already leading the way, or somewhere in between, there is always room to learn, grow, and improve our efforts and strive for a more sustainable future.”
The objective of the two fun-filled days of industry seminars and networking was, in fact, meant to uncover more about the state of sustainability in the produce supply chain.
“Attendees’ key takeaway from the event was an understanding of how timely the subject matter is and how it pertains to today’s consumer and grower,” added Nikki. “There are many ways to approach sustainability; it’s not a one size fits all. We tried to demonstrate that when sustainability programs are tied to the overall business objectives, companies will find success, deliver efficiency and cost-savings, and sustainability can become a key differentiator.”
The produce industry holds a particularly monumental responsibility to implement more sustainable practices that benefit the planet as well as products and companies. It’s not just about selling fruits and veggies anymore—it’s about using our influence for the betterment of the world. The Sustainability Exchange provided Central California companies with an opportunity to collaborate on plans for a more sustainable future across the supply chain, and we’ll be right there with them every step of the way.
To gauge the success of the CCCSE, we asked some attendees for feedback on their experience...
Julie Olivarria, Vice President of Produce, Sysco
“As a first-time attendee, I was impressed by such a great lineup of events and content. The CCCSE offered a broad range of information for everyone in attendance, from someone just beginning to learn about sustainability to those who have been passionately involved from the very beginning.”
Brian Burchak, Produce Sourcing and Category Manager-West Region, US Foods
“It was great to see grower/shippers developing and embracing the ideas of sustainability, which is an important platform for US Foods and our customers.”
Adan Tellez, Buyer, 99 Cents Only Stores
“The CCCSE was awesome! It was really cool to see what different sectors of the industry are doing to improve their sustainability practices. Sustainability is becoming a huge issue not just in produce, but also the world. It made me happy to see that every area in the supply chain is doing their part to improve their sustainability measures. The sustainability exchange was a great event to network with other companies focused on sustainability that I otherwise would not have met. Overall, the event was a slam dunk. Dinner was delicious, the venue was beautiful, the content was insightful, and everyone involved was awesome. I am very grateful for the opportunity to attend.”
Nicole Hulstein, Fruit Category Manager, Food Lion
“The CCCSE was an incredibly well-thought-out and put-together event. The local flair dinner was an extraordinary touch complemented by the panelists and the conversation around sustainability measures. One of the things that struck me most was how broad the term ‘sustainable’ is and how it can be applied in so many different ways. It was very clear that the industry is interested, engaged, and passionate about continuing the improvement of the supply chain in sustainable directions.”
Mark Shaw, Vice President of Operations, Markon
“Sustainability has been a guiding force in Markon’s business decision making—including who we partner with—for the last 10 years. Consumers are increasingly making purchasing decisions based on sustainable/recyclable/compostable packaging, as well as whether farmers and/or processors are utilizing more energy-efficient practices that minimize their carbon footprint. Attending CCCSE was a breath of fresh air. Listening to the sustainable changes that Calavo, Duda, Limoneira, San Miguel, rPlanet Earth, Netafim, and SCS Global Services have made (or are in the process of implementing), instilled confidence that our industry is moving in the right direction. The event provided meaningful opportunities to network with industry peers around a common purpose of meeting the needs of the present generation without compromising future generations’ needs. I look forward to Markon’s continued participation in the exchange.”