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Coastal Views and Industry News: A Sneak Peek at This Year’s Organic Produce Summit

The only thing that can make Monterey, California’s picturesque coastline more attractive is a group of produce-loving folks looking to celebrate organics and harvest industry intel that will propel their businesses forward. The Organic Produce Network (OPN) is ringing in its third annual Organic Produce Summit (OPS) on July 11 and July 12, 2018 at the Monterey Conference Center in Monterey, California, an event not to be missed for organic growers/packers/shippers and buyers from across the industry. With educational opportunities and presenting speakers lined up, this year’s happenings are sure to blow success right out of the water.

With room to roam, thanks to the new location for the event, this year’s summit will encompass different aspects of the industry. The sold out floor offers 130 producers a chance to spotlight their goods to over 200 retailers and buyers—such as Kroger, Albertsons, Costco Wholesale, and many more—with a total of 1,300-plus attendees heading to the coastal town. From a logical standpoint, with a two-part educational session on the organic supply chain, to the emotional draw that organics provides, with a talk on Blue Zones, OPS has something for everyone to hear and learn more about, making it, yet again, an epicenter of craft, passion, and intellect for those within the industry.

Matt Seeley, Co-Founder and CEO, OPN“When you bring together organic producers and the retailers, the question boils down to, ‘What can we do to sell more?’ Our educational sessions really take aim at this question,” OPN Co-Founder and CEO Matt Seeley shares. “When you give companies like Nielsen the opportunity to talk organic produce data, sales analysis, and trend opportunities, people zero in on that. When we talk about organic supply chain, what works and what doesn’t work, attendees think, ‘That will help me sell more product,’ so it is well-attended and fun. We’re trying to stay in the lane that is geared toward what is going to help attendees increase sales, generate greater visibility for organics, and help our industry move more product.”

Opening day, the first thing scheduled for attendees is Retailer Buyer Field Tours, an opportunity to fully engage with, and learn from, those throughout the industry from 8:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m. The party doesn’t stop there—following the tours is a reception, held from 5:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. that evening. With a short break in between, you can either roam Steinbeck’s old turf or catch up on some Z’s to really gear up for a fun night networking with produce industry professionals.

After a beautiful first day, welcoming those flocking to Monterey for the insightful weekend, attendees eager to learn the latest industry movements will have a chance to engage in a series of panels.

Randy Riley, Director of Produce, Kroger“The beauty of a convention like this is that it helps the industry dispel a perception that organic growers and shippers are small. Many of our suppliers are growing full portfolios of organics, and it continues to strengthen our relationship. Each year, we look forward to connecting with some of our most strategic partners at the show,” Randy Riley, Director of Produce for Kroger and participant in the show’s retail roundtable, tells me. “The Kroger Company has been committed to organics for more than a decade. Looking at the retail landscape, our company has been at the forefront of driving its steady growth since the beginning. The best part is that our customers continue to reward us all for finding new and inspirational offerings. The strength of the industry today should make us all proud; we’ve grown this business together.”

One of the first educational breakout sessions is Deep Dive: A Look at Organic Sales and Trends with Nielsen and The Hartman Group, bringing Kevin Coupe of Morning News Beat on deck to moderate Nielsen’s Vice President of Consumer Insight, Jordan Rost, and Hartman Retainer Services’ Vice President, Melissa Abbot. The session takes place from 8:00 a.m. to 8:50 a.m., and it dives into sales, trends, and analysis of the fresh and organic produce industry, as well as consumer behavior and attitudes toward the multi-billion-dollar category.

For those who are more media-inclined, there is a second breakout session, Organics and Media: New Landscape of Information, which takes place at the same time and has Better Health Enabler’s CEO, Ashley Koff, R.D, moderating the Emmy Award-winning Laura Evans Media’s Founder, Laura Evans; the renowned New York Times consumer health reporter, Anahad O’Connor; and Natural Grocers’ Social Media Marketing Director, Ryan Amiraut. During this session, attendees will hear from media experts on consumers’ reception of organic produce news and information. In addition to this peek behind the media curtain, attendees will learn how to actively engage with the media to communicate the benefits of organic.

The third educational breakout session during this same time frame—again, from 8:00 a.m. to 8:50 a.m.—is called The Organic Supply Chain I: Opportunities and Challenges; it’s a two-part series throughout the morning to create a perfect storm of supply chain insight. At this breakout session, California Avocado Commission’s Vice President of Marketing, Jan DeLyser, will moderate a panel consisting of Braga Fresh Family Farms’ President and CEO, Rod Braga; Wawona Packing’s CEO, Will Feliz; and Stemilt Growers’ Marketing Director, Roger Pepperl.

Jan DeLyser, Vice President of Marketing, California Avocado Commission“I attended the Organic Produce Summit for the first time in 2017 and was genuinely blown away by the retail and foodservice decision makers in attendance, the opportunities for engagement throughout the event, and the informative educational sessions. The show effectively brings together the broader industry with a focus on organics—both the opportunities and the challenges,” Jan shares. “It’s amazing to see the success of the OPS team in just the few short years of their existence. Organic produce sales continue to grow, approaching $5 billion, and this show provides a clear demonstration of the produce industry’s continuing interest in organics.”

I also spoke with panelist Roger Pepperl, Stemilt Growers’ Marketing Director, who shares the value he enjoys most when participating in the event.

Roger Pepperl, Marketing Director, Stemilt Growers"The show is valuable because of its razor-sharp focus on organic produce, the supply, and the promotion of both included. It brings both the retailer and grower closer together, which has been missing in the past. It also gives growers an opportunity to elevate their brands, their story, and how the product is grown,” Roger says to me. “We also get the opportunity to be transparent about our costs, labor issues, and our technologies to help solve our issues. New variety development work is easier to discuss in this environment, as well as packaging work to help sell it. Our communication programs are also interesting to discuss with this crowd."

The second leg of the informational offerings runs 9:00 a.m. to 9:50 a.m., bringing two more educational breakout sessions to fruition. First up is The Organic Supply Chain II: Opportunities and Challenges, which picks up where the second panel left off with Marketing Consultant Jeff Jackson moderating the discussion between State Garden/Olivia’s Organics’ Vice President of Sales and Marketing, Ken Reagan; Robinson Fresh’s Vice President of Global Sourcing, Michael Castagnetto; and Sprouts Farmers Markets’ Vice President of the Supply Chain, Rodney Bonds.

Those looking to learn about organic produce endeavors with e-commerce need look no further. During the same time slot, 9:00 a.m. to 9:50 a.m., E-Grocery and the Future of Organic Fresh Produce at Retail offers know-how from Kevin Coupe, who will moderate this panel; Peapod’s Vice President of Merchandising, Tony Stallone; Instacart’s Head of Brand Partnerships, Dan Bourgault; and Sun Basket’s COO, Don Barnett. Attendees will explore direct-to-consumer food business and how it impacts the fresh organic produce business, ultimately changing the nature of retail.

Greg Corrigan and Michael Schutt from Raley’s meet with an exhibitor

The sixth educational session, in total, is called Organic Ingredients: Creating New Opportunities in the Produce Department. This panel will also be held from 9:00 a.m. to 9:50 a.m. with the following panelists: Lisa McNeece, Vice President of Industrial Sales for Grimmway Farms; Joost Hamelink, Vice President of Sustainability and Marketing for Tradin Organic; and Bryan Jaynes, Vice President of Product Management and Marketing for Taylor Farms. Together, they will dive into retailers’ opportunities to incorporate organics. Chad Hagen, Vice President of Consumer Products Group for SunOpta, will be moderating the vibrant discussion about the evolution and expansion of organic ingredients, as well as the opportunities available for brands and retailers to create new products for produce departments.

After a half hour break, participants in this year’s event will enjoy three keynote speakers: noted journalist, author, and discoverer of Blue Zones, Dan Buettner; President of Albertsons’ OWN Brands, Geoff White; and President of Campbell Fresh, Ed Carolan.

Geoff White, President, Albertsons’ Own Brands“It’s no secret that organic foods is a rapidly growing segment of our business, and produce is the gateway to an organic lifestyle. Our exclusive O Organics® brand is dedicated to offering delicious organic products for every meal and committed to meeting the growing demand in daily snacking occasions,” Geoff White, President of Albertsons’ Own Brands, explains. “We already offer USDA-certified organic produce snacks like O Organics® Baby Rainbow Carrots and O Organics® mini cucumbers. We’re looking forward to introducing even more USDA-certified organic snacks this summer beyond produce like O Organics® Blue Corn Chips, Kettle Chips, and Beef Jerky. Albertsons is innovating so quickly because the industry has never moved faster, so it’s critical for us to stay closely connected with organic growers and distributors. I’m grateful for the role the Organic Produce Summit plays in fostering those important relationships.”

There will also be a heavy-hitting retail roundtable, where moderator Tonya Antle, Organic Produce Network’s Co-Founder and EVP, will talk about navigating the retail landscape alongside panelists Ron McCormick, Senior Director of Global Produce Sourcing for Walmart; Randy Riley, Director of Produce for Kroger; and Roger Harkrider, Director of Produce for Meijer. The keynote speakers will present from 10:30 a.m. to noon.

Billie Rae Starsiak from Southeastern Grocers and Gilbert Hinojosa from Beachside Produce

The exhibit is where the magic happens. At this year’s sold-out event, there are 130 growers/shipper and processors from all corners of the organic produce industry signed up to show you the goods! From 1:00 p.m. to 5:30 p.m., attendees will buzz through the exhibit, making connections and building business.

The only thing left to say is “Have fun!” because those in-the-know are already privy to the advantages OPS uniquely offers. So, who are you most excited to see at this must-attend event?