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Organic Produce Summit: A Show With a View

Hotly anticipated, a foundation of knowledge, an industry powerhouse—all of these words come to mind when I think of the Organic Produce Summit (OPS). Since its inception four years ago, the summit has been a beacon of organic industry innovation, and it only continues to follow this trend. The two-day event, set to take place July 10 - 11 in gorgeous Monterey, California, is designed to unite organic fresh produce growers, shippers, and processors with retail and buying organizations from across North America. Over 1,400 attendees will meet to exchange ideas, information, and insights from the organic fresh produce industry. As I speak with Matt Seeley, Co-Founder and CEO of the Organic Produce Network; and Susan Canales, President of OPS, they clue me into what the heart of the summit is all about.

“The organic produce industry is a very diverse community,” Matt begins. “It’s made up of big and small players from around the globe. And what OPS does is provide an opportunity for all facets of our industry to connect and gather together under one roof for two days of information, education, and networking opportunities with a buyer to supplier ratio that has been coveted in years past, and will definitely generate excitement this year as well.”

And this OPS is sure to be one for the books. Alongside presentations by two venerable keynote speakers, award-winning chef and The Third Plate author Dan Barber and consumer activist Robyn O’Brien, the keynote program for OPS 2019 will feature the Retailer Roundtable with three of North America’s most prominent retailers, as well as a series of six educational sessions featuring informative and engaging topics and leaders from the organic fresh produce industry. So buckle up, produce folks, and prepare yourselves to be hit in the face with organic knowledge—in the best way possible, of course.

“We’re thrilled to have two dynamic and engaging leaders in their fields providing OPS attendees with thought-provoking and inspiring content, which highlights the growth and opportunities related to organic fresh produce,” says Susan. “Both Robyn and Dan are very excited about the chance to speak to OPS attendees on the importance of the products they are growing and selling that are truly impacting consumers’ lifestyles and eating habits.”

Another attendee looking forward to the host of organic opportunities and educational insights is Frank Padilla, Costco’s Vice President and General Merchandise Manager for Produce and Meat.

“I attend OPS because it’s a good place for me to reconnect with key suppliers and shippers.”

—Jeff Fairchild, Produce director, New Seasons Market

“Costco looks forward to networking and connecting with the 148 organic growers, shippers, and processors at the Organic Produce Summit 2019,” Frank shares with me. “We look forward to the educational sessions where we will learn about consumer purchasing trends, international trends in organics, and how to tackle food waste. The summit will help us to continue to secure a steady supply of organic produce in order to meet the needs of our members.”

The first education session, set to be moderated by Mark Munger, Vice President of Sales and Marketing for 4Earth Farms, is titled The Evolution of Wholesaler/Distributors of Organic Fresh Produce. The session will be focused on the changing role of wholesalers and distributors of organic fresh produce and its impact in providing fresh organic items to consumers worldwide. A panel of leading industry experts will offer information and insight on the evolution of wholesalers and distributors of organic fresh produce. Panelists include Elizabeth Nardi, CEO of The Organically Grown Company; Greg Kurkjian, Vice President and General Manager of The Crosset Company; and Mark Hill, Sales at Baldor Foods.

The second educational session, Tackling Food Waste—Good for the Planet and the Bottom Line, will provide an overview of how food waste is impacting the planet and some of the steps and measures being taken throughout the supply chain to reduce food loss and waste. It will be moderated by Jan DeLyser. Panelists for the session include Lisa Spicka, Associate Director for the Sustainable Food Trade Association; Carlos Rojas, Vice President of Legal Risk and Sustainability, Sprouts Markets; and Ed O’Malley, Vice President of Supply, Imperfect Produce.

The Future of Organic Meals at Retail will take attendees on a deep dive into the growth and expansion of organic fresh meals, with Albertsons/Vons’ Produce Sales Manager Sheryl Salazar and Earthbound Farm’s Vice President of Sales/East Glenn Daniels leading the discussion and Four Seasons Produce’s Vice President and General Manager Jonathan Steffy moderating.

“Every year we try to vary the program from an international standpoint to touch on various components of the industry...”

—Matt Seeley, Co-founder & CEO, Organic Produce Network

Two educational sessions will explore how international growers and distributors are impacting the multibillion-dollar organic fresh produce industry.

The first session, International Organic Produce Supply, will feature three leaders from major global organic grower/shipper organizations, who will discuss the opportunities and challenges faced in growing and marketing organic products throughout the world. The second session is titled International Insights and Trends on Organic Produce.

The panelists for the first session include: Ignacio Donoso, Director of New Business for Verifruit; Kiko Carlos, CEO of Eurofresh; and Marcos Echenique, Market Manager for Copefrut. The session will be moderated by Jose Rossignoli, Vice President of Global Sourcing for Robinson Fresh.

“Every year we try to vary the program from an international standpoint to touch on various components of the industry. This is the first time we’ve explored, or dove into, the international arena. The reason why we’re doing this is because we’ve had more and more international people attend the event over the years. So, it’s a growing part of the show,” Matt says.

On top of these jam-packed education sessions, the Retailer Roundtable will include candid commentary and thought-provoking discussion, as well as a focus on how each retailer incorporates organic fresh produce in their operations, along with their analysis on the current challenges, opportunities, and future of the multibillion-dollar organic fresh produce industry. Tonya Antle, Co-Founder of the Organic Produce Network (OPN), will act as moderator. Panelists include Don Barnett, Chief Operating Officer for Sun Basket; Greg Corrigan, Senior Director of Produce and Floral for Raley’s; and Vic Savanello, Vice President of Produce for The Fresh Market.

“A show that features and focuses on the supplier with the utmost attention is long overdue and greatly appreciated by the industry. Also, the organic educational content far exceeds anything you would find in any of the many larger-scale events that I attend,” Vic tells me, “which I think is critical for the growth and success of the overall organic business.”

Part of the appeal of OPS is its location and focus on locally-grown organic produce in Northern California.

“We’re very fortunate in that this event is held in the cradle of organic fresh produce production. When you look at California’s Central Coast from a vegetable standpoint, you have all the leafy greens and row crop vegetables that are produced here. And then when you look at the berry side of the equation, which is the second leading category in terms of organic sales, this is where it’s all headquartered. So, we’re lucky to have this as our backyard, if you will,” Matt adds.

That backyard is lucky indeed, for attendees of OPS will be treated to field tours of big organic players such as Taylor Farms, Braga Fresh, Driscoll’s, Ocean Mist, and Tanimura & Antle.

Guest speakers from all walks of the industry come to present ideas and have discussions with curious audience members

“Every year, there are new people coming into this business. Every year, there are new people that want to learn more about organics and how organics are different. The field tours tie into this, and every year, we sell out,” Matt shares.

Although the education sessions, Retailer Roundtable, and field tours are undeniably exciting, it is the trade show—spotlighting 148 producers and processors of organic fresh producers from across the globe—that really ratchets up the organic heat.

“We really enjoy the organic show for many reasons!” Cindy Jewell, Vice President of Marketing, California Giant Berry Farms, expresses. “Primarily, it is great to get a large cross-section of the industry together, all focused on one emerging growth area of produce. It’s an opportunity to share new products, but also attend relevant breakout sessions and learn together how organic is growing in popularity with consumers across the U.S. The bottom line is, the show continues to be a high-energy event.”

Matt also shares with me that 240 retailers have signed up to attend OPS, which contributes to the high-energy engagement for the exhibitors.

Joseph Bunting, Produce Business Director at United Supermarkets, tells me why Organic Produce Summit is a must-attend event for him.

“At United, we continue to look for new organic items and innovative ways to grow our organic business,” he says. “The Organic Produce Summit offers many opportunities to help us better understand and serve our organic guests wants and needs through field tours and educational sessions. We also look forward to meeting with the organic produce suppliers at the trade show as we look for ways to grow our organic business together.”

Caitlin Tierney, Director of Produce for 99 Cents Only Stores, shares insight on what this show offers for retailers and specifically, her company.

“OPS gives me the opportunity to voice how important organics are to our customers and highlight the value that 99 Cents Only gives to growers with our differentiating spec and volume,” she says. “Everyone is always amazed to hear that almost 20 percent of produce 99 Cents Only sells is organic and is a segment that continues to have double-digit growth for us. Clearly organics, when priced right, is always preferred no matter what demographic, age, or income. I’ll be the first to say, years ago when consolidating eight organic items onto one pallet in California and shipping it to Michigan, I stated to myself, ‘This will never last.’ Boy, was I wrong and proud of it!”

“I always come away with new insights to what is happening in the world of organics and trends that are gaining momentum.”

—Greg Corrigan, Senior Director of Produce and Floral, Raley’s

Greg Corrigan also expresses his excitement and what value he finds in OPS.

“The Organic Produce Summit is one of my favorite shows of the year,” Greg tells me. “It is easy to get to all the exhibitor booths to catch up with current suppliers and see what is happening with some we don’t do business with to see if there are any opportunities to bring in new items or create new partnerships. I am looking forward to the speakers and education sessions. I always come away with new insights to what is happening in the world of organics and trends that are gaining momentum.”

Jeff Fairchild, Produce Director of New Seasons Market, shares with me what value he sees in an event of this magnitude.

"It’s important for me to continue to watch the competition and how they’re approaching the industry,” he tells me. “I attend OPS because it’s a good place for me to connect with key suppliers and shippers. That’s really valuable for me: using the show as a connection point.”

When I ask Matt what he wants attendees to walk away from the show feeling empowered to do, his response is automatic.

“To increase their sales of organic fresh produce on both sides, so that those actually growing their products are selling it to more retailers and wholesalers across the country, and those retailers and wholesalers, in turn, are selling more organic product to consumers around the world. If there’s one takeaway, we’d love for people to think of the organic industry in terms of the big picture,” he concludes.

I hope to see you all there come July 10, so we can start painting this organic picture together.