Since the founding of The New York Produce Show and Conference, we have taken pride in featuring our University Interchange Program. This unique program involves bringing a faculty member from a prominent university to share the result of his or her latest research, thus both putting industry attendees on the cutting edge of knowledge and fulfilling the land grant university mission to disseminate information.
At the same time, we invite students from the same universities to participate both in the general trade show and conference and in a specific student program. The goal is to raise their knowledge and interest in the fresh produce industry. The program is co-chaired by Michigan State Professor Emeritus John W. “Jack” Allen and his brilliant wife Linda Allen, international marketing consultant, and the industry panel is chaired by a great triumvirate: Bruce Peterson, formerly of Wal-Mart, Reggie Griffin, formerly of Kroger, and Dick Spezzano, formerly of Vons. In addition, each year we have special “guest councilors,” who this year include Alistair Stone, Managing Buyer — Fresh Produce for Waitrose, and Jin Ju Wilder, Director of Corporate Strategy at Valley Fruit & Produce.
Students have come away inspired, and the industry has become more knowledgeable. Just take a look at some of the University Micro-Sessions we have presented in the past:
Vitamin D Enhancement In Mushrooms: Can This Be A Portal For The Produce Department Into Functional Foods? Professor Neal Hooker Of St. Joseph’s University Unveils The Latest Research At New York Produce Show And Conference
The charter members of the University Interchange Program are Cornell University, Rutgers University and St. Joseph’s University. We had already spread the wings of the program, not only to more American schools but to the Universita Degli Studi Di Scienze Gastronomiche (University of Gastronomic Sciences) in Pollenzo, Italy, which joined us back in 2012.
Now, along with the launch of our sister show, The London Produce Show and Conference earlier this year, we are pleased to announce the expansion of the program to incorporate a great school from the United Kingdom.
The School of Agriculture, Food and Rural Development at Newcastle University will be bringing students and the head of the undergraduate business program and a Senior Lecturer in the Agribusiness Management program, Diogo Souza Monteiro, who will present some of his latest research. Along with the group will be Emeritus faculty member, Paul Weightman, who arrived in America back in February 1964 with $50 and a research assistantship at Cornell, and who left after completing his PhD at Cornell and earning a USDA grant to determine impacts of EEC/EU enlargement on US exports of farm products.
We asked Pundit Contributing Editor, Keith Loria, to find out more:
Q: Introduce yourself to those coming to The New York Produce Show and Conference — what is your current position and job in the industry?
A:I am originally from Portugal and have been involved in the agro-food industry since 1994, when I finished my studies in Animal Science at the University of Evora and a post-graduate program in Agro-food marketing in Spain.
I had the privilege of working in different institutions throughout my career now spanning 20 years. I started working for the Portuguese Ministry of Agriculture; I worked for a coffee company; and in 2000, I joined academia.
After two years teaching in an agricultural college in Portugal, I got my PhD from the University of Massachusetts in Amherst, and then took a post in Food Marketing at the Wye College and the Kent Business School. Last July, I became a senior lecturer in Agribusiness Management and the Director of the Agribusiness program at the School of Agriculture, Food and Rural Development at Newcastle University in England.
Q: How did your background prepare you for the position at Newcastle?
A:I had the privilege of having a variety of experiences and working in different locations. First, my international education equipped me with the knowledge to develop the teaching and research programs required by Newcastle. Our school is very interdisciplinary, and my background enables me to be a mediator of discussions between colleagues from different disciplines.
Also, my public post made me very aware of the challenges of designing and implementing policy. Moreover, my experience in the private sector gave me a number of stories and examples of situations that inform both my research and my teaching. Finally, the fact I was exposed to three different education systems certainly helps me understand the pros and cons of the UK system and see how it can be improved with tested practices from other locations.
Q: Talk about your main interest and expertise in the research you do.
A:Throughout my career, I observed how agricultural and food products became increasingly differentiated. I noticed how differentiation was mainly related to information on an attribute.
When I worked for the Portuguese ministry of agriculture, we were promoting regional foods on the basis of their quality, which was associated to a local name. But we were also in charge of organic farming. Since consumers cannot infer the quality of products from different origins or different processes without some sort of label, the premium associated to these products critically depends on the availability of information.
Early in my career, I was mainly interested in helping producers, namely those in economically depressed regions in Portugal, to increase their incomes by investing in the quality of their products. In time I started realizing how important the information was and how it was a critical element of quality.
Thus, during my doctoral studies, I shifted my interest to understand how consumers, industry managers and policy-makers gather, use and value information to make food choices. So my area of expertise is the economics of information applied to food markets.
Q: What did you learn from your years in the public and private sectors?
A:I learned consumers are prepared to pay more for foods with what economists call credence attributes. On the basis of such products is some piece of information that needs to be readily available, relevant, clear, meaningful and trusted.
Now, for economists, the existence of accessible and free information for all market players is critical for the existence of competitive markets. That is, efficient markets require perfect knowledge. In real markets this is hardly the case, rather information asymmetries prevail. Therefore, reducing information asymmetries and improving its levels in the market will lead to better decisions and, eventually, more efficient markets.
Q: What is the overall goal of the research you do?
A:The overall goal of my research is to find how we can reduce these asymmetries in food markets. Specifically, I have done work on the economics of traceability, that is, understanding the incentives and limitations for sharing information on food quality attributes across food chains.
What I found is that firms are reluctant to share information they have with their partners. There are good reasons for this to happen, as there are commercial and legal implications associated to the knowledge information provides. After all, information is power and gives you a commercial advantage.
More recently I have been working on how to improve access to nutrition information in retail environments. My colleagues and I have been working on the use of IT technologies to aid consumers’ access and process information associated to food choices regarding nutrition attributes of food.
Q: What will be the subject of your talk at The New York Produce Show and Conference? Why did you choose this topic as an important one?
A:My talk will be about my most recent nutrition information work. This is from an ongoing collaboration with my colleagues Ben Lowe and Iain Fraser from the University of Kent, in the UK. We have conducted three surveys assessing which IT technologies would grocery shoppers most be willing to use to get information on the overall nutrition value of their shopping baskets, how to convey such information and what other information they mostly sought.
I will be mainly reporting what we found but also what we learned about this topic. The reason why I chose this topic is because I believe the use of technologies by consumers is only going to increase in the future, and it offers important opportunities but also has some challenges. In a sense, these technologies empower consumers as they have immediate access to information on their fingers, which should enable them to make better choices.
It also reduces asymmetries and contributes to market efficiencies. However, there must be an incentive for firms to develop and offer these services.
Q: There’s been a great deal of talk about mobile technologies in retail environments of late. What are you finding to be the biggest buzz in this area?
A:I am not very familiar with the most recent buzz in the US, however from my discussions with American colleagues, one of the issues coming out was whether or not to block Internet signals in the stores as consumer were using their cells to compare prices of products available online.
There was a concern over transfer of brick-and-mortar shops to online sales. There is also much interest on the concept of portable shops enabled by smart phones and tablets. This may be the next level of online sales.
Q: Tell about your recent studies in this area?
A:Our most recent study looked at how the hypothetical provision of a calorie counter on a handheld device with which consumers could track the amount of calories they put in a shopping basket changes the nutrition value of the shopping trip.
We developed an experiment with 12 different treatments where consumers were given a task of buying foods on a meal basis. We then checked if the type of shop (planned or fill in), time pressure and whether the calorie counter was available changed the total number of calories consumers end up with in their shopping baskets.
Q: From the data you collected, what were the most significant findings in your research?
A:We are still examining the data collected but the results suggest that respondents do not seem to improve their performance by having the calorie counter, when compared with the group that has just calorie information. So, our initial hypothesis doesn’t seem to be confirmed.
However, we need to look at the results more carefully. Our focus groups did suggest that the calorie counter did make them more reflective on their choices. We need to check whether the times taken to make each choice change significantly as consumers progress on their shopping. If the times increase, it may be that the counter may help consumers realize the consequence of their choices, which may help them in future shopping occasions.
Q: What do you hope attendees learn and get out of your talk?
A:I hope attendees understand that providing access to mobile technologies adds value to the consumer shopping experience, as it enables consumers to meet their budget or health goals. For years, marketers have been talking about the idea of personalized marketing — that is… give each consumer exactly what he wants or aspires to.
The use of mobile technologies, especially when associated to loyalty cards, allows consumers to reveal to retailers exactly what they want, which can then be used to tailor for those preferences. Also, these technologies may enable retailers to establish a relation with each individual consumer. The challenge is to make this is a non-intrusive way.
Q: What are you looking forward to about the New York Produce Show as a whole?
A:I am looking forward to learning more about the new trends in the produce industry, to find out what the issues being faced by different sectors in the food chain and what solutions are being offered to address some of the challenges of securing a varied and sufficient volume of food to meet the increasing world population.
Q: You will be bringing four students from Newcastle with you? What opportunities do you feel they will get from this visit?
A:They are extremely motivated and excited about this opportunity. They are looking forward to interact with American and other international firms present in the show and learn about their challenges. Hopefully, they will have a chance to secure some internships or even jobs with such organizations.
They are also very excited about the possibility of interacting with their peers from North American universities. We went through a careful process of selection, and all our students have some experience of work at different levels of the industry. I am sure they will be engaging and open to share their experience as well as learn from others.
I am doing a review of the Agribusiness program and one of my goals is to make it more visible internationally, so this is a great opportunity for us. I hope this can be the beginning of an annual tradition for our best students.
The role of information in markets is an often-overlooked element. In a sense, perfect information makes for perfect markets, but information has a cost, so over investment in acquiring information does not make sense.
One of the great problems of democracy is that although an educated electorate will likely produce far better governance, the cost/benefit analysis is such that it doesn’t pay for any individual voter to invest a great deal in such education. After all, how many elections are decided by a single vote?
Here the issue of giving out information such as calories is problematic because the calories in a package don’t really matter very much; it is the amount one eats that matters. In other words, if one chooses to eat one hamburger each week, buying a package of frozen hamburger patties that contains four patties is no better for you than if you buy a package with eight patties. In addition, calories are a crude measurement. Arugula is low in calories, but man does not live by arugula alone, so how is one to react when one learns that arugula has fewer calories than berries? These two items are not actually very competitive.
We don’t know which stores are considering blocking internet signals — though we have had experiences where we couldn’t get a signal in some stores but didn’t think there was a conspiracy to block the signal. We all know that stores such as Best Buy are challenged because they serve as the show room for the Internet. So people come out, look to make sure they like the product, then buy from a cheaper source.
Blocking the Internet is not likely to stop that. It actually seems more likely to convince people the store is overpriced.
Perhaps the answer is that the business model has to change and manufacturers will have to pay a fee to have their products displayed as they benefit no matter how the sale is conducted.
Exploring ways retailers and the produce industry could benefit from mobile technologies is certainly cutting-edge, and we are very pleased to welcome Diogo Souza Monteiro and Team UK to The New York Produce Show and Conference.
Come join us in New York. You can register right here.
Bring your spouse or companion; ask about the great spouse/companion program right here.
Need hotel rooms? Our Headquarters Hotel is where the action is, so tell us what you need here.
Don’t forget about The Global Trade Symposium on Tuesday. Ask about it here.
Also remember, Thursday is the “Ideation Fresh” Foodservice Forum and we have fantastic panelists to talk about the latest trends in foodservice. We can get you info here.
We have tours of Manhattan retailing, New Jersey and Yonkers suburban retailing, Brooklyn retailing and Urban Agriculture, Hunts Point and the Philadelphia Market, all on Thursday – Let us know what you are interested in right here.
We have exactly two booths left to sell. If you want a place on the trade show floor, let us know here.
And opportunities to show your support through sponsorships still exist; let us know here.
But above all, come to Manhattan and ‘be a part of it,’ as we all join to welcome the first British University to the program and to Celebrate Fresh!