We developed the Foundational Excellence program, working with Cornell University, back in 2015. The hundreds of people that have gone through the program share two characteristics. Not one has ever had a negative word to say about the program and the vast majority have recommended the program to coworkers, industry friends and colleagues.
The program is a kind of one day MBA in a box. The idea being to jumpstart careers and the contributions that workers make to their companies.
One of the most serious problems the industry has is that many companies haven’t yet perceived the importance of investing to develop their people. It is essential for two reasons, first, your team won’t rise to the level its capable of if you don’t invest. Second, the very best people won’t stay where their employers don’t care to invest in their development.
We paused the program for the pandemic, feeling that the personal interaction with professors, with peers, was a crucial part of the program that just couldn’t be duplicated virtually. Now we are back and we asked Pundit Investigator and Special Projects Editor, Mira Slott to get us updated on this unique and valuable program:
Charles H. Dyson School of Applied Economics and Management
Ithaca, New York
David R. Atkinson Center
for a Sustainable Future
School of Management
Universidad de Los Andes, Bogota
Q: Miguel, thank you for juggling your schedule for a pre-Show piece about the Foundational Excellence Program. I’m enthusiastic to reunite in person at the Show!
A: I’ve been looking forward to it. It’s been a crazy time with the pandemic. I just had my COVID booster shot. I am so happy. It’s important when you look at the math…
Q: I got my booster too. Everyone at the Show is required to be vaccinated, which is good. After interacting virtually for so long, produce industry executives say they are longing to come together in person again at the NY Produce Show, missing that tangible contact to grow their businesses and develop long-term relationships.
A: I feel the same. I am sure it will be a great show.
Q: Especially with you there. You’re a fan favorite with attendees over the years, presenting exclusive, ground-breaking research and spurring dynamic discussion on a plethora of topics at our global industry events, from New York to London to Amsterdam:
Cornell Professor Miguel Gómez Reveals How Omni-Channel Retailing Creates Challenges And Opportunities For The Produce Supply Chain. Exclusive Presentation At The Amsterdam Produce Summit This November
How New Trade Agreements May Set The Stage For A Produce Industry Boom, But Will The People And The Politicians Let It Happen?
Miguel Gómez Of Cornell To Present The Facts And Moderate The Discussion At The London Produce Show And Conference
UNIVERSITY HEAVYWEIGHT PUTS SCIENCE BEHIND OPTIMIZED GLEANING SCHEDULES: Cornell’s Miguel Gómez Talks About How The Produce Industry Can Put Itself On The Side Of The Angels By Reducing Food Waste While Helping The Hungry
The Renaissance Of The Wholesale Sector — Why Those Who Support ‘Locally Grown’ Should Support Investment In Market Intermediaries. Cornell University Professor Miguel Gómez Reveals Research Findings At The London Produce Show And Conference
I’m hoping we can update attendees on the value and impacts of the Foundational Excellence Program, as well as the exceptional speakers and content, as Ed McLaughlin so brilliantly and thoroughly did in the original piece about the Program when it launched.
Are you able to provide descriptions of each speaker’s presentation/research/topic as it fits within the overall Program? We can also have a more in-depth discussion about your presentation, and any other aspects you believe are important to highlight.
A: Sure, I’d be pleased to do that. As you know, this is the sixth edition of the program. We started back in 2015. The objective of the program is to fill the gap in the industry. There is simply a lack of this type of program for new professionals entering the industry. The program is targeted for industry executives, for new managers, people who already have a place in the industry and are looking to grow professionally and contribute more to their organizations. It is not for young people that don’t have positions and are seeking careers in the fresh produce industry. I think it was very smart that my predecessor Ed McLaughlin came up with this idea with Jim Prevor because it has been very successful in the past six years. We had a break in 2020 because of the pandemic, but here we are back again very excited to do the program.
So, the program is designed to introduce issues to professionals that are taking careers in the produce industry, typically they have five years or less of experience in the industry, though some have extensive experience in other industries, whatever the case they want to know more. And the idea of this program is to do something not academic but something very practitioner oriented. We’re covering a wide range of topics from leadership management to global trade, to consumers, the structure of the food industry, through e-commerce.
Q: Could you give a little more perspective of who should attend – are these executives already doing things in agriculture, are they in retail, are they in wholesale, what is the makeup of the audience?
A: Yes, these are professionals that are interested in practically every segment of the fresh produce sector. They can be farmers, they can be working in post-harvest packing houses or in wholesale, in processing, or in distribution, transportation, or in retail. All the services that encompass this industry, participating in bringing the fresh fruits and vegetables from farm to table, and not only for the retail supermarket channel but also for food service, because it’s relevant for them to understand how the industry works.
Q: Okay. Can you elaborate on the need for the program, the concept that it’s hard to understand how the industry works – is it that complicated?
A: It is that complicated because as soon as you harvest fruits or vegetables the shelf life of the product is limited, and everything must be in place to bring the product from wherever you are producing to wherever the consumers want to consume the product. It involves long distance transportation, storage, processing, controlled environments, retailing, etc. So, it intersects many, many businesses along the supply chain.
Q: And the Foundational Excellence program touches on all the aspects…
A: Yes, even the most critical, so if you agree, we can jump into the topics. I can use a draft program agenda to guide our conversation.
Q: Sounds like a good plan. Let’s go for it.
A: Jim starts with opening remarks about our program, the history, and the long relationship that Cornell and Jim had from the beginning, and how it extends through the Foundational Excellence program. Basically, we are taking to New York all the members of the Food Industry Management Program here at Cornell, most of us are going to be there. I’ll tell you a little bit of what each person is going to present, and then maybe I can tell you more about my talk after?
A: So, the program will begin with my presentation on the global reach of the U.S. fresh produce industry. I am going to discuss the drivers and trends of international trade of fruits and vegetables. I’ll also talk about key managerial issues when we work in the globalized fresh produce supply chain. I will focus on the U.S. and how the U.S. industry is integrated into the global produce industry.
After a coffee break, then we have my colleague and senior extension associate, Kris Park. She’s going to talk about the U.S. food system and fresh produce.
Senior Extension Associate
Q: Kris always packs in an incredible amount of information, wielding fascinating charts and data to absorb…
A: Yes. Kris will talk about how the produce industry is structured. She’s going to explain how the current structure of the industry allowed the industry to quickly readjust during last year’s pandemic wave, yet it also limits the industry’s ability to innovate and take advantage of new technologies. So, she’ll explore how the industry has been able to respond to COVID, and some industry issues creating impediments to growth.
Q: OK, you’ve caught my interest – do you have a little more insight on what some of those things are, because that’s kind of intriguing?
A: Yes, she’ll talk about issues surrounding concentration in the industry, consolidation with the number of buyers and sellers…segments of the food supply chain, especially how separated our food service side is from the supermarket channels, and it’s not easy to repurpose food from restaurants and from one channel to the other.
She also spends a lot of time doing deep calculations of the volume and value of fresh fruits and vegetables produced in the US, how much we export, import, and the volumes of fresh fruits and vegetables that go through the different channels, direct to consumer, through the food service channel, through the supermarket channel, and through distributors or directly to retailers. So she’s going to discuss all those dynamics.
Q: Okay, that’s a lot to cover. And Kris is nothing short of comprehensive, always with reams of data to bolster her analyses…
A: Yes, she definitely does calculations that are really unique in the industry.
Q: Explain that, it’s unique for Kris to get all this data?
A: So even though we have a lot of information from the food sector, in general, Kris has done a lot of work collecting data from secondary sources to really understand the structure and the volumes of fresh fruits and vegetables that go through each channel from farm to consumer. We know a lot about how much we produce, how much we export, and how much we eat, but how the product goes from the farm to the table, understanding those volumes is not easy, so she’s going to talk about that.
Q: That’s an example of why this program is so valuable. Who will present next?
Robert G. Tobin Emeritus
Professor of Marketing
A: Ed McLaughlin, who is one of the most respected scholars looking at the fresh produce industry in the supermarket sector, analyzing the competitive marketplace dynamics focusing on supermarkets, fresh produce and ecommerce and omnichannel strategies. He’ll assess disruptions that are happening at retail and how they are impacting the fresh produce industry. First, he’s going to talk specifically about the penetration of discounters, Aldi, Lidl, and increasing sales of fresh produce in dollar stores, a relatively new channel, and the implications for the food industry.
Then he’s going to dive into ecommerce, and, in particular, detail how Amazon is penetrating the market for fresh produce, and what actions Amazon is taking to increase participation in fresh produce.
Q: Is Newton’s law in play, for every action there’s an equal and opposite reaction…I’m sure Ed will have a lot to say about how competitors are responding?
A: Definitely. Ed will layout the responses of competitors such as Walmart and old retailers that are establishing omnichannel strategies to compete.
Q: Is he going to discuss how the pandemic has changed/impacted omnichannel and ecommerce and what his projections are for the future? He might get some questions on that.
A: Yes, Mira, I understand that he’s going to discuss that as well.
Q: All right. That’s certainly a full morning, and we haven’t even had lunch yet!
A: Jim will lead a lunch panel filled with industry executives…and then we move on with Brad Rickard, who has been contributing to the New York Show for many years. He’s going to provide an overview of four or five research projects that are related to produce markets and consumption. One is the potential impact surrounding generic advertising for fruits and vegetables, and the various campaigns. He’s also going to cover market opportunity for patented fruit and vegetable varieties, as we’ve seen with the new apple varieties, etc.
Q: Is he going to be talking about his consumer research on the impact of different apple variety names on buying decisions?
A: Not specifically, he’ll be more focused on the opportunities in fruits and vegetables for patented varieties, in general.
A: He’s going to also share research results on consumer response of date labels, such as ‘use by’ or ‘best buy’ and the impacts on food waste.
Q: Right, I remember that intriguing research. Brad often presents his research in more depth at micro educational sessions. The audience is always riveted…
A: Yes. He tries to cover a gamut of research at the Foundational Excellence Program, and then attendees can follow up on the topics that most interest them… He’s also going to talk about the impact of COVID on the produce market. And if he has time, because I think he has a lot to cover, he’s going to share research on consumer response to new technologies such as gene editing.
Q: I had an intriguing interview with Brad on this topic. Brad will be presenting his new research on consumer responses to gene editing of grape varieties at a micro educational session during the main Show at the Javits Center on Wednesday. It’s a must attend session.
A: Oh great. These are new and controversial technologies…
Q: All right. Is Bill Drake up next in the Foundational Excellence agenda?
Senior Extension Associate
A: Yes. Bill Drake is a faculty emeritus at Cornell and is still involved in the Food Industry Management Program. He’s going to talk about leadership and career development and key success factors. In his segment he’ll explore a perspective model and tools that are essential for early career executives to understand and practice as they continue their journey of continuous learning and leadership relevance. He’s going to start with giving us a perspective on what leadership is. He argues that you are not born a leader, that you learn how to be a leader, and that’s not something inherited, it’s not something that is innate, it’s something that you develop over time.
Q: That’s interesting, because you know how people say, oh, he or she was born to be a leader…
A: He has very compelling evidence with his long experience in the food sector, how leadership is something that you develop through your work and through your professional advancement.
Q: Fascinating. That will be a fitting time for an open Q&A for all, followed by closing remarks from Jim. Could you sum up this unique day for the people that are coming, why is this of value to them, how do they absorb all this information in such a concentrated time, and what can they gain…?
A: Looking at the overall picture, they’re going to be walking out with this intense amount of concentrated information that covers all these different aspects of the industry. So, what is the value of it and where do they go from here after the program’s over? That’s an excellent question. Our team tries to cover all the critical and current issues that are important for the produce industry. And as we prepare these presentations, we try not to use our academic hearts, but our practitioner hearts. So, these are issues they are broadly facing today in their businesses, but they are likely to face as they move up the ladder in their organizations, when they are seeking career development and advancement in the fresh produce industry.
So, I think this program is going to spark interest and to attract their attention to all the challenges we face in the produce industry, if you think about the industry structure, how do we develop the strategies to succeed in an industry that is very complex, how do we think from a consumer perspective, how is international trade and globalization affecting our job here in the US…as I look for my professional development, can I learn how to be a leader or become a better leader as I am seriously thinking about doing my career in the industry.
What we do in this program is an introduction to all these topics, and then how to move along in their careers, they are going to have many opportunities. For example, here at Cornell, we offer an executive education program just tailored to specific aspects of the industry and leadership, also at the International Fresh Produce Association (IFPA, the newly merged PMA/United Fresh), there are so many opportunities, and at all your events, the New York, London and Amsterdam Shows… there is always an educational component as well as a platform for discussion. Any issue covered in this one-day program is enough to develop a whole semester class.
Q: Okay, great. You all point out that participants can follow up with you as well.
A: Absolutely. We love interacting with the industry. That’s one of the major benefits of this program and the New York Produce Show. We’re sitting down here at our desks doing interesting research, but the most exciting part of our work in the Food Industry Management Program is to interact with people working in the industry, people facing real problems and opportunities in the industry. So we really enjoy this whole opportunity for ourselves to get to know the talent in the industry. I want to continue interacting with them, of course.
Q: One last question, then we can delve more into your presentation. What are some of the ways the industry can work with you and partner with you, maybe participate in your research, are you looking for funding, etc.
A: One of the biggest opportunities for us is to do research that has real impact. So, by working within the industry and connecting with produce executives at the Show, they know what the problems are. We can gain important insights into researching interesting questions and issues related to how to increase consumption of fresh fruits and vegetables or the role of new technologies in the strategy of the businesses, etc. All that research, if we partner with the businesses in the sector, would be much more meaningful because it generates knowledge that can really be applied to practical solutions. For us, The New York Produce Show is a wonderful opportunity to get to learn more about the industry. The more you study this industry, the more you realize that you know less about the complexities of each different crop, each different commodity, each different channel. And there are so many contributions to make so the industry works better for everybody, for consumers and for all the businesses along the supply chain.
Q: Right. The produce supply chain is both complex and globally interconnected, which adds to the challenges and opportunities. That’s a nice segue into your presentation…
A DEEPER DIVE INTO MIGUEL’S PRESENTATION:
A: I will talk about the global reach of the produce industry, and implications for the U.S. produce sector. I think this is important because even if I am working in El Paso, Texas, or in Nogales, or in a supermarket in the Midwest, if I am a fresh produce manager or a broker… even if I do domestic work, our industry is just becoming more and more global every year. The U.S. imports more fruits and vegetables and the U.S. exports more, so the U.S. fresh produce industry increasingly depends on whatever happens in fresh produce in global markets. And those are opportunities and those are also challenges.
Q: I know you’ll be presenting extensive data, but can you just give us an inkling of how great an increase, some perspective?
A: Yes, I can do that. When you think about imports and exports, they are up about threefold in the past 10 years if you compare to 2010. Trade is increasing dramatically, not only in the U.S., but globally, and the U.S. businesses in general have benefited from this trend of more trade. So, in the U.S., just one piece of data, for example, about half of the fruits we consume are imported, and about 25% of the vegetables that we consume come from a different country, that’s important.
Q: What are the factors behind that?
A: Some of the drivers are less restrictions to trade, there are more and more trade agreements. Technology has improved dramatically, so we harvest an avocado in Peru and that avocado is going to travel in a container to China, to Europe, or to the US in a few weeks. We know exactly how to control the temperature and to make sure that the avocado is harvested at the right time and all the conditions are best set for us, so when it arrives at the destination market, it will look great or firsthand quality.
Q: Are you going to be talking about supply chain interruptions and things like that?
A: I will be talking a little bit on that– I will definitely be discussing how COVID has impacted international trade in fresh fruits and vegetables. But I have to tell you that the impact has been modest, supply has been strong, and the products have found a way to get to consumers wherever they are.
Q: That’s interesting, with all the news about disruptions in transport, logistics, labor issues, economic volatility with supply and demand, market uncertainty with the pandemic, etc.
A: I will, of course, discuss what the bottlenecks have been, some of the problems in the global supply chain.
Q: But what you’re saying is that, overall, when you look at the impact for global produce trade, it’s negligible, is that fair to say?
A: It’s modest, because, as consumers, we still find a huge variety of fruits and vegetables whenever we go to a store. In other categories, the impact has been felt like in the meat category, and some other categories, but fruits and vegetables have found a way to get to the tables of consumers.
Q: Could you talk about the reasoning behind that, why is it different than a category like meat?
A: The example of meat – meat is a much more concentrated sector, and all the packing houses, and the factories are huge. Workers work in proximity to each other, if you look at meat processing. That wasn’t the case with the fresh fruits and vegetables where we are much more decentralized. The fruits and vegetables sector is much more dispersed. There are many, many more businesses in every level of the food supply chain.
Q: What about labor issues?
A: The labor, indeed, we have had challenges with labor, everybody’s having shortages, but it’s much less, it has been less of a problem in the produce industry than we have seen in the meat sector.
The produce sector is much more diversified in terms of where the product comes, the number of harvests, points of transport, storage, etc., and the diversity of products.
Q: How can produce executives capitalize on that diversity, where are the global growth opportunities, etc.
A: I’m going to talk about where demand is growing the fastest for fresh produce in a global context, and in terms of population growth, but also income growth. We will unpack what future demand for fruits and vegetables is going to look like as population and incomes grow globally.
Q: Can you give a couple of highlights, anything surprising?
A: We have Asia, consumption in Asia is going to be dominant. But also, what is going to be a little bit surprising maybe is increasing demand is going to come from Africa. In high income countries, demand for fruits and vegetables is going to increase but not that fast. When we think about North America, Europe, and even Latin America and the Caribbean, yes, it’s going to increase in population and incomes, but it’s mostly increasing in Asia and Africa, so those are markets that are becoming more and more attractive for the fresh produce industry.
Q: Right, because here you’re talking also about percent growth from where you’re starting from.
A: Oh yes, definitely. This is all relative to what’s happening in the United States.
Q: Are there particular parts of Africa and Asia that you want to note.
A: So, in Africa, I will probably focus mostly on Eastern Africa, with consumers where the population will grow the fastest, and the incomes are increasing as well.
In Asia, we are making projections to 2050. Basically, the growth is going to concentrate in South Central Asia and India.
In North America, incomes are already high. Population is going to grow but at a very slow rate. Therefore, there are not going to be new customers. Fruits and vegetables are high quality foods. In general, in societies when incomes increase, consumption of fruits and vegetables increase, because these are high value products.
In the US, if you think about how the market is going to grow, it’s going to be slower than in places such as Southeast Asia. So, there are going to be more market opportunities in these geographies.
Q: In terms of produce being a high-value product, are quality standards changing as well– you’re saying that all around the demand for high quality produce is going to increase, or are there growth markets where different grades will be acceptable…
A: I think overall as consumers become wealthier, richer they expect better quality. So over time, because of increased trade, in general, the quality standards tend to converge. It may not happen in two to five years, but I can see that the demand for quality fresh produce is going to increase. It helps that we have better technology to preserve the quality of apples or lettuce once you harvest it, etc.
Q: What are the biggest takeaways for attendees when strategizing their businesses to capitalize on the changing, and very diverse global marketplace? What are the key challenges, pieces of advice, the things that stand out to you when summing up your presentation?
A: So, two things, one, businesses in fresh produce are becoming multinational companies because you source products from different countries, because production is seasonal, or because you have consumers in different countries and different geographies. I am surprised with the ability of the industry to adapt to different cultures and different business styles that exist across countries in fresh produce, and in different sectors of the economy.
Q: Can you elaborate because I think that’s an important insight. Beyond connecting the supply chain logistics, the partnering of diverse cultural dynamics, relationship-building for successful trade….
A: When you are doing business overseas, either buying or selling, you need to understand the cultural norms, how negotiations are conducted, what are the different contexts of conducting business. My argument is because you are dealing with something that is fresh, it’s perishable. The organizations are that much easier, you know, there is much more interconnection and communication going on between business partners in diverse geographies.
Q: Yes, it’s such a fast-paced business and the shelf life is dissipating, you need comfortable, active communication, flexibility to adapt, and work in tandem when problems arise…
A: Exactly, active communication, active understanding, trust is critical. I am Latin American, and I interact with many businesses in South America, Latin America, that have businesses in the US, and they have partners in the U.S. And for me, it’s amazing how dynamic these relationships are. I think that’s unique to the industry. And that’s why the industry is growing, is becoming more and more global, because we’re able to develop these businesses across different cultures or different regulatory environments in different countries.
The other thing that I will be discussing Mira is there is a lot of interest in localizing the food supply chain. There is huge investment in controlled environment agriculture, and production of fruits and vegetables in greenhouses and vertical farms.
Q: Yes. This is a hot topic, the implications and potential for the produce industry…costs and profitability issues, sustainability aspects, etc.
A: Indeed, there is a huge stream of investments everywhere, not only in the U.S, but in Europe, in Africa, in Latin America, etc. So, I think, in a way, controlled environment agriculture is going against globalization because in theory, you can produce strawberries in New York State and New England year-round if you have the technology, and if you have the market, and you can produce it here, you don’t need to bring it from the West Coast or Mexico or from Florida. There are many questions about CEA, about what the impact will be really in the fresh produce industry.
We see supermarkets that are developing contracts with suppliers of fruits and vegetables that are able to construct a greenhouse or vertical farm near each retailer. That’s happening, but there is a lot of uncertainty to what the market size is for this.
I argue that it’s going to increase, but there are many limitations for that, and I think field grown agriculture with field grown production of fruits and vegetables is going to be predominant. In some crops it will make a big difference; that is the systems will become more local like in the case of microgreens or leafy greens and strawberries maybe. But you will never think about growing potatoes or onions or cabbage in a greenhouse, it’s just too expensive.
A: But that’s an interesting issue for the industry, because it’s not only the cost, but also the value of local. The value of local is important, so that’s an issue that I discuss in the context of the global scope of the U.S.
Q: Are the limitations related to the profitability side?
A: On the profitability side and on the environmental impact side. We are doing research showing that bringing lettuce from California to consume near your city is lower cost—that even with the transportation, the energy use, and therefore, the carbon footprint is still lower than producing the same leafy green in a vertical farm or in a greenhouse very close to New York City. We did calculations showing precisely how far CEA is from replacing the system we have now, and the environmental impacts of a greenhouse in New York versus bringing the product from California.
I’ll also talk about global trends in organic produce, which is increasing too.
Q: You really cover a wide expanse of issues that will be of great interest to participants at the Foundational Excellence Program, as well as those gathering for the Global Trade Symposium and everyone attending the New York Produce Show.
A: The only thing that I would like to add is that the industry is working very hard to identify and to keep talent in the industry. An example is our Foundational Excellence Program. It’s an exciting sector to be in and to develop your professional career. People will always be eating fruits and vegetables; the market is forever, and demand is just going to increase. We at the food industry management program are looking forward to interacting with new talent at the New York Produce Show, where people are just going to be happy to be interacting in person again! We believe in this industry and the opportunities it can offer to your professionals.
Q: That sentiment ties everything together about the fresh produce industry because people in produce crave that interaction, which is such a vital part of global trade.
A: Clearly, yes.
Q: Thank you Miguel for enhancing the New York Produce Show each year in so many ways. It will be wonderful to reunite with everyone and form new relationships as well.
So, if you run a company or department, send a couple of excellent people and let them rise to the next level, they’ll bring your organization along for the ride!
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