When Roberta Cook addressed the inaugural assemblage of The Global Trade Symposium, co-located with The New York Produce Show and Conference we titled the preview piece on her talk: Riding The Roller Coaster: Roberta Cook Of UC Davis Explains How Economic Fluctuations Create Marketing Opportunities. Now, in a sense, with a new talk titled Global Trade in Fresh Produce and Consumer Demand: Strategies for Increasing Consumption. She squares the circle and takes us through the Great Recession to show how we come out the other end with strategies for building demand and increasing produce consumption. We asked Keith Loria, Contributing editor at Pundits sister publication PRODUCE BUSINESS to find out more:
Roberta Cook, Ph.D.
Dept. of Agricultural & Resource Economics
Q: As someone who has been to the New York Produce Show and Conference in years’ past, what have your impressions been?
A: I thought it was outstanding from a variety of perspectives. One perspective is you get a different type of attendee in these regional shows than in national shows, so there are all these wholesalers from the New York and New England areas attending that I ordinarily wouldn’t meet at a show. If you are a vendor and displaying your wares there, I think it’s a great opportunity to meet new customers and consider how they might expand their markets. The other thing is it is very creative with the food service ideation and I thought that was very useful for everyone. Then of course, just the excitement of being in New York, the Big Apple, makes it a really high energy show.
Q: What will be the topic of your talk at this year’s show?
A: Global Trade in Fresh Produce and Consumer Demand: Strategies for Increasing Consumption.
Q: What’s the gist of the talk?
A: The presentation will discuss factors influencing consumer demand and strategies that both firms and commodity groups use to impact consumer demand. I plan to give a big picture overview talk of some of the trends in the fresh produce industry that are affecting the demand for fresh produce and local trade. I want to highlight some commodity sectors as examples. I want to consider a variety of forces that are impacting demand and the food and marketing system, and that includes the recession. I also want to bring up a variety of topics I think may be important to the industry as a whole. Those include things like better utilization of information technology to better align the supply chain to improve vertical coordination of the food distribution system.
Q: How does aligning the supply chain help?
A: With better supply chain alignment, you can serve consumers better and do a better job of getting the right product to the right consumer at the right price. In order to do that, you need more information sharing between suppliers and retailers and if you’ve achieved that goal, you are able to reduce waste in the system and that reduces cost, which is something that can help increase demand.
Q: What else will you be discussing?
A: I want to discuss the waste issue somewhat and the importance of postharvest technology, packaging and other things like that for improvement for efficiency and greater productivity in the fresh produce distribution system. One of the reasons I want to address that is because waste in the system is becoming more of an issue today. Commentators, researchers, people who look at consumer advocacy groups who look at the fresh produce distribution systems, are paying a lot more attention to. Our industry is starting to receive negative attention based on that issue and I want to have that as a segment of my talk. What we can do through information technology in improving coordination and supply and demand to reduce that.
Q: How about the strategies that firms and commodity groups are using to impact consumer demand?
A: One of the ways you can impact demand is through managed varieties. I want to talk about the growth in managed varieties of fresh produce where these are proprietary, seed varieties that are controlled in some way. For example, you can control the acreage planted and in some cases you can control who markets the product, called a club, the most restricted form of a managed variety. You have these specialty varieties that generally have improved flavor or other attributes and then you control the supply so the market is not flooded with those items and hopefully you can maintain a premium price, which helps the firms that developed these varieties to cover the cost of offering these.
Q: Can you give me some examples of this?
A: In the apple industry, there are over 30 managed varieties globally. Grapes are also starting to participate. We’re having niche markets evolve where you do have proprietary varieties that have some kind of specific characteristic. The Grapery is a grape shipper in California that has a close relationship with International Fruit Genetics and IFG has developed grapes that taste like cotton candy. Tasti Lee tomatoes is an example in the tomato industry, where you have specific tomato varieties developed in Florida that are being controlled in terms of who the growers and shippers are who can market the product.
Q: You’ll also be talking about the history of branding in fresh produce. What will your talking points be for this?
A: Another strategy is branding without having proprietary varieties. I’ll discuss some of the limitations to branding but also from the new entrance involved in branding and fresh produce today, such as the Halo brand from Mandarin.
Private label is also growing rapidly within produce today and I’ll be discussing the various pros and cons to that. Then there’s industry-wide strategies for demand expansion and that would be generic promotion. I want to put a spotlight on avocados and what the industry has been able to achieve.
Q: Let’s talk some about the avocados. What have they been able to achieve?
A: A couple of years ago they realized imports would be increasing substantially from Mexico and the California Avocado Commission which had been doing generic promotion for decades, was faced with a position where imports would be free riding on their investment and promotion, so they helped to obtain a national marketing order for avocados, which is administered by the Hass Avocado Board. What’s happened is we’ve had this major increase in imports and volume sold and California is now the minority supplier in the U.S. market, consumption has more than doubled in the last two years and average grower prices are relatively stable. That’s a great example of demand expansion. The industry was able to push the demand curve to the right through a huge investment in promotional dollars. It’s been a huge success story.
Another case study that I think everyone is interested in is the berry case because there’s been a major growth in berries, and that’s happening internationally and in the U.S. market, and there are lots of lessons learned from that.
Q: Do you feel the talk is designed for any one particular segment of the industry or is it germane to everyone coming to the show?
A: Although I think it’s a very international audience that will be coming to hear this, there will also be U.S. retailers, U.S. grower shippers, U.S. wholesalers, etc. Today, however, everyone is affected by global trade, producers from other parts of the world, including shippers who export to the U.S. market obviously, but the US grower who gets affected by international supply portions, just as much. Retail and foodservice and the wholesalers and distributors that supply them are very dependent on a global supply base. I want to present information that’s relevant about the U.S. market and the connections to international trade. I think it will benefit a lot of the audience members.
Anyone who has ever heard Dr. Cook speak knows she is a blessing because every speech is veritable celebration of data, of case studies of information. Nobody can leave one of Dr. Cook’s speeches without being more informed that they were when they sat down.
There is still an opportunity to see Roberta Cook in action and to become more knowledgeable than you are, you can register right here or on site.