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Future Forward

Thoughts and predictions on 2015 from throughout the industry
Front Feature

How nice it would be to have a crystal ball, to take the uncertainty out of growing, shipping, and retailing fresh fruit and vegetables. Barring such magic, there is another way to gauge the future: talk to the experts. So we asked industry veterans and subject matter experts to consider the various political, socioeconomic, and climatic factors impacting the industry and to provide their views on what 2015 might have in store for us.

We’ve divided these predictions into topic sections for your reading pleasure. For good measure, we also consulted buyers and sellers far and wide to get their opinion. For these comments, read the “Across the Industry” sidebars and let us know what you think. Dive in, agree or disagree. We’ll be returning to our prognosticators next year to see which predictions were on the money and which ones fell victim to the industry’s highly unpredictable nature.

Commodities & Innovation
When discussing commodities and innovation, the subject can range from new varieties and point-of-sale displays to packaging and social media campaigns. Anthony Totta, vice chairman at Missouri-based FreshXperts LLC, talked about packaging, predicting “a transition away from polybag, flexible-bag packaging to rigid plastic packaging that is tamper-proof and safety sealed.” Concerns over food safety and shelf life are behind this trend, and Totta believes the increased use of rigid plastic containers addresses both, as well as preventing the crushing and bruising of product.

He also sees a continued movement toward more technical, higher-efficiency growing, such as hydroponics. Given the water shortage in much of the country, Totta says, “Hydroponic greenhouses allow you to grow high production with limited water use, and even allows recycling of water.”

Hand-in-hand with indoor growing environments, Totta has seen an increased interest in using LED lighting to grow herbs, fruit, or vegetables in warehouses. High-efficiency, indoor growing environments such as hoop houses and greenhouses lend themselves well to the buy-local and sustainability movements.

Looking shorter-term at 2015, Totta predicts continued enthusiasm about what has been called the ‘Mediterranean’ diet. “It’s fuelling more interest in things like kale; demand for kale is just on fire. Some of this new type of higher-tech growing lends itself to being able to grow things like kale—to sell it fresher and produce it faster.”

Along with interest in healthier eating is an increased interest in organics. Kristen Park, Extension associate at Cornell University, believes organics demand will continue to rise in the coming year in both larger and niche markets. “You have Walmart and the extending of their organic product line, you also have the small players like Sprouts Farmers Market, which seems to be doing very well. There’s enough interest at the consumer level,” she notes, “and they’ll respond by purchasing more organic products.”