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SPOILER ALERT! 2017 Industry Outlook

Trends, insight, and analysis you need to know
MS_Spoiler Alert

Packaging: Old and New
Simplicity in delivery extends to the packaging as well. “What’s too much packaging?” Goforth asks. “Some things are just better in their original form.” He describes the popularity of clear, high-visibility pouches that showcase whole fruit. “We’re able to put six or seven nectarines in a bag and they buy the whole bag instead of one or two.” He’s also seeing an interest in traditional retailers using club-format higher quantity bulk packaging.

Totta predicts a continuation of personal-sized servings. But an increase in single-serves doesn’t necessarily mean more packaging and waste, as Wolter sees an upswing in demand for eco-friendly packaging, as evidenced by new products showcased at last year’s Fresh Summit expo in Orlando. Pure Flavor was one such example, with “packaging made from tomato plant fiber.”

Sweet New Varieties
Not surprisingly, hybrids and sweeter, tastier produce are still winning the day, though not without a few struggles. Family Tree Farms specializes in hybrids, which customers mistakenly believe are genetically modified. “There’s a little bit of suspicion,” he says, but it’s not ‘weird science,’ “just pollen on a flower.”

As for the biggest and best foods that consumers are going to be excited about in the coming year, Totta touts the continuing wave of mango and kale popularity. Wolter predicts a rise in foods with specific dietary benefits for “healthier skin, improved energy levels, and gastrointestinal health.” She also expects continued consumer interest in plant-based diets.

Despite the extra work for food safety, Totta sees fresh-cut as “a trend on the upswing and not slowing down anytime soon. The demand for waste-free and labor-free fruits and vegetables is as strong as it has ever been.” New items developed overseas include blended red and yellow peppers that Totta describes as “zebra-type bell peppers with different colors. They look beautiful,” he en-thuses. Wolter predicts a “continued emphasis in the reduction of food waste.” This includes companies marketing more less-than- perfect produce.

Leadership and Advice for the Year
While the presidential election caused a great deal of controversy throughout 2016, our experts aren’t particularly worried about the year ahead. In a Western Growers press release after the November elections, Nassif urged “leaders to mend broken fences and redouble their efforts to solve the many challenges facing our country.” Further, he expressed optimism about “pragmatic solutions to key agricultural issues.”

Totta, too, described himself as “not concerned” and added he is sure the “new administration will do what’s good for business” and leaders would “make the right decisions for our industry.”

Vaché advises everyone to view the larger perspective: “Consumers continue to seek fresh fruit and vegetables to help them lead a healthy lifestyle and we all play a part in our convoluted but marvelous perishable supply chain. Everyone needs to be engaged in industry initiatives, seek to understand how the regulatory landscape is changing, have a strong voice to support sound science, and remind our elected officials they work for us.”

Goforth agrees. “It’s such a dynamic industry, everything is related. At the end of the day, it comes down to how we can bring value. It’s a highly passionate business and we need to keep our passion.”

Images: Amanda Flagg & Vaclav Volrab/

M.B. Sutherland is a Chicago-based freelancer with more than twenty years of experience writing for business and news publications.