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Big voices at PMA offer big ideas


ORLANDO, FL – Produce Marketing Association’s Fresh Summit kickoff featured a new theme of Big Voices and offered produce industry attendees big ideas to consider rather than the usual merely useful concepts.

PMA CEO Cathy Burns’ annual State of the Industry touched on attracting talent, food safety and the future of e-commerce, which are important issues to consider for produce-oriented companies, but she expanded the discussion to consider things like produce-disguised-as-meat and appealing to the various food tribes.

She says consumers increasingly see “food groups” as things to be a part of rather than groups of things to eat, from keto- to vegan to gluten-free to even Weight Watchers as a lifestyle, rather than a diet program.

Other speakers on the Fresh Summit Oct. 18 program got further outside the attendees’ comfort zone, discussing how the produce industry could learn from robotics in medicine, for instance.

Jaydev Desai, professor of medical robotics and human augmentation at Georgia Tech, said agriculture could learn much from medicine, as he estimated ag is about 40 years behind medicine when it comes to applying robotics to real-life applications.

But all is not lost.

“Ask what the market needs are,” he says. “Start with small projects and learn from failures.”

Another presenter, Andrew Pelling, founder of The Pelling Lab, said his company is filled with people who are curious and willing to experiment with crazy things, like growing human and animal tissue inside plant matter, such as apples.

But he requires his staff to start with a hypothesis and set parameters to test it. Even failing at something offers a learning experience.

“Society should not shift to risk aversion,” he says, noting that too many people and companies can’t think big because they’re too afraid to fail.

Echoing the sentiment was Stuart K. Robinson, motivational speaker, author and career coach, who said people shouldn’t be so self-conscious.

“You’re afraid to fail?” he asked, jokingly. “Ain’t nobody thinking about you!”

He said too many people let fear paralyze them.

“Fear and excitement feel the same,” he says.

Of course, award winning actor Leslie Odom Jr., of Hamilton fame, sang a few songs, but he said his life was transformed by taking risks, being true to himself, and seeking mentors, such as his in Robinson.

“I try to leave myself open to experience extraordinary things,” he said.

And voice that attracted the biggest crowd was Super Bowl winning quarterback Peyton Manning.

Among the many business tips he gave Oct. 19, was that people need to be fast, flexible and fluid, and leadership always must be earned, and that starts with being quiet, learning, and putting in the necessary preparation.

Photo: (from left, Kevin Coupe, Leslie Odom Jr, Stuart K. Robinson)


Greg Johnson is Director of Media Development for Blue Book Services Inc.