Technology offers so much to fresh produce, United panel says

The United Fresh outlook panel told how technology will transform the industry, on June 10. From left to right: Rich Gonzales, Walmart; Melissa Melshenker Ackerman, Produce Alliance; Jose Antonio Gomez, Camposol; Tom Stenzel, United Fresh; James Rogers, Apeel Sciences; Mary Thompson, Bonduelle Fresh/Ready Pac; and Paul Lightfoot, BrightFarms.

CHICAGO – Technology will improve the produce industry from so many angles.

Leaders from different business segments on the opening outlook panel at United Fresh June 10 told of the many ways modern tools will deliver consumer needs.

“Diversity of thought will bring people who know technology well to the industry, and that will lead us to solve challenges,” said Rich Gonzales, vice president of global sourcing for Walmart BB #:143789.

Jose Antonio Gomez, CEO of Camposol BB #:283214, said his company has been using more forecasting, and that’s made the company more efficient.

“We’re doing a better job of forecasting, using AI on what will be produced, where it’s being produced, and where it’s going,” he said.

Gonzales agreed that the industry has an issue with eliminating inefficiency.

“There is a lot of waste, inefficiency in the supply chain, and that adds cost,” he said. “We need to do a better job using technology as a tool and do better forecasting,” and Walmart is looking to work with companies that do this well.

James Rogers, CEO of Apeel Sciences BB #:345580, which produces a plant-based shelf-life extending product, said this kind of technology allows for many more possibilities for fresh fruits and vegetables.

“Our job is to provide more time for perishable product,” he said. “This of Starbucks as a grocer full of fresh produce,” as an example.

Mary Thompson, CEO of Bonduelle Fresh Americas/Ready Pac Foods BB #:114498, said labor is another area where it will help.

“Access to labor will be a problem where we need automation, but we won’t be able to fully automate because of changing consumer demand,” she said.

Panel moderator and United Fresh CEO Tom Stenzel said in his 20-plus years in the produce industry, he’s noticed that it’s filled with optimists, and the panelists all agreed, saying the future is bright for increased fresh fruit and vegetable consumption.

The United Fresh annual convention runs through June 12 in Chicago.

Greg Johnson is Director of Media Development for Blue Book Services