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Use analytics to make better decisions in 2021

Many produce companies have embraced—or at least acknowledged the importance of—using analytics and data to make business decisions.

In 2021, the industry is no longer a handshake and gut feeling business anymore, although we’re hopeful handshakes and face-to-face meetings return this year.

What does it look like when a produce company invests in predictive analytics, and how do they provide the return on investment?

I talked with Garland Perkins, senior manager of insights and innovation for Oppy, before the end of 2020 about how her job has changed as the industry has realized the importance of harnessing big data.

“The industry has been hearing about how valuable ‘big data’ is for a while,” she says.

“However, the difficulty often lies in understanding the data resources available, the types of information they include, and most importantly, how to analyze this information in a way that enables fact-based decision making.”

Perkins says a good example for Oppy was a few years ago when the company started to notice Brussels sprouts were emerging to a year-round dish, not just a holiday dish.

“We used data to understand the typical import and export trends at that time of the year, in addition to where the majority of production takes place and how much volume is typically in the market,” she says.

“As with any new crop, it’s had its share of challenges and benefits, but overall, it’s been very positive for us. And the data was key in making that initial decision for the new venture.”

Something big has changed since that example though, Perkins says. Before, Oppy would bring an idea backed by data analysis to retail partners, but increasingly, retailers have their own data departments.

“With many retailers now having their own analytical teams in-house, Oppy strives to provide category management solutions and ideas to our customers instead of simply informing them how a specific category is performing,” she says.

While her job used to be more centered on discovering the “why,” she says it’s now about providing the “so what?”

We’ll look back on 2020 as a once-in-a-lifetime kind of year, so it will be difficult to use gathered data and apply it to current and future years.

How do we know what’s normal anymore?

During the pandemic, Perkins says many produce items have seen higher markets that aren’t always influenced by typical supply and demand curves, with much of it having to do with consumers eating at home more.

“Oppy has worked to understand what market functions or consumer demand might be able to explain the trends for the outliers,” she says.

“When planning for 2021 and beyond, we’re taking the ‘Covid effect’ into major consideration. For instance, if consumers begin to feel safe seeing friends and family, getting together in large groups, and traveling by mid-2021, that would most likely dramatically change the retail demand for fresh produce for the latter half of the year.

“As planting decisions are usually made well in advance, we dance a fine line between taking advantage of the demand Covid has generated while also knowing it could change in an instant with a readily available vaccine or rapid testing.”

No one can predict the future, but with a better understanding of how data and analytics can help with decisions, we can take smarter and more informed risks.

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