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Zoom makes associations more global, less personal

A panel discussed how the pandemic has changed the ways associations work at the FPAA annual convention in Tubac, AZ, Nov. 4. Left to right: Tom Stenzel, President, United Fresh Produce Association; Christian Murillo, Vice President, National Watermelon Promotion Board; Leonardo Tarriba, Chairman, Fresh Produce Association of the Americas; Chris Ciruli, Vice Chair, National Mango Promotion Board and Board of Directors, United Fresh; Sabrina Hallman, Past President of the Arizona Seed Trade Association; and Craig Slate, Chairman, Texas International Produce Association.

We should always look for the opportunities when faced with challenges, and those of us in the produce industry have made the best of Zoom and other virtual platforms for internal and external meetings in the last 18 months.

Some of us were already familiar with Zoom-type meetings and presentations, as our Blue Book audience has seen from my fellow Produce Reporter Pamela Riemenschneider and my Week in Reviews the past three years. https://www.producebluebook.com/tag/week-in-review/

The rest were thrust into virtual meetings, so that now most of us are comfortable with them.

From a produce industry association standpoint, some have been able to return to in person meetings and events, and others not, as we saw with the second straight cancelation of Produce Marketing Association’s Fresh Summit in October.

During the in-person annual meeting of the Fresh Produce Association of the Americas BB #:144354 in Tubac, AZ, Nov. 3-5, several association leaders talked about when pandemic disruptions have meant in broad terms.

Tom Stenzel, President of United Fresh Produce Association BB #:145458 and soon-to-be co-CEO of the International Fresh Produce Association, after the Jan. 1 merger with PMA is completed, said virtual meetings expanded United Fresh’s reach since travel can be expensive.

“It also expanded our reach globally,” he said.

Leonardo Tarriba, Chairman of FPAA and Grower-shipper board member with United Fresh, said it allowed an Arizona-centered group like FPAA to reach more people outside of Arizona more easily.

While Chris Ciruli, Vice Chair of the National Mango Promotion Board BB #:189894 and on the Board of Directors for United Fresh, agreed that more people in organizations can attend meeting virtually, in person meetings offer uniquely personal interactions.

“Behind the scenes at meetings can’t be replicated,” he said.

For example, he happened to run into fellow panelist Craig Slate, Chairman of the Texas International Produce Association BB #:162361 at United Fresh’s fall conference in Washington, DC, and share a cab ride. That kind of thing is lucky, but it happens all the time at produce meetings, Ciruli said, and Slate agreed.

Sabrina Hallman, Past President of the Arizona Seed Trade Association, said industry veterans need those personal interactions with friends and colleagues they’ve known for years, but it’s also critical to show younger industry members that these are the things that make the produce industry unique.

“We need the personal connections to bring people into the industry and keep them here,” she said.

Greg Johnson is Director of Media Development for Blue Book Services