Oct 10, 2022
Sessions highlight new produce snacks, dining trends

One purpose of the Florida Fruit & Vegetable Association’s convention was to pollinate ideas as a group that could benefit the industry.

In sessions, attendees got a peek into how gene editing could help increase demand for the crops they grow. They also learned how retail and foodservice industries are focusing on local Florida produce after the pandemic.

Because only 10% of Americans eat the recommended daily allowances of fresh produce, the produce industry needs to use technology to develop snack items such as pitless cherries and seedless blackberries to remain increase consumption, said Haven Baker, co-founder and chief business officer of Pairwise. The Durham, North Carolina, company uses gene editing to develop value-added produce products. 

Baker discussed how CRISPR, a new genome editing tool, is helping agriculture reinvent breeding.

“In the past, we saw all the new technology go to row crops,” he said. “CRISPR can work everywhere. We think there’s an opportunity to bring new genetics to agriculture. We are at the beginning of a multi-decade era of innovation.”

The fresh produce industry needs to watch trends to retain competitive advantage. Baker lamented that a strawberry company CEO once told him “the Dumpster is our best customer.”

Baker cited U.S. tire manufacturers, which in the early 1970s enjoyed 59% of world production. The domestic industry’s reluctance to produce more efficient radial tires was a factor in a 17% market share by the 1990s. 

In a panel discussion on “Reinventing Food: A conversation with leaders who blazed a post-pandemic path,” Anthony Dapice, a Kroger category manager, and Tommy Ward, director of operations for Orlando, Florida-based 4R Restaurant Group/4roots, provided insights on the value of local produce.

Dapice discussed Kroger wanting to procure more fresh produce from Florida to supply the retailer’s new Florida consumer grocery delivery service.

“From a fulfillment center standpoint, we will support local as much as we can,” he said. “There’s no reason to bring product from Mexico (when available locally). The most important thing is freshness and quality. Sometimes, it can come with a little cost difference from what something would be in Mexico, but to the consumer, local is the most important thing and we stand behind that.

“I promise you we will stand by our local partners, procuring directly and locally.”

4R operates 15 Florida locations of 4 Rivers Smokehouses and other restaurants.

“We are really highlighting what can be done creatively with menu items, those things that are plant forward rather than protein forward,” Ward said. “Those trends are fast approaching and are already here. We have a consumer base that is moving to a plant-based position. Our commitment is to buy as much locally as possible.” 

—Doug Ohlemeier

PHOTO: Tony DiMare, of the DiMare Co., left, moderates a panel discussion on how retail and foodservice operators are using fresh produce after the pandemic with Kroger’s Anthony Dapice. PHOTO: Doug Ohlemeier

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