Depending on how you view it, the fresh produce supply chain is becoming both faster and slower: on the one hand, more and more consumers want near-instantaneous delivery at the touch of a button; on the other, demand appears to be growing for a slower, closer connection with food and its origins. That's one of the first impressions I had on reading the latest part of Fruit Trade 2025, a special report prepared by leading Swiss think-tank the Gottlieb Duttweiler Institute and released free of charge by leading industry trade fair Fruit Logistica, in collaboration with Fruitnet Media International.
From a marketing perspective, there is plenty to be gained from bringing consumers in closer touch with producers, and this will almost certainly offer plenty of fresh opportunity to increase the value of fruit and vegetables in future as long as interest in local, seasonal produce originating from short supply chains continues to rise. But at a global level, the entire fresh produce business still leans heavily on those links in the supply chain that are responsible for collecting fruit and vegetables, transporting them to distribution centres, keeping them at the right temperature, ensuring they ripen at the right time and delivering them to the point of sale as quickly as possible, with the minimum complication or indeed expense.
In an increasing digital and interconnected world, fast is no longer enough especially when it comes to the food we eat out of the home. Just look at the world of fast food. Consumers might previously have made do with whatever was on offer at the one or two quickservice restaurants in town, but nowadays many of them also want healthy, safe, ethically sourced, exciting and convenient products that satisfy not only their hunger but their aspirations, concerns, interest and need to maintain a fast-paced lifestyle.
What’s more, today consumers also have more choice. Fast food has not traditionally been seen as a place for consumers to eat healthily, but the inclusion of healthier options by home delivery start-ups and the introduction of recipe box schemes like HelloFresh are changing that perception. This is opening up new opportunities for fresh produce suppliers. App-based transportation service Uber has managed to disrupt plenty of taxi markets around the world, and now it’s turning its attention to food delivery with UberEats. Maybe it can deliver a new opportunity for this industry?
With a whole host of new internet-based food delivery platforms offering consumers far greater choice than ever before, the challenge for fresh produce suppliers will be to remain in touch with the right distribution channels. With the advent of digital networks, driverless vehicles and drone delivery technology – developments that I guess most of us would consider futuristic and space-age – the way fresh fruit and vegetables, and food in general, are distributed appears set for a major evolutionary step. Could fresh produce be delivered to consumers by drone in future? Some in the distribution arena believe so, but perhaps some of those consumers will ultimately prefer to abandon such attempts to overcome distance and instead buy into shorter supply chains?
In the same way that information is disseminated across a far greater number of channels than ever before, your product now has a rapidly increasing number of routes to market in front of it. The only question is: which are the right ones?
Part three of Fruit Logistica’s Fruit Trade 2025 report offers a valuable free tool for those looking to understand these trends. It’s available as a free download at the Fruit Logistica website.
Part four will follow in June, focusing on consumer behaviour.