The Produce Marketing Association’s (PMA) Fresh Summit Convention in the US is one of my favourite fresh fruit and vegetable shows. With over 1,000 exhibitors, it is big enough to be interesting without being daunting. Now reduced to two days, it takes stamina and commitment to get to all the booths but it is so worth it. New products and innovation were in abundance, which I always find motivating.
I had not been to a PMA in four years and so much has changed. The traditional grower-packer-shipper has taken a back seat to those growers who have invested in processing and innovation. New exhibitors, in the form of millennial start-ups, are doing interesting things with HPP innovation.
Overall, it made me feel both proud and blessed to be part of such a dynamic, vibrant industry. Here are some show highlights that caught my eye.
Fresh meal solutions are now main stream. I can remember life before the bagged salad revolution, when eating a salad took work. You had to buy the head of iceberg or romaine, wash it, chop it and then add your protein or complimentary condiments to it. Bagged salad technology changed all that, meaning eating a salad was now as easy as just cutting open a bag and pouring it out. It revolutionised salads as we know it and increased fresh veggie consumption in the process.
This same fresh innovation is now mainstream, but the products are so much more interesting. Take Mann’s Nourish Bowls, filled with interesting veggie combos. To prepare, simply microwave the veggies for five minutes then add the provided sauce. Nutrient rich ‘bowls’ have been trending for a while so this is a fantastic example of how fresh produce is keeping up with consumer trends. As an added benefit, the bowls are around 200 calories and ‘free from’ gluten, wheat, soy and eggs.
Ready-Pac foods, an innovator from way back, has launched a new range of ready-to-make wraps. Sold under the Fresh Prep’d brand and with three-quarters of a cup of veggies per kit, they come complete with wrap, veggies and sauce. In their Fresh Prep’d range, they are also about to launch innovative, veggie laden soup bowls too.
Apio (my old company) has recognised the clean eating and clean label trend. Their new Eat Smart Salad (Shake Ups) boast the slogan, “100 per cent clean” right on front of pack.
Of course the challenge with all of these innovations is they are packed in plastic. This is the down-side of convenient, ready-to-eat produce as packaging is a critical component for how the meal solution gets delivered. I was hoping to see a range of non-plastic alternatives at PMA but sadly there was not much there. However one packaging company did catch my eye.
Sambrailo Packaging based in California has launched a new ‘Ready Cycle’ range of recyclable berry punnets. Made out of cardboard, they are ‘recycle stream ready’ according to their website. Given the growth of berry production in Australasia, this non-plastic innovation could be worth exploring further for companies looking to develop a packaging differential advantage.
I met the packaging designer for the company who told me the recyclable punnet innovation had taken them two years to get right. To date, uptake in the US has been slow, but the US market does not appear to have the same anti-plastic urgency we have here in Australia and New Zealand. Regardless of US uptake, a recyclable cardboard berry punnet that could replace single-use plastic punnets is an innovation worth exploring.
Along with meal solution innovation, I was thrilled to see a new generation of young, entrepreneurial start-ups at the show. Selling everything from pure, veggie-laden soups and gazpachos to fresh, wholesome juices, new ideas and products were in abundance.
This article was originally published in the summer edition of Produce Plus, out now.