Originally printed in the February 2022 issue of Produce Business.
When we hear the phrase ‘food safety’ in the produce industry, many people’s minds go right to traceability, block chain, paperwork, and certifications. Take my family’s wholesale/distribution business, S. Katzman Produce, for instance. Every day, we check temperatures, fill out paperwork, tag up product, track packages all throughout the supply chain, and, of course, go through our yearly audits, all to keep our food safety certifications and to protect the food supply. We are very proud of these certifications and accolades. They set us apart from others, recognize our standard of quality and excellence, and allow us to work with a wide range of customers, contributing to our overall success as a company.
However, food safety is so much more than applications and scores and certifications. Food safety enables the produce industry to deliver what consumers really want, including great flavor and a positive experience, transparency about where their products come from, and access to fresh produce at fair prices.
Consumers want healthy produce that also delivers on great flavor and a positive experience. As prevalence of media, social media, and the internet increases, so does access to information. People are learning more about food, including the benefits of eating more fresh fruits and vegetables and the risks associated with eating too many processed foods. People care about what they’re putting into their bodies, and food safety is crucial in facilitating this idea of “food as medicine.” Consumers need to be confident that the fresh fruits and vegetables they are buying from all over the world are safe, healthy and delicious to eat. As an industry, it is our responsibility to deliver this positive experience, and to support this continued shift towards incorporating more fresh fruits and vegetables into consumer diets.
It’s time to change our image of food safety.
Additionally, consumers have demonstrated that they care about transparency and where their produce comes from. They want to know where it was grown, how it was grown, and who it was grown by. They want to know about the cold chain and how their produce stays fresh until it gets to them. They want to know about what they are eating, and also the company behind what they are eating. They want to know about the company’s values, how they treat their employees and the environment, and which causes they support. Because of food safety and traceability, consumers are able to access information about their produce and the brands behind the produce, so they can make educated decisions about what they’re consuming and which companies they want to support.
And lastly, consumers want access to these fresh fruits and vegetables at fair prices, which yet again, comes back to food safety. Whether consumers are shopping for a big clamshell of strawberries or a single mandarin, the label or sticker on that item ensures that they are charged an accurate and fair price. Without the label, they run the risk of their items being mixed up or confused for similar items, some of which could have big price differences.
Product labels are a way for grower/shippers to communicate information about their product all the way down the supply chain. And the cool thing is, when consumers purchase that product, their shopper data and information goes all the way back up the supply chain. It tells the grower/shippers about consumer purchasing habits so they can grow more of what the consumer wants and less of what they don’t want. Some stores are also able to use this data to better target their shoppers with relevant ads, coupons and suggestions. Food safety traceability allows us as an industry to not only communicate information, but to also collect information that we can use to improve our product lines.
Food safety is undergoing a rebrand and we – the produce industry – have the opportunity to use it to our benefit. It’s time to change our image of food safety. It’s not an administrative element that should be kept behind the scenes. We should be transparent about it, and we should be talking to consumers about it.
Consumers want produce that is healthy, delicious and good for them, so let’s tell them all the ways that food safety delivers on this. Consumers want to know where their produce comes from, so let’s be transparent and show them what happens “behind the scenes.” Consumers want access to fresh fruits and vegetables at fair prices, so let’s educate them about product labels and price navigating when it comes to produce.
We can use food safety as a tool to give consumers exactly what they want, fulfilling consumer demand and driving increased demand as a result. There is nothing more powerful than an educated consumer. If we as an industry come together and change the way we think and talk about food safety, we can use it as a tool to propel the entire produce industry forward.
Stefanie Katzman is executive vice president of S. Katzman Produce Inc., located in the Bronx, NY. She works alongside her father, Stephen Katzman, who is president and owner of the businesses, continuing to lead the amazing team of about 370 employees that make up the Katzman staff today.