More Than Produce At PMA

Don Harris - Retail Perspective

Originally printed in the November 2019 issue of Produce Business.

When produce executives return from the annual PMA convention, they are often asked by upper management what interested them at the show. Did you find a totally new produce item that would generate additional sales? Did you find the latest and sweetest variety of melon, or did you negotiate an excellent deal for exclusive supply of a key produce item?

Whatever the question, management never fully grasps the impact and sweeping nature of the PMA Fresh Summit. They never fully realize how much more there is to learn and see at this exposition. It is just another case where management — “just doesn’t get it.”

Aside from all the displays, product introductions, new varieties and innovative new solutions represented by all the fresh produce and floral items and their suppliers, there is a great deal more to discover at the PMA show. Many of the things to discover have to do with the actual operation of the produce department and include several sections and groups of products that can assist in taking your operation to a higher level. The progressive produce executive always looks beyond the obvious opportunities in the fresh produce and floral area to develop additional opportunities and strategies that utilize non-fresh items or equipment. There is a tremendous amount of knowledge to gain from seeking out new developments and innovations in this area. This year’s PMA convention was more targeted than before, as various industries were separated and located in their own section of the floor to make it easier to explore.

There were at least three major areas at PMA that should have provided opportunities and methods to advance your operation. One such area is packaging. There are always new developments in packaging that can assist in the display and protection of items at retail. New types of packaging that allow the product to breathe, as well as provide ease-of-display and improved visibility of the product, are available. These packaging concepts also have another benefit — they make it easier for the customer to select and remove the product from the display. These packaging innovations also benefit the consumer by protecting the product and helping to extend its shelf life once purchased. All of these innovations incorporate the latest technology and are sensitive to waste and sustainability issues that can adversely affect the environment. It’s well worth your while to take some time and discover what’s new and innovative in this area. It will provide ideas for improvements, or conversely, the peace of mind that your produce packaging is up-to-date.

The progressive produce executive always looks beyond the obvious opportunities in the fresh produce and floral area to develop additional
opportunities and strategies that utilize non-fresh items or equipment.

Another area of interest to the produce executive would be in the area of equipment. While many of these machines and packing systems are not generally applicable to retail produce, they provide an insight into what is going on in the produce packing arena. It will highlight new innovations in machinery that could be applicable to some of the items you sell or could also be of assistance to your various suppliers. It is always an advantage to better understand your suppliers’ challenges and to become aware of possible solutions that may be able to help their operation as well as your own. Also, you can find various systems for handling specific produce items such as ripening systems for bananas and other tropical fruits. Given the increasing importance of proper ripening of bananas and other tropical fruits — including avocados— to a stage that provides the type of fruit consistent with consumer preferences, the utilization of these systems can provide a superior capability for your operation versus the older systems presently in use. Additionally, this area offers the chance to see new packing systems that protect the product during transit including new carton designs and packing materials that can deliver a superior product to your warehouse and ultimately to the stores.

Finally, the last area to examine is that of fixtures and display equipment. This is an area where you can find products and develop ways to merchandise produce in the best possible manner. These new methods of display may offer opportunities to improve labor efficiency by utilizing new display aids and techniques to assist your produce personnel in the presentation of their departments. It is also an area where you can develop a new “look” for your department by utilizing new and different fixtures. There are all kinds of fixtures available utilizing a variety of materials, colors, textures, and heights to help develop your strategic vision of how you can upgrade presentation and raise the operation to the next level.

These examples clearly illustrate the benefits of fully exploring all aspects of the PMA show. There is nowhere else where one can find this plethora of opportunities. The progressive, innovative retailer takes full advantage of the opportunity to view up close everything that is new and available in the wide world of produce. The resulting value of this exploration is the elevation of your operation to a higher level, which could increase sales and profits.

Don Harris is a 41-year veteran of the produce industry, with most of that time spent in retail. He worked in every aspect of the industry, from “field-to-fork” in both the conventional and organic arenas. Harris is presently consulting. Comments can be directed to