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Summary of educational session: Resilience and Rebound

PMA's virtual Fresh Summit is on

The virtual edition of PMA Fresh Summit is in full swing. It started yesterday and will run till October 15. Despite it is in a virtual setting, the goal of the event remains the same as it does every year: enabling connections between buyers and sellers across the industry and around the world. Also this year, the floral industry is presented, not only on the marketplace also in the educational and networking sessions. In this article, we give a summary of one of the sessions held on the first day of the event; Resilience and Rebound.

In this session, John Simko, President and CEO at Sunshine Bouquet Company, Matt Seeley, President and CEO at Organic Produce Network, and Jeff Dunn, Chairman and CEO at Bolthouse Farms, Inc. came together to share how they overcame the challenges presented by COVID-19 and the opportunities for growth.

Educational session: Resilience and Rebound
Yesterday, several sessions were held. One of the sessions was Resilience and Rebound. In the session it became clear that the produce as well as the floral industry is a resilient industry. All three of these professionals said that it ended up less worse than expected.

So, to start from the beginning, the early pandemic was very hectic, uncertain and a period with a lot of confusion for all of them. In the produce industry, they saw a spike in demand for retail and a drop in demand for food service as more people stayed at home and eat at home. However, on the floral side, even though the demand on store level was there, the bottleneck was the distribution from the supermarket DC's to the stores. There was no space in the trucks for the flowers, so as Sunshine Bouquet, they had to dump 25-30 million stems the first couple of weeks. Fortunately, after the initial shock, the industry started to recover quickly and Mother's Day came where they went from "We can't throw away fast enough to how do we ship this faster, within just four weeks", Simko explains.

So, things started to turn around quickly. Simko: "The retailers were very supportive in trying to bring back flowers to their stores, we worked more or less on a Valentines schedule for 8 weeks straight and we tried to respond as well as we could." From the produce industry, demand increased as well, also from the organic perspective, Seeley explains. "As more and more people started to eat at home, and as a result of that, they are looking for healthy and nutritious options and organic fits that bill. From March till June, we saw double digit growth over the previous year on organic sales as well as volume on commodities."

And hopes are high for the coming months and year. They all expect that there are several trends to stay. Coming out of Mother's Day, Sunshine Bouquet expected the sales to go down, but they were up 20-25% and they continued to stay high. He noticed that the quality of flowers at the supermarkets improved and therefore hopes that they can keep the consumers they picked up during this pandemic. So, for the coming year, he expects sales to go up.

Also in the produce industry they see trends that are here to stay. Dunn expects plant based products to increase as people are more and more looking for healthy and sustainable options as well, particularly when they are still at home. Also for the organic industry, hopes are high. "We expect more people to try new things and we've seen a tremendous growth in some items, like organic ginger. It blends nicely in the cooking at home channel. I don't think that it will go away. "

Floral companies at the marketplace
The exhibitors can be found at the marketplace and, even though the event is virtual, it remains the heart of the expo. In this area, one can search by companies, products or segments. You can also see who first-time exhibitors are and look for pavilions. There’s an option for bookmarking companies of interest to come back to later. On top of that, when you find companies of interest you can schedule direct, face-to-face video meetings or send messages. In the floral market place nearly 50 companies are present. 

The kickoff of the event - State of the Industry by CEO Cathy Burns
While the setting and circumstances surrounding this year’s Fresh Summit are different from what any of us expected, the show started off as it usually does: with the State of the Industry, delivered by PMA CEO Cathy Burns. In this year’s State of the Industry, Burns shared the trends that were prevalent prior to and during the pandemic, reflected on the community’s response and identified where the fresh produce and floral industries have opportunities to continue to grow the Joy of Fresh among consumers.

A new extraordinary 

“I sure do miss being with you in person, but not even a global pandemic will keep us from getting together, even if it is virtually,” Burns starts off her address. “While this year’s Fresh Summit will be different, it will not disappoint,” she promises. The core theme of this year’s State of the Industry was laid out in a few choice words: “Change is something that happens to us, but transformation is something that happens because of us.” Burns explains: “That’s what the next three days are really about. Whatever is weighing us down as individuals is truly light waiting to break through and shine on our community. Many are working to survive, much less thrive, but thrive we will, I know it. I have no desire to go back to normal; all this talk of a new normal is just a way of settling for whatever may come. I am far more interested in a new extraordinary, one that we make together.” 

A new extraordinary, rather than a new normal, is what we should strive for, Burns says. The pandemic has brought forth challenges and changes that most of us could not have imagined a year ago, but working with these and improving our businesses, our supply chains, and our industry, will help shape a stronger community. “Among the turmoil of the pandemic, a remarkable thing happened: the phrase ‘essential’ emerged. More importantly, our products were recognized and celebrated as essential and the world had a newfound and long overdue appreciation for those involved in our food system. No matter where you are in the supply chain, we are in this together, and I am incredibly humbled and grateful for every member who has collaborated with us to help lift up our community. You are our heroes,” Burns says. (Click here to read more on what was shared during this session on

PMA Fresh Summit will run through Thursday, October 15th. To register to attend the event, click here.

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