On September 15th and 16th, the “Organic Produce Summit 2021” was held in Monterey, California. The event initially scheduled to take place last year was canceled due to the pandemic. However, this time it brought together more than 1,200 agri-food professionals, showcased many organic products, unveiled key trends (organic coatings, for example), and brought to the table discussions of critical interest to the industry. One of these instances was the conversation “Opportunities and obstacles for post-covid organic products.” Moderated by Randy Riley, co-owner of GoldenSun Insights and agri-tech industry expert, it featured leading figures in the organic market:
- Heather Fuller, vice president of sales for Braga Fresh (organic producers).
- Ricardo Crisantes, commercial director of Wholesum (organic producers).
- Robby Cruz, produce manager for Sprouts Farmers Market (a natural foods retailer).
The talk, which focused on the post-pandemic future food, highlighted the changing retail and manufacturing landscape, exploring what the “new normal” looks like and how the market has changed in critical areas.
Changes in the supply chain
The pandemic and the logistical inconveniences generated by mobility restrictions have created a challenge for the supply chain: to be much more resilient, agile, and responsive. This implies optimizing communication between all actors in the chain, from producers to retailers, including organic exporters, who are increasingly relevant in the market.
Such communication involves aligning objectives among all actors in the supply chain and discussing the future food and critical factors such as the rising costs, the challenges to be overcome by the retailers, and meeting consumer needs.
Of course, confinement and sanitary protocols forced retailers to create strategies to deliver products safely, conveniently, and quickly. Among them, the one that took force was the “Drive-Up” or Pick Up,” on which the consumer buys through the online channel, goes to a physical store, and parks his vehicle in a designated place to pick up the products.
The focus, in the end, must be on delivering value to the buyer along the entire supply chain, leveraging both the advantages of the agtech industry and the possibilities offered by eCommerce and the digital society in general.
eCommerce and organic products
The pandemic boosted online sales of organic products. However, and as pointed out in the discussion, this is not a fad but a trend that is here to stay and poses several challenges for producers, retailers, and organic exporters:
- Rethinking the supply chain and logistics to respond to the demands of speed and convenience required for eCommerce was, of course, innovation is one of the keys.
- Enhance digital marketing and storytelling to communicate the added value of the products marketed effectively.
- Implement a series of omnichannel tools and strategies to provide a good shopping experience.
Moreover, the growth of eCommerce will not stop, and the industry will have to adapt its processes to this reality without neglecting sales and merchandising strategies in physical stores because, despite the rise of online shopping, there will still be consumers who prefer to shop in stores.
Consumer buying behavior
2020 was an unprecedented year in which the agri-food sector experienced significant growth, especially in organic products, whose global sales grew between 25% and 100%, according to research by Ecovia Intelligence.
That growth trend has been in place since 2009. In fact, in 2019 alone, global sales of organic products reported approximately $110 billion in revenues, driven by consumers increasingly aware of the food industry’s role in health and the environment.
As part of the discussion, experts emphasized that today’s consumers are increasingly aware and concerned about their health, the well-being of the planet, and even social equity and justice. Moreover, the preponderance of agricultural workers during the pandemic was also part of the debate, making it clear that their role in society is of critical necessity.
Along these lines, there is evidence of a change in the consumer’s purchasing decision factors: the healthier, more sustainable, and responsible the product is, the more it may interest the consumer, even to the point of paying more.
The role of sustainability
In line with the above, producers and sellers will have to show their target audiences how sustainable their products are and how they are helping to protect natural resources.
It is a difficult task because, even if it is natural and organic food, food production always involves using resources such as water or land, including the packaging and processes necessary to take it from the crop to the consumer’s table.
As noted above, during the pandemic, the global population became more aware of the value of agricultural workers. Therefore, companies in the sector need to highlight their social responsibility and establish efficient, two-way lines of communication that contribute to both business growth and labor welfare.
At this point, it is worth noting that the agricultural industry faces a significant challenge: a growing labor shortage. In the United States alone, employed workers in the sector are expected to grow by only 1% from 2019 to 2029, slower than average for all occupations, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
This is a severe problem because, although innovation and technology are increasingly important players in the organic market, the human factor will always be necessary for optimum productivity.
PolyNatural: organic coatings as a concrete solution to food challenges
Understanding the importance of extending the shelf life of food – which implies a decrease in food waste and carbon footprint – PolyNatural has developed a core solution for today’s agtech industry: Shel-Life.
It is a 100% natural emulsion (plant-based) produced with natural extracts, lipids, and vegetable polymers that, when applied to the fruit, creates a coating to keep it in good condition and prevent food waste by controlling dehydration and the growth of microorganisms.
Shel-Life is an ideal product to increase the shelf life of fruits naturally throughout the supply chain, especially in exportation fruits, allowing producers and exporters to increase the profitability of operations and align with the trend of making more sustainable processes in the food industry.
By leaving aside synthetic waxes – derived from oil – it is possible to offer a healthy, safe, and sustainable product. Here it is worth noting that Shel-Life has helped save 157,041 cubic meters of water and avoided the waste of 273.6 tons of development in the exportation fruits, which allows us to understand the positive impact of this product on the market and the planet.