Silbermann: "Build bridges rather than walls"
Outgoing Produce Marketing Association (PMA) CEO Bryan Silbermann passed on the bouquet of leadership to Kathy Burns in his last PMA Fresh Summit State of the Industry address in Orlando today.
To underscore how much the industry has changed since he joined the group in 1983, Silbermann pulled out produce items and packaging that were novel at the time but are now commonplace.
"This part [stem] of the broccoli was considered waste until a genius thought about changing it into broccoli slaw with a new use in salads," he said.
"Conventional wisdom back in 1983 said American consumers would only purchase small white mushrooms, until someone thought about calling large brown ones 'portobellos' and suggesting new ways to use that.
"In 1983 if you talked about value-added product you probably were going to be discussing soup mixed veggies, until the late 80s. Now we can’t get enough of these in bags and clamshell packs."
He also added how back in those days berries were sold in "green, sharp containers that ruined half the fruit", and about a response from a strawberry industry leader at the time regarding a new form of packaging called "clamshells".
"I was told it was too expensive. Really?"
The produce industry is a fast-changing game, and through the address done in conjunction with Burns, the two thought leaders discussed trends, technologies and innovations that could become the proverbial 'clamshells' of tomorrow.
These included more smart appliances like fridges, smart ovens and even lunch boxes that could help raise fruit and vegetable consumption, and the rise of urban school gardens, drawin particular attention due to the movement's backing from Elon Musk's younger brother Kimbal.
The pair celebrated the Eat Brighter! campaign and its benefits for children, a Japanese app-based game that actually translates to real-world vegetable production, the "explosion" of spiralized veggies to tap into the market for non-gluten substitutes, and jackfruit as a substitute for meat-based meals.
Silbermann also asked how the industry can tap into what has been called "stealth health" whereby vegetables are disguised as All-American comfort food.
"Concepts like these, while not new, continue to evolve, particularly among Moms and Dads," he said.
"Our challenge is how can we really better use stealth health tactics to drive demand for fresh produce?"
In closing his speech, Silbermann pointed to a "passion and purpose" in the produce industry which has few parallels, because "what you do matters and how you do it is important, but why you do it is more critical".
"You do things because you believe so strongly in feeding the world the healthiest, tastiest and freshest food, and you believe in brightening that world with flowers and plants that add delight and joy.
"You are all in the business I would suggest of creating joy, not just sustenance.
"This business is built on relationships that rely on trust. And I learned a few other lessons I want to share – you can accomplish an awful lot more when you don’t care who gets the credit."
He said association leadership was about building bridges - "having one foot in the present and the other stretched firmly into the future, looking out over the horizon and helping others find their own road forward".
"To all of you in this wonderful community that we call PMA, I urge you give more than you take, never stop learning or changing, and build bridges rather than walls."
Silbermann will officially retired on Jan. 31 next year, with his CEO position to be taken by current PMA president Kathy Burns. However, PMA Fresh Summit is the organization's premier annual event and Silbermann's inspiring talks will no doubt be missed far and wide.
The outgoing CEO said he could not have wished for a more qualified, more suitable person to whom he could pass on the baton of leadership than Burns.
"This association is primed for such incredible growth in your hands – with a staff devoted to its members and to you, a board that is poised to enhance our strategy and members who are renewing their membership in record numbers," he said.
"I’m going to leave Orlando not with bittersweet memories of letting go but rather the comfort and satisfaction of knowing that I’m passing the baton to someone poised to take it even faster down the track and I wish you and the staff and members of PMA every success and the satisfaction of knowing you really are changing the world for the better.
"It takes a special person to do what Bryan has done. Three years of me hanging around him and specifically this last year, the humility and selflessness that it takes to step back, for me to step forward, and for me to continue to use you as a thought partner has been an absolute gift," Burns said.
Burns emphasized Silbermann's approach of inclusiveness and collaboration.
"It was always in the spirit of trying to figure out industry challenges," she said.
"At Fresh Summit 2017 I am honored and pleased to announced that PMA will present the first annual Bryan E. Silbermann collaboration award to an individual who has demonstrated outstanding collaborative skills and an uncommon commitment to advancing our industry goals."