IFPA 2023 promotes healthier world; calls for industry to 'take action' 

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IFPA 2023 promotes healthier world; calls for industry to 'take action' 

The 2023 Global Produce & Floral Show kicked off Oct. 19 at the Anaheim Convention Center in California with more than 23,000 participants from over 50 countries representing every segment across the industry. 

During the opening address, host Michael Jackson told the inaugural breakfast audience, “If you have a fresh new product, your next buyer is here, and whatever your next business challenge may be, someone here likely has a solution to it.”

Cathy Burns, CEO of the International Fresh Produce Association (IFPA) delivered a State of the Industry address. She explored emerging innovations, and consumer trends, and challenged members to tackle ongoing challenges and fulfill opportunities arising on the global stage. 

“We must look at how the state of things are, imagine what we want them to become, and more importantly, act to make it happen,” was one of Burns’calls to action. 

Good, bad, and confusing scenarios

Burns lists multiple scenarios and realities developing in the industry. Innovation on one side is advancing how growers, distributors, retailers, and consumers interact with produce. Artificial intelligence (AI) is here to stay, and a number of companies are using it to capitalize on their product offer. 

“In retail, it is projected that AI will create $113 billion dollars in operational efficiency and new revenue, with 75% of executives saying AI will be in their software by 2025. That marks a more than 400% increase in less than two years,” says Burns. 

Among many examples of innovations challenging the very essence of food are robots that pollinate plants and pick fruit, or a Singapore company making gelato out of captured carbon, she notes.

All of these technological advances, however, are improving the way people interact with fresh produce and are leading to the ultimate goal: getting more people to consume fruits and vegetables. 

Burns adds that even though produce consumption has increased in the last couple of years, “the reality is that we are capable of so much more.” 

With the World Obesity Federation predicting that more than half of the world’s population will be obese or overweight by 2035, and nearly half a billion people living with diabetes worldwide, the lack of dietary guidance is evident, not only in the U.S. but globally. 

Burns notes that advocating for nutrition policies is very important to fight this reality. Working through a portfolio of consumer-related programs and offerings is also a part of IFPA’s priorities, including consumer research studies and influencer programs. 

“We must connect the produce industry to consumers at various points of influence,” she says. 

Social media influence is a great tool to connect young consumers with the importance of a healthy, balanced diet and teach the benefits of fruit and vegetable consumption.

High cost of consuming fruit and vegetables 

It's important to recognize that access to fresh products can be a hurdle, triggered by the current global economy and inflation. 

“This community is not immune to economic pressures, from fertilizers to crop protection products, to pallets and cardboard, we certainly have experienced major shortages and soaring input costs. Labor shortages, energy price increases, transportation delays and trade barriers along with inflationary pressures put our products at risk and push our consumers away from fruits and vegetables,” says Burns. 

From a consumer point of view, they expect businesses to help solve the insufficient supply of safe and nutritious food, overconsumption, and waste. Additionally, they also look for members of the industry to develop solutions to intensive farming, deforestation, and loss of biodiversity. 

Call to action

IFPA’s CEO closed with a call to action to all members of the industry, acknowledging that “fixing our challenges will not be easier.”

“You can save the people of the world, and we are beyond hoping for things to change. Change starts here, growing consumption starts here, changing the world through advocacy starts here,” she emphatically notes. 

In a desire to create a vibrant future for everyone, Burns called on attendees to take action, especially in an industry that is built on complexity, but that has the ability to change the health of the world. 

“Action is the answer, our action is the answer, let that be the state of our industry,” Burns concluded.

Cathy Burns, CEO of the International Fresh Produce Association (IFPA) at her State of the Industry address

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