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Record crowd destined for Organic Produce Summit

By
Tim Linden

With little time remaining before the Organic Produce Summit begins on July 13, more than 1,400 confirmed attendees have registered, which will make the 2022 version the largest show ever in its history dating back to its inception in 2016.

“That list of attendees includes 300 retailers, representing brick and mortar supermarkets as well as direct to consumer operations,” said Matt Seeley, founder of OPS and CEO of the Organic Produce Network, which is the workhorse behind the show. “In addition, we have more than 100 other buyers representing wholesalers, distributors and other buying organizations. Also, we have been working with the Organic Trade Association on attracting international retail buyers. OPS will feature retailers from six different countries.”

The show will be held in downtown Monterey at the Monterey Conference Center July 13 and 14. Seeley noted that the trade show floor has completely sold out with more than 150 growers, shippers and processors from the organic sector having signed up months ago. “In fact, we have a waiting list of more than 50 companies,” he added.

Many retail attendees will descend on Monterey a day before the show begins so they can take part in early morning field tours on July 13 specifically designed for them. “We have a series of retailer tours to three of the most progressive and well-respected producers of organic produce,” Seeley said, speaking of Braga Farms, Driscoll’s and Earthbound Farms. “These tours are also sold out. We noticed a renewed interest in getting out to the fields and seeing these grower-shipper operations in action from our attendees. We suspect that because of COVID-19 it’s been a long time since some of these retailers have been able to see the farms of these world class suppliers.”

OPS will officially kick-off with an opening reception at the conference center in the Steinbach Ballroom at 5:30 pm on July 13, “We are extremely proud of the educational program that we have put together for the following day,” Seeley boasted. “We have six different educational sessions covering a variety of hot button topics for organics, including sustainability, CEA (controlled environment agriculture) and regenerative ag. We have put together some great panels which should lead to some very lively discussions.”

OPS will also feature three keynote presentations on The Growth of Omnichannel Merchandising That’s Driving Retail Sales, The Solution to Ocean Plastic and The Future of Grocery Retailing. John Ruane, the chief merchandising officer for The GIANT Co. is the speaker for the retail sales presentation, while ocean steward David Katz will discuss his effort to eliminate plastic from the ocean by establishing plastic as a currency to be collected and sold. The retail panel will feature former Whole Foods CEO Walter Robb discussing the state of the industry with current Whole Foods executives Karen Christensen and Madhavi Reese.

Seeley said the continued success of the Organic Produce Summit is a testament to the staying power of the organic produce sector. He noted that during the past two years of the coronavirus pandemic, it was well documented that fresh produce sales at the retail level took off, and organic fruits and vegetables led the parade. “We saw double-digit growth during COVID-19,” he said. “Sales have leveled off, hit by rising prices, but the future for organics remains very, very strong.”

The longtime produce marketer said it is unrealistic to think that organic produce sales can continue to register double-digit growth, especially in these challenging inflationary times. “One thing we know is while the produce category as a whole reflects a flat sales line at best, organic sales are still edging up slightly higher. We are witnessing inflation and a recession may be on the horizon. These are trying times, but the American consumers has made it clear that organic fruits and vegetables are here to stay. Our segment of the industry remains strong.”

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