PBH explores sustainability effort
Gearing up for the start of September’s National Fruit and Veggies Month, the Produce for Better Health Foundation hosted a webinar Aug. 30 exploring the role sustainability efforts can play in increasing the consumption of fruits and vegetables.
PBH President and CEO Wendy Reinhardt Kapsak served as the moderator as the panel discussed some of their efforts and ideas to move toward a more sustainable world while increasing produce consumption. Kapsak reviewed PBH’s initiatives over the last few years, noting that its Have a Plant campaign was launched to inspire lasting behavioral change in creating a better environment and healthier people. She added that PBH’s theme for September’s fruit and vegetable promotions is “Celebrating the roots of our foods.”
The panel discussing the sustainability concept included Mike Binda of U.S. Foods, Morgan Drummond of Misfits Markets, Frank Muller of M Three Ranches and Andrew Russick of Pacific Coast Produce. The panel covered a wide range of stops on the supply chain, including grower, processor, foodservice supplier and retailer. Throughout the 70-minute seminar, each participant had the opportunity to discuss their area of expertise several times.
Muller revealed that while his current ranch is a startup farm that is only three years old, he has been a grower for his entire career. He prides himself on being environmentally responsible and always leaving the land and the soil in better shape than he found it. M Three Ranches grows many crops but currently it is in the midst of its processing tomato harvest. The farm's proprietor said they are harvesting 4,000 tons of tomatoes per day, which fills 160 trucks.
Muller said the farm is currently contending with California’s third straight year of drought. His task is to more efficiently use resources to produce a growing food supply. For 25 years, Muller has invested in better and better irrigation technology to use less and less water to grow more and more crops. M Three Ranches’ farms currently use drip irrigation throughout their acreage. “That cuts our water use by 40 percent while improving our productivity by 25 percent,” he said, noting that the result is more than double the production per acre foot of water.
The longtime farmer is an advocate for agriculture and believes telling the industry’s story is a great way to increase consumption. “We conduct hundreds of tours on our farms every year,” he said, noting that those tours are beneficial in both directions. The world at large learns more about agriculture and Muller learns more about what people want to eat and what products he should grow.
Pacific Coast Producers are processors who take those tomatoes and turn them into products to feed the world. Russick said efficiently using resources is increasingly important. Seventy percent of what the company produces is sold in a can and Russick is a huge proponent of that packaging concept. At the top of the list of its attributes is the fact that it’s not plastic. “The best way to use less plastic is to use more cans,” he quipped.
Regarding sustainability efforts, he said the processing facility has a zero waste initiative when it comes to water. In fact, in turning raw tomatoes into canned products, the process captures 300,000 gallons of evaporated water from those tomatoes each day, which is used to perform other water-needy tasks in the facility. He added that the company steam peels most of its tomatoes, which is a more environmental process of achieving that result compared to the chemical option. It also produces more usable product from each ton of tomatoes, which is another resource savings.
Binda explained how U.S. Foods delivers foodservice products all over the country from its 70 warehouses. That could be a logistics nightmare, but the company has established a transportation plan that allows it to take food miles off the trip by “straight lining” to each customer in the most efficient way. He touted the company’s innovative “Scoop Platform,” which was designed to get ahead of trends on products and find ways to be more cost effective and efficient. He said the number one goal is to create more foot traffic for their customers while utilizing less labor. “We want to know what’s going to be hot before it’s hot,” he said, pointing to its introduction of ghost peppers before they became trendy.
The entire concept of Misfits Markets is to better utilize our natural resources by finding more homes for less than perfect produce. Drummond said the direct-to-consumer retailer started four years ago by rescuing apples that were not being sold in commerce because of their looks. The company has expanded with three core concepts: sustainability, accessibility and affordability. It wants to bring nutritious food to people all around the country at an affordable price. She noted that they can deliver to every zip code in the continental United States. “We’re all about doing more with less,” she said. “A lot of what we do is move excess inventory.”
She said there is a “gold mine of opportunity” awaiting many fruit and vegetables. Better utilization of this end product is a sustainability effort.