Global Trade Symposium: Changing Dynamics, Explosive Growth All Point to Bright Global-Trading Future

BY ED VERNON REINGOLD, Produce Business

Ian Finlayson and Carol Muumbi

Ian Finlayson of Practical Solutions International and Carol Muumbi of South Africa

Expert speakers from five continents addressed a range of topics relevant to today’s ever-evolving and challenging global produce industry during the Global Trade Symposium, providing the audience with insights into the intricacies of the sector. Opportunities in areas of trade and investment were also identified, offering crucial information needed to make key business decisions and drive company growth.

Among the topics discussed were the changing dynamics of high-value commodities such as berries and citrus, the transformation of supply chains in Asia and a look at some of the challenges of selling fresh produce in the European market.

Johan van Niekerk, director of South African produce supplier Star South, tackled how to be successful with a fruit commodity where new proprietary varieties are abundant. Focusing on table grapes, he looked at numerous aspects growers needed to be aware of when making decisions on what to plant when forming their business strategy, while also providing insightful warnings against, for example, “the illusion of premium.”

The attention then shifted to Kenya, an up-and-coming player within the African produce industry. While exporters in the East African country may be focused on the European Union, there are opportunities for shipping products, ranging from sugar beans to Hass avocados, to the U.S. market as well.

“I don’t think people here realize how much fresh produce is being produced in Kenya,” says Ian Finlayson, managing director of Practical Solutions International.

Two speakers enlightened the audience with interesting developments in Asia. Michigan State University Professor Thomas Reardon, Ph.D., talked about the “rapid transformation” of demand and supply chains of produce and the “interesting implications” of these changes for foreign suppliers. Loren Zhao, owner of China’s leading e-commerce site for fresh fruit, Fruitday.com, discussed the fast-changing environment of getting imported produce into the homes of the world’s fastest-growing middle class. “In China, a lot of things happen very fast,” says Zhao, who explained how the country’s online and retail sectors are constantly changing and introducing new concepts.

Fruitday.com’s Loren Zhao

Fruitday.com’s Loren Zhao

A panel moderated by Jim Prevor, editor-in-chief of PRODUCE BUSINESS and editor of Perishable Pundit.com, during the working luncheon expressed a range of different opinions on the challenges of selling fresh produce in Europe, touching on topics including the complexities of the market, Brexit, opportunities for U.S. produce in France, and whether some retailers’ requirements may be excessively restrictive.

Experts on the Latin American produce sector then gave an overview of the current situation in major production countries, including Chile, Mexico and Ecuador, and spoke about some of the challenges facing the region. The panel, led by Gustavo Yentzen, chief executive of Yentzen Consulting, discussed numerous topics, including Colombia’s recent avocado market access to the United States, the horticultural export growth expected out of Peru in the coming years, and how many countries’ produce sectors are striving to diversify their offerings.

Roberta Cook, emerita faculty member of the University of California, Davis, and Daniel Kass, vice president of sales and business development at AC Foods, took up-close looks at the global berry and citrus industries. Cook discussed challenges facing the California berry sector, including increasing labor costs and future growth of the Mexican berry sector. “Everybody has to step up their game in order to be competitive, and everybody has to be more technology-intensive,” she says. Kass compared the production of the key citrus varieties of 1970 with 2015, highlighting the “explosion” in easy-peeler citrus in the past couple of decades, as well as shifting global trade patterns and market access drivers.

Rounding off the day, Amy Lance, Hello Fresh UK’s head of technical, provided insight as to how technical teams can be at the heart of innovation and spoke about the new era in food marketing.