Fresh Connections: Covid-19 fast-tracked online shopping

PMA CEO urges producers to embrace rare opportunity to positively impact global health

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In line with international trends, the covid-19 pandemic has also fast-tracked online shopping in South Africa, says Cathy Burns, chief executive of the Produce Marketing Association (PMA).

Burns, who heads up the trade association with members in 54 countries, spoke at the Fresh Connections: Southern Africa conference currently underway. For the first time in a decade, the conference is held virtually in the wake of pandemic which has placed limitations on global and local travel.

READ MORE: ‘Relish power of fresh produce to fight disease’

Sketching how the pandemic has impacted consumer trends, Burns says e-commerce for the grocery category has increased from 1.6% last year to 3.2% in 2020. This is significant, also to the fresh produce market, as 64% of these shoppers used online shopping for the first time ever during the pandemic. Consumers also embraced home cooking during the pandemic, much like consumers in the US where fresh produce sales have seen increased popularity.

PMA boss on the ‘new, next normal’

Burns adds that her global team were also closely monitoring shifts and trends in technology, talent management and consumer attitudes before and during the pandemic. “While we have endured significant losses and changing markets in consumer expectations over the past five months, I am encouraged and inspired by the resilience of the industry.”

Chief executive of the Produce Marketing Association Cathy Burns. Photo: Supplied

While consumer and local economies continue to adjust to the “new, next normal”, Burns is confident that fresh fruit, vegetables and flowers will remain highly relevant. “We have the power to delight taste buds around the globe, while at the same time providing nutrition and health to help consumers maintain a full and vibrant life.”

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Addressing hundreds of attendees, including growers, buyers, sellers, exporters, retailers and input suppliers, she says, “We deliver the joy of fresh. Filling people’s bodies with nourishing foods and strengthening their immune systems is now more important than ever, and as an industry we have a once in a lifetime opportunity to positively impact the health of millions of global consumers. That, my friends, is what gets me out of bed every morning, so let’s grow a healthier world together.”

Peter van Kets, a professional extreme adventurer. Photo: Supplied

Among the high-ranking speakers at Fresh Connections: Southern Africa were Peter van Kets, a professional extreme adventurer, who inspired the virtual crowd in his motivational session.

The sought-after international speaker spoke about achieving and sustaining “true success” through perseverance, grit, passion and purpose despite the turbulent economy and effects of covid-19. Van Kets, who last year completed a race across Antarctica to the South Pole, drew similarities between his expeditions and the world of business.

The last session was focused on building an agile fresh produce supply chain in Africa. Experts shared their insights into the latest trends, noting that supply chains remain the core of most businesses today. Speakers included Ingrid Vanstreels and Philippe Beaujean from the Port of Antwerp Authority, Theo Botha from Freshlinq, and Gerhard Stander and Herman Haupt from CHEP Sub-Saharan Africa.

WATCH: Top international speakers confirmed for Fresh Connections

During the session on sustainability, a senior programme manager at IDH Trade, Annelotte Crena de Longh, urged businesses to align their sustainability priorities with their customers’ needs. “In the past years there has been a focus on making retail shops and warehouses more sustainable. However, there is more and more a need to translate that into a proposition towards the consumers.”

Despite covid-19 setbacks, the Produce Marketing Association predicts that fresh fruit, veggies and flowers will remain highly relevant. Photo: Supplied

‘Draft sustainability agendas’

De Longh adds that producers really need to understand what happens in every step of the supply chain and how this impacts on the sustainability of their products. “Sustainability is becoming more and more important. Therefore it’s important to know your sustainability priorities as this will enable businesses to draft their sustainability agendas.”

Also, De Longh believes it’s important to have the right resources available to support your work on sustainability. “That means having tools for data collection analysis, working with standards to verify information and working with other platforms that can help you deal with issues.”

Fresh Connections: Southern Africa concludes on Wednesday. Leading consumer and retail experts will answer attendees’ questions while various must-watch market developments are also on the agenda.

  • Late registrations to the conference are still accepted. Visit PMA Fresh Connections to reserve your seat. Food For Mzansi is a proud media partner of this year’s Fresh Connections: Southern Africa.
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