Cathy Burns: Technology and Innovation to Dominate Global Produce & Floral Show

The International Fresh Produce Association (IFPA) has been successfully operating for more than a year and a half as a leading organization in the fresh produce sector and is now preparing for its second Global Produce & Floral Show, to be held October 19-21 in Anaheim, California.

Abasto magazine interviewed the organization’s CEO, Cathy Burns, who offered an analysis of the work advanced by IFPA since its launch in January 2022.

Abasto Magazine: The IFPA has faced several challenges but has made remarkable progress. What are these obstacles and achievements?

Cathy Burns: I am very proud of (and thankful for) the strong collaboration between our global network of volunteers and staff as we bring produce and floral leaders together to provide value to the membership and deliver against our strategic priorities. A few examples of this include our Executive Leadership Summits, global Sustainability Summits, and our domestic and international portfolios of programs and events. We are also delivering more research and insights that guide our members’ decision making through our weekly virtual town halls, event programming, and our dynamic website.  

It’s no secret that our industry’s greatest challenge is to grow consumption of fresh produce and floral products. Consumption of fresh fruits and vegetables remains well below both U.S. dietary guidelines and World Health Organization recommendations. We also know fresh produce is the solution to many of the world’s diet-related diseases. Our opportunity is to ensure consumers see our great products as an essential pathway to healthier lives. Ultimately, our goal is to be at every table where food is being discussed to ensure that our industry’s voice is heard. 

Related Article: Who Are the Outstanding Keynote Speakers Attending the IFPA Global Show in October?

20230 Global Produce & Floral Show

The inaugural Global Produce & Floral Show in Orlando was a success. Can you provide an update on the preparations for this year’s event in October?  

CB: In a sense, last year the Global Produce & Floral Show introduced IFPA to the industry, as it had been several years since either legacy PMA or United Fresh organizations held an annual meeting and tradeshow. This year, our guests can expect to see a strong emphasis on technology and innovation. Technology will be spotlighted during the State of the Industry, a global leaders panel, our keynote programs, our 2023 Technology Accelerator participants (found in the Innovation Hub on the Expo floor), as well as various education opportunities throughout our time in Anaheim this October. And innovation, of course, will be on full display during the Expo. 

Please share with us if this year’s show will be used to present your report on the current state of the produce industry. Furthermore, could you provide us with a preview of the topics you intend to cover?  

CB: Yes, the 2023 State of the Industry will be presented during the Thursday morning session at 8:30am. While the presentation is in development, I am confident it will explore opportunities for our industry in the areas of technology and innovation, sustainability, talent attraction and workforce development, consumer trends, advocacy, and more. 

We at Abasto are eager to understand the progress of Hispanic businesses in the food and beverage industry and those involved in agriculture. We’d like to know what IFPA is doing to assist Hispanic produce marketers and how the Global Produce & Floral Show can aid them in enhancing their businesses.  

CB: I’ve read that the changing lifestyles and rise in demand for healthy, convenient food are driving the Hispanic foods market growth, which parallels the overall consumer movement and focus on personal health and wellbeing. IFPA has resources for Hispanic produce marketers, ranging from engagement opportunities and local value through our country councils in Mexico and Chile, and many of our consumer research studies have portability across consumer demographics. Of course, the upcoming Global Produce & Floral Show will showcase the latest fresh fruit and vegetable items that meet these consumer trends and I invite any Hispanic supermarket operator or grocer to join us in Anaheim from October 19-23, 2023. 

IFPA has pursued an extensive advocacy agenda in Washington, including immigration reform. How receptive have lawmakers been to your organization’s requests to pass legislation to benefit the produce industry in the U.S.?  

CB: Immigration reform is just one of our advocacy/priority policies, with nutrition, the Farm Bill, infrastructure and transportation, food safety, organics, and sustainability/climate.  

The fresh produce industry is heavily dependent on a skilled labor work force. At peak season, estimates range around 2.7 million workers are needed in agriculture to ensure our products safely and efficiently reach consumers 365 days a year. It is also documented that at least 50% of these workers are undocumented or have false documents regarding their legal status.   

The fact is, today, we are closer than we have ever been to real reform of our nation’s immigration system and in particular agriculture guestworker programs such as H-2A and H-2B. IFPA continues to educate and collaborate with policymakers so they understand agriculture labor is border security.  

The current debate in Congress is focused on enhancing border security and agriculture labor reform is critical to that solution. By reforming H-2A and transitioning our current workforce into legal status, we can be part of the solution to address current challenges at our nation’s borders. Most importantly, we can create additional opportunities for our industry to grow and expand our domestic production and tackle national security as well.  

Hispanic Heritage Month

As is tradition, Abasto Magazine is proud to honor National Hispanic Heritage Month. What message would you like to convey this year to the thriving demographic that has been instrumental in the success of the agricultural industry in the United States? 

CB: Hispanic food retailers, be they the corner bodega or a multi-unit chain of supermarkets, play an integral in their communities to provide foods, including fresh fruits and vegetables, that fulfill shoppers’ need for flavors and provide a sensory connection to cultures. Food is deeply personal, it brings us joy, and reminds us of moments in our lives, through taste, aroma, or memories of the people we were with when we enjoyed it. At its very core, food is community, and it should be used as a unifying strategy, the driver for more data, more resources, more collaboration, and more innovation as we create communities of health – with fresh produce as the foundation – around the world.