PMA CEO Says High Tech is the Future

Cathy Burns, CEO of the Produce Marketing Association (PMA), gave her annual State of the Industry address on October 18, which spoke on topics including robotics, automation, human talent management, e-commerce and culture and society. According to a PMA press release, her speech sketched “a picture of an industry future that will call for a complex mix of both high tech and high touch to grow a healthier world.”

The speech was delivered at the opening Forum for the Future of PMA’s 2018 Fresh Summit Convention & Expo in Orlando, Florida.

“Robotic assistants help ease some of the challenges in finding both human, and non-human, help in the field,” said Burns. Yet “while high-tech experiences certainly provide a ‘wow’ factor, human employees play an important role in providing a personalized, customized experience for consumers. Technology won’t be able to handle all of the skills people can.”

The fresh produce and floral industry will look into technology more to meet its labor needs and Burns offered examples of labor-saving technologies from both inside and outside the industry. However, she also noted that today’s evolving marketplace will require increasingly personalized customer touchpoints.

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Burns speaks on millennials in the food industry

“To keep our talented employees, particularly Millennials and Gen Z, employers should ensure they have meaningful work, career feedback, diversity, inclusion and flexibility. Most interestingly, these same employees are looking to their employers as a source of education and training to keep their professional skills in line with changing technologies.”

She also spoke on millennials in the workforce and how they have only known a digital world, which makes them crave work in the real world that is meaningful and that spills into how they perceive food and the businesses that make food.

“They expect that food and food brands will follow their needs- not the other way around. Businesses are increasingly being judged based on their relationships with their workers, customers, communities and impact on society,” Burns said.

The conversation then shifted into how this leads to industry values and cultures. “The industry’s mindset around produce safety must shift from a cost center to a cultural imperative,” she told the Fresh Summit audience.