July 12, 2016 – Heavy hitters in the world of organic fruits and vegetables are gathering in Monterey on Wednesday and Thursday for the world’s first Organic Produce Summit. Big names like author Mark Bittman and Laura Batcha, CEO of the Organic Trade Association, will share insights with some 75 growers of organic fruits and vegetables, including big local companies like Lakeside Organic Gardens, Earthbound Farm, Driscoll’s, Ocean Mist and Taylor Farms, as well as produce buyers from supermarket chains and specialty retailers.
“The Central Coast is the epicenter of everything innovative in organics,” said organizer Nick Pasculli of the decision to hold it here. But Bittman is set to take a contrarian view arguing that “it’s a shame we need to have an organic label.”
“I’m going to talk about what good food means,” he said on the way to the conference. “About how we need healthy food that is green and affordable and fair to the animals and to labor and is nutritional.”
“Organic is part of those things, but not all of them,” he said.
“What I’m looking forward to at this conference is a dialogue with people, who work in this sector and recognize the value of organic, about that good food should meet other standards as well,” said Bittman.
“Organic fruits and vegetables represent $14 billion in sales annually and are projected to continue to grow by double digits,” according to organizer Pasculli, who runs a marketing firm in Salinas. “We felt there should be an event focused exclusively on the emerging organic produce market.”
He and three other industry veterans—Matt Feeley, Susan Canales and Tom Ryan—have formed the company Organic Show LLC to manage the summit, which they hope will become an annual event on the Monterey Peninsula.
Following a reception for participants on Wednesday evening, the summit will take place Thursday morning at the Hyatt Regency Monterey and be followed by an exhibition in the afternoon. The idea is to give conference-goers an opportunity to learn more about the lifestyle and habits of organic consumers and then a marketplace where they can do business.
“The response has been very encouraging,” he says of the sold-out summit. “Retailers want to be able to provide their customers with the variety, selection and quality of products they want.”
The summit is another good indicator that big ag understands the potential of the organics sector. Bittman’s presentation will be on “Innovation and Growth Opportunities.” The former New York Times columnist and cookbook author is also part owner in the prepared meal delivery service Purple Carrot.
Batcha will reveal new organic industry trends, including a recent survey that found more than half of all households in the United States (51%) have purchased organic products in the past year.
“Organic produce represents 35% of all organic sales and is the largest sector in organics,” she says. She will also urge retailers to do more to sing the praises of their organic produce section and the benefit of organics.
“There has been a feeling that promoting organic produce could be harmful to the sales of conventional fruits and vegetables,” she says. “But our research has shown that people who buy organic are health conscious and value fruits and vegetables. They want to buy organic, but if the product they want is not available in organically, they are not going to walk away from the produce purchase.”
There are already two shows a year featuring the full spectrum of organic products—Natural Products Expo West & East—and there is the annual Produce Marketing Association Summit which mixes organic and conventionally grown items, but the Monterey show is the first one exclusively for organic produce.
“We’re very enthusiastic about the concept,” says Batcha. “It’s nice to see organic produce have a home of its own.”