This week is the Produce Marketing Association’s Fresh Summit Conference and Expo – the largest fresh fruit, vegetable and floral show in the Americas. The event brings over 18,000 people from across the supply chain and around the world together to discuss ideas, network and experience the latest industry innovations. We’ve been planning for the PMA Fresh Summit for months and ready to go!

Having attended more trade shows than I care to remember, I have to say that this is one of the most interesting events there is, if for no other reason than you can walk over 50 aisles sampling fresh fruits and vegetables and taste freshly prepared foods ranging from guacamole to pasta primavera.

What’s Changed and What’s Stayed the Same?

It’s been six years since I last attended the Fresh Summit. I’m excited to see what’s remained the same and what’s changed.

I expect that there will be new varieties of apples, grapes and types of slaws. But, what I really expect to have changed is the availability and variety of technology that’s now being marketed to support and improve the fresh food supply chain.

Back in 2012, most of the supply chain technology revolved around rudimentary data loggers that, at best, documented cold chain compliance. Concepts like the “Internet of Things” (IoT), cloud computing, artificial intelligence and blockchain were either yet to exist or just getting traction in the broader marketplace. They certainly weren’t highly visible around the show floor or in the fresh produce industry.

On the Lookout For…

Here are some things I’ll be on the lookout for at this year’s Fresh Summit:

  • IoT sensors for both pre- and post-harvest agriculture. IoT devices have been increasingly used as pre-harvest AtTech tools for managing irrigation, fertilizing and pest control. Now we’re able to apply IoT technology for post-harvest applications, such autonomous data collection on the condition and location of product as it moves through the supply chain. IoT devices are a league ahead of paper- and USB-based data loggers that were featured six years ago. But, IoT sensors alone won’t address all of the challenges across the supply chain. To make real improvements in the supply chain you need…
  • Artificial Intelligence, machine learning and predictive analytics to proactively manage the supply chain. For the most part, we manage the supply chain reactively, dealing with things as they go wrong. AI, ML and predictive analytics changes that. More data means more analysis and surfacing key insights and necessary actions for the user. IoT devices can capture a multitude of information that, if not properly managed, merely overwhelms the user and drowns them in a sea of data.
  • Blockchain – and how to utilize it. I expect this will be one of the most hyped and, for some, the most concerning technology. Still in its infancy within supply chains, blockchain shows a wealth of promise. But, like any technology, it needs to offer benefits to all its users. For supply chain, this means the growers, processors, shippers and retailers. I expect there will be a number of companies positioning blockchain various ways and a larger number of growers trying to make sense of it all and trying to distinguish what’s in it for them – beyond just adding cost and another step in their operations.

Technology Properly Applied

At Zest Labs, we’re convinced that each of these technologies, when properly applied, can bring substantial value to the fresh food supply chain, with benefits accrued to all of its participants. Effectively implementing technology requires proper planning and objective-setting.  The potential benefit when a plan is in place extends beyond accessory attachments to the process, and can fundamentally improve business from end-to-end within the fresh food supply chain. At Zest Labs, our philosophy is to be grower-centric, ensuring that the benefits of our solutions apply to them as well as to logistics companies and retailers. There’s a wealth of information that can be made available through IoT, AI, machine learning, predictive analytics and blockchain that can help improve operational efficiencies and delivered freshness while reducing costs and waste. When done right, everyone wins.

Visit Us at Booth 129

If you’re at PMA’s Fresh Summit, please start your visit in the first aisle and come say hi at booth 129. We always appreciate the opportunity to put a face to a name and make a new friend. We’ll be showcasing how Zest Fresh can improve operational efficiency for growers and reducing shrink and improving margins for grocers. And, we’ve got some cool (pun intended) swag, including freshness dials and a Zesty the Bear for you to take home. (Don’t worry, they’re small and will fit in your suitcase.) We hope to see you there!