October, 2015

Opinion

30 Years-Plus of Adaptability

Produce Business UK is a youthful publication. In a few months, PBUK will mark its first birthday when we hit Fruit Logistica 2016. This publication grew, however, out of something older. In fact, this month marks the 30th anniversary of the founding of Produce Business in the US. The first issue was unveiled at the Produce Marketing Association’s (PMA) Fresh Summit convention in San Francisco.

Yet the roots of this publication go even deeper than that. Perhaps you could say that it was born at the kitchen table I sat at as a boy, listening to my father, Michael Prevor, a wholesaler, importer and exporter of produce, based on New York’s Hunts Point Market, explain the challenges he had confronted that day. Or perhaps it was rooted in the discussions I grew up having with my grandfather, Harry Prevor, a wholesaler and auction buyer based on New York’s old Washington Street Market who often spoke about the importance of honouring one’s word and of maintaining one’s reputation.

Perhaps the foundation of it all is found with my great-grandfather, Jacob Prevor, who came to the US from Russia carrying the skills of a family long engaged in selling produce and opened our American operation in the old Wallabout Produce Market in Brooklyn, New York.

This month [October] Produce Business UK includes a focus on trade with the USA. That trade is but a pale shadow of what it was in those pre-European Union days when my father and mother, Roslyn Prevor, would come to the old Covent Garden Market and visit with the British trade. This columnist was just a boy but the names still resonate – names such as Olins, Weiser, Glass, Fagin, Hart, Emanuel and Saphir.

But the world changes. There are no licenses on apples and Spain has preferential tariff status. Still there are bright spots. Items such as sweet potatoes weren’t part of the export deal when I was young, but they are a vibrant part now.

Still, the US could do better, but US producers are not, typically, the most loyal exporters. In places such as Chile and Peru, South Africa and New Zealand, the product is grown to be exported. There is only a small domestic market. In the US, most shippers would rather sell domestically and avoid the risks of exporting, so unless someone pays a premium or is absorbing a size or variety not popular domestically, many US producers are content to forgo export or, at least, forgo a country if returns there aren’t good this year. Demands for non-US food safety and social responsibility certifications are often seen as annoyances.

It was always interesting to me as a young man learning the produce business that at our company in the US, we imported a great deal, virtually every box on consignment. But we also exported a great deal, and virtually every box was sold at a fixed price. This was basically because production countries, such as a small Caribbean island, had no market for a few million cases of honeydew [melons], so its producers had to ship them and take what the market would deliver, but a California producer of the same melon had many options.

One thing one learns from a father who is a produce trader is flexibility, and when the EU came into play and our markets in the UK dried up, our family business kept growing. We opened an office in Johanneshov, Sweden, invested in melon production in the Caribbean, opened a Miami office to export mixed loads to the Caribbean islands and much more. We found new ways to serve and to create value.

We took on a very ambitious obligation when we launched Produce Business 30 years ago; we set out to ‘Initiate Industry Improvement’ and thus positioned ourselves as more than just observers, rather as vital participants in the growth and development of the industry from which my family has drawn sustenance from time immemorial.

That involves being able to adapt to a changing world and a changing industry. In the UK, this led us to the launch of Produce Business UK, The London Produce Show and Conference and, most recently, The Fresh Careers Fair.

If there is a lesson we have learned in the past 30 years, it is that one has to be quick to adapt because things change quickly. The explosion of discounters and now the rise of Internet shopping services and the way traditional retail reacts to these changes all means that the industry we once knew is no longer with us, and the future belongs to those willing and able to innovate.

Sometimes the way we Initiate Industry Improvement is on a policy level, but just as often, it is by structuring our offerings to help individuals and companies do their jobs or run their businesses better – The Fresh Careers Fair to help attract the best talent; Produce Business UK to help retain and educate that talent; and The London Produce Show and Conference to expose the team to the produce industry writ large.

We have more to come. But it would be churlish not to take a moment and say thank you. The electrons on the screen, the ink on paper, the speakers and displays at live events… all would be as nothing save your engagement. It is your willingness to read and think, to listen and speak and to strive to be better that gives life and meaning to all we do. We pledge to redouble our efforts in the years ahead.

Produce Business UK welcomes letters to the editor and other input from the industry. If you wish to respond to an article on Produce Business UK or join the conversation on any industry issue, please send your thoughts to Letters@ProduceBusinessUK.com