July/August 2022

No speed limit for IFPA’s accelerator program
By Vonnie Estes, vice president, IFPA

We know that the produce industry, providing the healthiest products on the planet, is positioned to help address public health issues and in turn, to grow a healthier world.

For many of the obstacles to develop healthy outcomes, a solution may already be out there. Just as it’s imperative to think outside the box to solve problems, sometimes we must look outside the industry — and our own backyard — for solutions to address fresh produce and floral’s major challenges. International Fresh Produce Association’s new Fresh Field Catalyst program aims to do just that.

Vonnie Estes, VP, International Fresh Produce Association

Full speed ahead

IFPA’s six-month technology accelerator program empowers global companies to bring innovative technical solutions to the produce and floral industries. Selected through a competitive application process, the 12 inaugural members of the program hail from across the globe, including Australia, Canada, Finland, Ireland, Israel, Singapore, Slovakia and the U.S. They are tackling some of the industry’s biggest problems, including food waste, climate crisis, water and resource scarcity and improving sustainability, to name just a few. Time is of the essence in addressing these pivotal issues and the cohort wasted no time in getting acclimated to the produce industry.

The group kicked off their journey in May with a 2022 Immersion Week Tour, packed with 10 visits to IFPA member companies. The participants traversed throughout Northern and Central California, touring the innovative operations of a diverse mix of some of the most prominent growers, shippers and packers: Bayer, Bolthouse Farms, Concentric Power, Driscoll’s, Emerald Packing, Plenty, Sun World, Taylor Farms, the University of California – Davis and Wonderful Citrus.

Throughout the week, the group members got immersed in digital farming systems, crop protection, ag research, R&D innovation, packaging, hydroponics, vertical farming and more. For most of the participants, it was their first exposure to agriculture and its challenges on such a grand scale. It was also their first exposure to fresh fruit and vegetable companies’ immense sense of pride in their work — on full display in the fields, facilities and factories — a defining characteristic that sets the produce industry apart from others.

Fresh produce can prove to be a difficult space to enter, with the wide range of commodities, regions and policies creating many challenges. Fortunately, conversations with the tour hosts sparked key insights on entering the produce business market, go-to market strategies and business models, and customer engagement and needs.

In turn, the hosting companies experienced the breadth and depth of the impactful technologies in action. As some of the biggest players in the industry, the hosts are frequently approached with technologies, many of which are irrelevant or inadequate in meeting their needs. What’s unique about the accelerator program is that the participating companies have done the work already and have proven their technologies to be effective in an adjacent or more focused market.

Keeping the pedal to the metal

In addition to the corporate and field visits, participants will work one-on-one with industry mentors, engage in bi-weekly virtual meetups with industry experts on topics relating to industry statistics, tech success and failure stories, and challenges and access to funding, and receive continued support to translate technology to agriculture or U.S. market — all in the effort of removing barriers for meaningful, impactful and progressive innovation.

The program culminates at IFPA’s Global Produce and Floral Show in Orlando, Oct. 27-29, where the dynamic dozen companies will showcase their groundbreaking technologies in action within a shared exhibit space on the expo floor, opening the door for countless more introductions to industry leaders.

The challenges we all face in today’s global supply chain are vast, and in the past, we’ve been expected as an industry to create, fund and solve our own challenges. That’s not the kind of change our industry needs anymore; we’re hoping that by reaching out and creating tech streams from other industries, we can begin to scale our own ability to solve the problems only the produce industry can.


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