August 27, 2015

Q+A with AFFI President and CEO Kraig R. Naasz

Over the past three years, some 170 companies have joined the American Frozen Food Institute (AFFI).

AFFI exists to “serve the interests of the entire frozen food sector by helping frozen food and beverage makers and their suppliers profitably grow the category and their businesses,” said President and CEO Kraig R. Naasz.

More than one-third of the institute’s members are frozen fruit and vegetable produces. We asked Naasz how his organization is helping the industry and to preview the AFFI Frozen Food Convention in February 2016.

Produce Processing: What are the major challenges for frozen fruits and vegetables and how is AFFI addressing them? 

Kraig R. Naasz: As the only national association dedicated solely to the frozen food and beverage industry, our advocacy efforts are focused squarely on the needs of food and beverage companies who make frozen foods along with companies who comprise the industry’s supply and distribution chain.

AFFI has helped to create additional sales opportunities for frozen foods by insisting on parity for frozen fruits and vegetables in federal nutrition programs, such as the USDA’s Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Program for school children. In addition, AFFI launched “FROZEN. HOW FRESH STAYS FRESH,” a national category promotion and consumer education initiative to encourage consumers to take a fresh look at frozen foods, including fruits and vegetables.

PP: Final rules for FSMA are about to be rolled out. How should frozen produce processors best prepare for them? 

Naasz: AFFI’s unique FSMA Readiness Self-Assessment Program is specifically tailored to help members of the frozen food and beverage industry prepare for and adjust to this new food safety paradigm.

AFFI launched the FSMA Readiness Self-Assessment Tool in February 2013 to help frozen food facilities determine where action may be needed to ensure compliance with FSMA’s preventive control rules. More than 50 companies have taken advantage of this unique tool, which was developed with the assistance of our members’ quality assurance professionals and Seneca Corporation.

Once completed, a facility’s self-assessment report is immediately generated and displayed and a copy of the completed report is delivered via e-mail. Within moments participants receive a clear picture of whether they’re ready for FSMA, and any steps they need to take to ensure their facility is in compliance. In other words, this tool enables its users to understand how their facilities measure up against FSMA from every corner of their operation.

PP: What are your priorities for AFFI, both near-term and long-term?

Naasz: We are advocating for reasonable and responsible food labeling, whether relative to the FDA’s proposed changes to the Nutrition Facts Panel or efforts to pre-empt a patchwork of state-imposed labeling for foods containing genetically-enhanced ingredients.

We are working to mitigate the impact of rising commodity costs on frozen food makers by reducing the Renewable Fuel Standard’s corn-based ethanol mandate, and advocating for responsible efforts to address climate change that don’t drive up the cost of electricity and transportation fuels.

In addition, AFFI is playing a central role in efforts to write or reform laws and regulations affecting immigration, international trade, labor, logistics and transportation policy.

PP: How are frozen produce products performing in the marketplace? How are you positioning frozen produce against fresh produce?

Naasz: Frozen fruits and vegetables, particularly frozen fruits, are performing quite well. Frozen fruit sales have topped $1 billion annually, which is nearly a 70 percent increase over the last five years. New advancements in freezing and packaging have consumers gravitating towards the ease and economic sensibility of frozen fruits and vegetables.

Multitudes of consumers start everyday with frozen berries in their yogurt smoothies and value the ease of preparing nutritious frozen vegetables as part of a wholesome meal.

Frozen fruits and vegetables play an important role in helping Americans achieve their daily recommended servings of produce, in keeping with the USDA’s Dietary Guidelines for Americans. Plus since roughly 40 percent of all “fresh” produce is thrown away, frozen fruits and vegetables also help consumers stretch their food budget and reduce food waste.

PP: What happens at AFFI-CON? Who should attend and why?

Naasz: The AFFI Frozen Food Convention (AFFI-CON) is the frozen food and beverage industry’s premier business networking convention. Nearly 1,500 professionals from every facet of the frozen food and beverage community regularly attend this annual convention. Simply put, AFFI-CON is where frozen food and beverage executives come together to advance their business interests.

AFFI-CON offers every segment of the frozen food chain — from producer to distributor to retailer and foodservice provider—unmatched networking and business opportunities. AFFI-CON also features a robust program of educational sessions designed to help delegates with everything from growing their business to understanding the latest regulations in the state, federal and international arenas.

I hope your readers will join us at the Manchester Grand Hyatt in San Diego, Feb. 20-24, for AFFI-CON 2016.