Grey matter? Future success may depend on next generation


This column also appeared in the August editions of our sister publication, Produce Business magazine.

Some months ago‭, ‬I was invited to participate in a round-table discussion with a group of fresh produce company directors‭. ‬The topic was‭ ‬The Future of Food‭. ‬As we each gave our vision on‭ ‬‘the future‭,‬’‭ ‬specifically the steps we need to take to ensure our businesses remain successful and relevant‭, ‬I looked around the table and it struck me like a blow from a hammer‭: ‬90‭ ‬percent of the hair around the table was gray‭ (‬or graying‭). ‬We definitely could talk about the past‭, ‬but the future‭?? ‬

It was then I posed the question‭: ‬“Whose future are we talking about‭? ‬Realistically speaking our future is limited‭, ‬purely on the basis of our ages‭. ‬Shouldn’t we be talking to the youth about how they see the future developing‭? ‬Wouldn’t that be adding real value to the topic‭?‬”‭ ‬

‭This question I posed was probably disrespectful‭. ‬It was definitely confrontational‭. ‬After the initial shocked silence‭, ‬many reactions were forthcoming‭, ‬and at the start I could not count on much support‭. ‬Understandably so‭, ‬because the people around the table had for many years established and managed successful business models‭. ‬My response to the critical notes was based on a famous line in a Dutch advertisement for financial services‭: ‬Past performance does not guarantee future success‭. ‬Fortunately‭, ‬as we continued talking‭, ‬the acceptance level for my point of view increased‭. ‬

As a group‭, ‬we came to understand that new generations of consumers think differently about food‭. ‬They buy and consume differently‭. ‬Such consumers can change their consumption patterns at the swipe of the smartphone’s screen‭. ‬Although veganism and vegetarianism are increasing‭, ‬these young consumers do not visualize ingredients when thinking about food‭; ‬they see dishes instead‭. ‬Yes‭, ‬changes in the food scene are happening at lightning speed without us even noticing it‭.‬

There are also bigger issues at stake‭. ‬With health‭, ‬vitality and longevity becoming top of mind‭, ‬fruits and vegetables can play‭ ‬an important role in the health of the world’s population‭. ‬On a broader level though‭, ‬this is being threatened with exclusion by unhealthy alternatives‭. ‬

So‭, ‬what does the fresh industry need to do in order to remain relevant as new generations emerge‭, ‬consumption patterns change and more and more blurring takes place between traditional channels and modern lifestyles‭? ‬Should we look to our own experiences‭,‬‭ ‬or should we try a completely different route‭? ‬

It is precisely within this context‭ (‬based on my disrespectful question six months ago‭) ‬that we have developed a collaborative fresh produce project that is almost too good to be true‭. ‬If the outcome of this project matches the level of energy that us‭ ‬‘oldies’‭ ‬are putting into it‭, ‬we will see sparks fly‭. ‬

In October 2018‭, ‬a number of partners‭, ‬led by the Rotterdam Food Cluster‭ (‬Municipality of Rotterdam‭), ‬will host a two-day event‭ ‬with 200‭ ‬of the most ambitious students in the Netherlands‭. ‬Drawn from different fields of study at eight universities and colleges‭, ‬they will be immersed in the following challenge‭: ‬‘How can the fresh produce industry ensure that its beautiful products‭ ‬‮–‬‭ ‬fruits and vegetables‭ ‬‮–‬‭ ‬remain relevant in the coming 10‭ ‬years‭?‬’

Quite rightly‭, ‬the Dutch fresh produce industry considers the input of young people to be of great importance for finding a solution to the challenges of the future‭. ‬By allowing these consumers‭, ‬entrepreneurs‭, ‬employees and leaders of the future to reflect‭ ‬on the global challenges that will come to us in the coming decade‭, ‬much-needed fresh thinking and innovation can be brought to‭ ‬the world of fruit and vegetables‭.‬

The two-day‭ ‬‘Market Match’‭ ‬event will take place in Rotterdam on Oct‭. ‬4‭ ‬and 5‭ ‬in the iconic Maas Silo in Rotterdam‭, ‬where students will work in multidisciplinary teams‭. ‬The‭ ‬‘pressure cooker approach’‭ ‬will immerse students for 48‭ ‬hours in the challenge from early in the morning until late at night‭. ‬Prior to the event‭, ‬the students will have the opportunity to participate in inspiring field trips to various fresh produce companies‭. ‬During the event they‭ ‬will be exposed to presentations by trend watchers and entrepreneurs who recently have set up game-changing‭, ‬innovative companies‭. ‬The students‭ will have nonstop access to a broad range of specialists drawn from different segments of the fresh produce industry‭ (‬retail/wholesale/processing/logistics‭). ‬There also will be an inspiration corner with experimental installations and food innovations‭. ‬Plenary and teamwork sessions will follow in rapid succession‭, ‬with high-energy inspiration being key‭. ‬All possible steps will be taken before and during the event to ensure students can fully exploit their creative insights‭. ‬

The event will culminate in a trade show in which all 50‭ ‬teams‭, ‬comprised of four students each‭, ‬will present their innovations‭ ‬and concepts‭. ‬The top 10‭ ‬will make their pitches to a specialist jury‭, ‬drawn from banking‭, ‬accountancy‭, ‬business consultancy and‭ (‬obviously‭) ‬fresh produce companies‭. ‬The winning team will be taken on a whirlwind international tour that will cover primary production‭, ‬logistics‭, ‬sustainability‭, ‬retail‭, ‬wholesale and advertising‭. ‬It is also envisaged that the event will result in a number of fresh produce startups‭.  ‬

The program is not only based on the needs of the project partners‭ (‬Rotterdam Food Cluster‭, ‬Cool Fresh International‭, ‬Koppert Cress‭, ‬The Greenery‭, ‬Bakker Barendrecht‭, ‬4Evergreen Growers‭, ‬Rijk Zwaan‭, ‬Hessing‭) ‬but also on the study content of the participating educational universities and colleges such as Wageningen University‭, ‬Delft Technical University‭, ‬Erasmus University‭, ‬Aeres University of Applied Sciences and HAS University of Applied Sciences‭. ‬

The great Albert Einstein once said‭, ‬“Logic will get you from A to B‭, ‬but imagination will take you everywhere‭.‬”‭ ‬Isn’t it time for the fresh produce industry to follow his advice‭? ‬ ‭  

Nic Jooste is the director of marketing and CSR at Cool Fresh International‭, ‬a Rotterdam-based global marketing organization for‭ ‬fresh produce‭.



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