The flip of a new calendar year is a great time to reflect on the prior year, search for improvements, examine the current landscape, adjust, and set goals for the coming year. In our annual series, we sit down with Vanguard International Group CEO Craig Stauffer to discuss what we think will shape the fresh produce industry in 2023.
Q: What trends do you think will define 2023 for fresh produce?
I think it is fair to predict that we will see a continued focus on “fresh & wellness” at the forefront of the entire food industry for 2023. As concerns around COVID-19 (sorry to say, we are not done with this five-letter word in 2023) and other respiratory diseases continue, consumers will continue to seek out fresh produce that improves immunity.
As supply chain logistics slowly but surely improve, we anticipate transit times on ocean freight to return to more trustworthy time commitments. This will be encouraging for shippers, importers, and consumers globally.
Buying local continues to be a consumers’ trend with a further desire to better understand who is producing their fruits and vegetables. Transparency around production, including corporate social responsibility for both workers and packaging, will continue to be required.
Packaging will be more in the spotlight in 2023 with a push to minimize packaging where possible and focus on more environmentally compatible materials.
And finally, we will all be searching for ways to achieve more with less – squeezing every penny of value out of the cost chain, which is increasing at an accelerating rate given inflation.
Q: What are you excited to leave in the 2022 rear view mirror?
After the logistics chaos of the past two years, we are looking forward to ports opening, containers being positioned where they need to be, and shipping schedules being more reliable. As growers and marketers of fresh produce we are “masters of the pivot,” so every challenge 2022 threw at us made us stronger, smarter, and more innovative. That being said, I speak for the entire industry that we are eager for a return to transportation normalcy in 2023.
Q: Do you predict any changes with demand for fresh fruit in Asia?
We anticipate increased demand as supply chain challenges ease. Weather events, be it excess rain or contrarily drought, are not new challenges for our industry, but they do seem to be delivering a more frequent and significant impact on the global supply chain.
With increased COVID infection rates in these early days of 2023 and quickly changing policies, we are closely watching the Asia market impacts. Vanguard is in a unique position to respond quickly to changes in demand. For 2023 we predict demand for fruit is likely to be from non-traditional supply bases.
Q: Do you anticipate supply chain blockages to reduce further or anticipate further complications to this critical channel?
It’s time to be positive and hopeful that as supply chain logistics correct themselves, we will be well-positioned to meet the increased demand.
Q: Any regions you are watching for 2023 either for continued growth or a rebound year?
Of course, all eyes are on China as they continue to manage large Covid numbers while simultaneously lifting restrictions for China consumers to travel, gather, and celebrate. Food as part of the social activities throughout Asia remains important.
As economies improve, we will see increased demand from China, Hong Kong Indonesia, Vietnam, Malaysia, Singapore, Korea, and Taiwan.
Q: Do you see a continued trend to online grocery shopping? Any other trends predicted from the retail level?
On-line shopping for groceries and busy consumers is here to stay. The numbers for click and collect, and e-delivery, are down from mid-pandemic days, but it has proven to be a reliable option for many consumers when they are unable to shop in-person. Retail globally will focus on promotions to bring consumers back in-store. This will include in-store experiences, sampling, and point-of-sale promotions.