5 Things We Learned At United Fresh 2016

There was a lot to pack in for two days of United Fresh 2016 in Chicago. Here are some of the snippets from the week.

1. More Produce, Less Space

Controlled environment agriculture, or as many refer to as hydroponic growing, has made its presence at this year’s show as indoor farms. These indoor farms are more compact yet are producing more crops and provide consumers with fresher, more nutritional value in their food. Indoor growers were more than happy to tell United Fresh that CEAs are here to stay.

One of the CEA exhibitors FarmedHere, based out of Englewood, Illinois, uses some of their 90,000-plus square foot facility to house its indoor crops, equivalent to 20 acres of traditional growing space. The sustainable indoor farming group offer products such as microgreens, basil vinaigrette and fresh basil.

2. A&B Keeps its Fresh

Fitting for a conference promoting “fresh,” A&B Packing Equipment took the opportunity to showcase its Fulcrum Fresh Harvester. Launched this year, the Fulcrum is billed to be A&B’s most gentle harvester. The harvester, ideal for blueberries, has been field-tested and company representatives were excited to help spread the word. Berries in the picking zone have a minimal drop of a few inches giving less stress to the bush when it returns to its original position.

3. How do you search for a quality grower?

In order to have successful produce, the relationship with the grower must be strong.

“The quality is important,” Tara Ewald of Market Fresh Produce said. “We look for growers who have that but also the ones who have pride in putting their name on their crops.”

Market Fresh Produce, who deal in avocados, onions, peppers, tomatoes and sweet tomatoes, boosted the quality and quality of its current offerings, Athena melons and Vidialia onions. These crops will be available to supermarkets no later than early fall.

4. One-stop shop

At United Fresh, it’s not hard to notice the grower-buying connection because it’s all over the place via the supply chain. However, there were several produce operations that did it all under one umbrella: farming, logistics, packaging and produce. For instance, RedSunFarms, based in Kingsville, Ontario, specializes in greenhouse vegetables and were at the show to promote its organic brands including cucumbers. RedSunFarms is able to keep its operation fresh with seven distributions centers across North America with three farms in Canada, Mexico and the United States.

5. It’s all in the packaging

Every year, United Fresh highlights several packaging efforts. One produce item that was interesting was Crunchies, a freeze-dried fruit snack that’s sliced as the actual fruit. From the Crunchies Natural Food Company, Crunchies was a finalist for the Best New Vegetable Product at the show. It was just one of the many produce booths that were promoting a healthy lifestyle, which is becoming a welcoming trend for consumers. Also noticeable was the efforts of companies like Crunchies to take the guess work out and offer a simple packaging model for a “grab and go,” “single-serve” and “multipack” variety.