OPMA hosts industry panel discussion at the Ontario Fruit & Vegetable Convention in Niagara Falls, Ont.

The Ontario Produce Marketing Association (OPMA) hosted a panel of experts at the recent Ontario Fruit and Vegetable Convention in Niagara Falls, Ont. The panel of industry leaders discussed consumer perceptions of product and innovations underway to meet consumer demands.

Lisa Covens from Leger 360, a Canadian market research and analytics company, spoke about the results of a 2020 online survey based on the consumption habits of 1,587 Canadians over the age of 18. The survey results indicated 90 per cent of Ontarians trust in their own, provincially grown produce, 82 per cent of Canadians acknowledge that produce grown in their own province is of top quality and 85 per cent of Canadians prefer to buy local fruits and vegetables when they are in season. While freshness is important, 75 per cent of consumers still consider price to be the most important factor when purchasing produce. While consumers are expecting safe, top quality local produce, they are also concerned about the use of plastics, which is driving industry innovation.

Robert Pocius, from TekPak Solutions and Dr. Ana Cristina Vega-Lugo from Niagara College’s Research and Innovation Centre, spoke about research to improve the types of materials used in packaging. Pocius’ company is best known for engineering “Omnidegradable” plastic, which unlike other biodegradable materials, requires only microbes and time to decompose, offering a sustainable solution to conventional plastic.

Dr. Vega-Lugo echoed Robert’s comments and spoke to the importance of studying the unique properties of a given fruit or vegetable and choosing the appropriate packaging. One example included “modified atmosphere packaging” (MAP), which allows oxygen to enter and carbon dioxide to exit through perforations. Both speakers provided unique insights into available alternatives to traditional packaging that are practical and sustainable. Jessica Hughes, Director of Innovation at Earth Fresh Foods, gave a producer and packer’s perspective, speaking about how Earth Fresh is investing in research and innovation to improve the quality and sustainability of its packaging. Examples included light blocking technology, potato bags made out of paper and recyclable netting.

The session concluded with a panel discussion led by Dr. Martin Gooch from Value Chain Management International and included Lisa Covens, Jessica Hughes, Dr. Vega-Lugo and Sonia Benoit from Cascades. The panelists addressed pressing questions about how the industry can make changes to adapt their packaging to meet consumer expectations while also communicating progress to consumers.

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