We had the opportunity to attend the United Fresh Expo and Convention in Chicago. This major trade show is one of North America’s premier events focused on the entire produce industry, including buyers and suppliers. This year, the event was co-hosted with the United FreshTEC Expo, the Global Cold Chain Expo and the International Floriculture Expo and totaled over 600 exhibitors. Next year, the organizers plan to add the “SmartFood Expo” as the burgeoning “better-for-you” market category continues to gain more attention from industry participants. Attending this show gave us the opportunity to meet and talk with many of the CEOs and senior managers in the fresh produce industry to gain a deeper appreciation of the prevailing market trends, the mergers and acquisitions environment and any of their future needs in the private capital markets.

The fresh produce category continues to thrive, as consumers incorporate more fresh fruits and vegetables into their diets and food and ag companies continue to innovate. Many companies are focusing on packaging innovations to gain share in the healthy snack food category, such as snack-size grape tomatoes or apple slices. Let’s take Crunch Pak as an example. Besides having a variety of apple snack products, such as its Dipperz product line (apple slices with combo-packed yogurt, etc.), the company’s new apple rings received the United Fresh Innovation Award for “Best New Fruit Product.” Recently, Taylor Farms announced that it has taken a minority equity position in Crunch Pak, and the companies plan further collaboration to drive synergies between the two firms.

Veggie Noodle Co.

Pictured are Mason Arnold (2nd from right), Founder and CEO of Veggie Noodle Co., along with members of his team, shortly after receiving the United Fresh Innovation Award in the “Best New Vegetable Product” category for its Veggie Spirals product line.

Another example of an “on-trend” innovation is the emerging ready-to-eat spiralized vegetable noodle category. These products are made from a variety of vegetables, such as butternut squash, beets, sweet potatoes, zucchini, etc. and are marketed as a substitute for high-carbohydrate, high-calorie, grain-based pasta. While kitchen vegetable spiralizers, slicers and shredders have been available to consumers for some time now, the added convenience of these ready-to-eat products are driving consumption. Several examples of these products, and how they can be incorporated into a delicious dish, as a pasta substitute, were on display and available for sampling at the show (one of the great reasons to attend!). The versatility that arises from the wide variety of flavours is complemented with a variety of preparation options that include a quick toss in the microwave or a short sauté, boil or steam.

Incorporating raw vegetable spiralized noodles into a salad mix is also gaining popularity. Voted by show attendees, Austin, Texas-based Veggie Noodle Co. won the “Best New Vegetable Product” Innovation Award for its Veggie Spirals product line.

With our producer to consumer industry experience, our belief in the need for further consolidation and integration, the growing growth capital and investment demand and our positive experience in completing the Hollandia Produce deal, the produce industry continues to be a focus area for SDR Ventures.

Access more produce industry insights and M&A data with our latest Food and Beverage and Agribusiness quarterly industry reports.