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New ideas pop up all around us, especially in the way we do business. Some start out unexpectedly and become trendy. These affect business habits and eventually revolutionize an industry.

Anyone associated with the produce industry knows that the business has grown and diversified immensely in the past 30 or so years. Technology opened new frontiers. Industry farming practices, product development, new varieties, packaging, procurement, retail merchandising and equipment have all moved to higher levels. New trends have improved the produce industry. Here are 11 trends you should consider this year with an eye toward moving forward in the future:

Freshness. Today, it's all about fresher and safer foods. Consumers want more assurance that a product is fresh. If you claim your company’s product is fresh, you better back it up. Anything that is proven to be fresh will gain the trust of consumers.

Consumer service. It used to be that customers would fill out a "tell us how we’re doing" card that only management executives got to read. Not anymore. Today, social media forums reveal customer experiences instantly for the entire world to see, so it is more important than ever to focus on that aspect of your business.

Simplicity. Consumers have lost their patience with confusing labels, claims, advertising and pricing. People will be drawn to items that have more clarity and are uncomplicated to understand. Keep things simple and understandable.

Prices. It’s been reported in the media that food prices are increasing. People know it and are preparing for it, but be careful how you treat this very sensitive subject. Resist the urge to raise retail prices across the board just to boost gross profit.

Mobile marketing. E-shopping, e-commerce, e-everything is in these days. This has become a mobile marketing industry, and information-seekers want to act instantly when making decisions. People once mainly relied on desktop computers and laptops; now they carry a mobile phone everywhere, which gives them the power of a computer on the go. Make sure your company is acquainted with all that mobile phones can do, especially social-media marketing and special apps.

Consumer media. Word of mouth is very powerful. The manner in which you operate your business is likely being broadcasted through social media communications as you read this article. People are using the social media networks to discuss stores they shop, products they buy, and especially the experiences they had — whether good or bad. It is akin to a report card about specific companies, and you need to establish and maintain good grades.

Social responsibility. Companies that initiate socially responsible programs within their communities will be favorably recognized by consumers. Growers, shippers, suppliers and retailers need to show their social outreach in order to build a positive reputation. Local produce, charitable events, recycling, energy conservation, and anything green should be part of your business and publicized.

Package communications. Packaging labels are being designed with more than just nutritional information. Labels now tell stories and communicate with consumers in a way that educates them about the product within the package. People connect when they know more about specific health benefits about a product and information about the farmer. Inform them.

Being different is in. If your company looks the same, has the same programs, operates under the same methods, it’s time to consider an update. Today, being like everyone else in the industry will rapidly make a company boring and broke.

Healthier eating. Those fad diets are out. Fruits and vegetables continue to get the spotlight in the news. Less sodium is a top subject these days along with less fat and limited amounts of sugar. Accentuate anything related to health in ads, on labels and in your stores.

Measuring taste. Besides health and nutrition, people buy food for taste. How do you sell taste? Will the peaches customers buy be sweet? Will the tomatoes be flavorful and to their liking? It can be a shot in the dark. However, there is finally a program in progress that monitors the taste of fresh produce. TasteRadar.com monitors the taste of fresh fruits and vegetables on a global scale and identifies the best-tasting origins, producers, and varieties of each season. Anything involving taste will be well received by consumers.

(Ron Pelger is the owner of RONPROCON, a consulting firm for the produce industry, and a member of the FreshXperts consortium of produce professionals. He can be reached by phone at 775/853-7056, by e-mail at ron@power-produce.com, or check his web site at www.power- produce.com.)