Hort Connections 2024 buoys contemporary produce

Australasia’s record-breaking premier fresh produce event, Hort Connections 2024 held in Melbourne earlier this month set the tone for strategic industry growth, renewed grower confidence, and is estimated to have injected $10 million into the Victorian economy.

Organised by International Fresh Produce Association Australia-New Zealand (IFPA A-NZ) and AUSVEG, the Melbourne event from 3-5 June was the biggest in eight years of delivering the event, convening more than 4200 delegates including 1200 growers, 226 exhibiting companies, and 80 speakers and panel members. It also served as a springboard for significant industry announcements including Hort Innovation’s Hort Frontiers Fund and IFPA’s Future Trends Report 2024.

IFPA Managing Director A-NZ Ben Hoodless says there was a 20% increase in both delegate attendance and grower attendance on the 2023 conference in Adelaide.

“We broke records across the board including the number of nominations from throughout the supply chain for the Horticulture Awards for Excellence. There was standing room only at speaker sessions and member networking events and delegates were highly engaged at the trade show, and retail and farm tours,” he said.

“There were many firsts. We put on four new panels to discuss big-picture industry issues including how to secure consumer confidence while ensuring food safety; the influence brands have on consumers; how technology and innovation is changing the industry; and presented global packaging and sustainability case studies.

“The post-Covid buzz has settled, and people are now hungry for the next best thing including technology, access to market and sustainable packaging alternatives. Technology is being seen as the key to labour issues.”

Mr Hoodless led a state-of-the-industry panel where he launched the ‘Future Trends Report 2024’ and industry leaders discussed opportunities in upcycling, innovation, climate change, and protected cropping. IFPA Vice President Sustainability Tamara Muruetagoeina presented a global perspective on sustainability in fresh produce.

IFPA hosted more than 200 people at its member networking event including attendees from the newly established IFPA Produce Executive Program Alumni for the first time. It also expanded its Career Pathways Program to allow 20 fully funded aspiring industry entrants to hear about career opportunities from experts along the fresh produce supply chain at an inaugural career insights session.

Hort Innovation invests $500 million in R&D

Hort Innovation Australia CEO Brett Fifield announced the ambitious goal to invest an additional $500 million over the next decade in research and development to bolster Australia’s $16.3 billion horticulture industry.

“Our new Frontiers program will complement the existing levy-funded portfolio and attract new investors and transformative innovation streams to Australian horticulture, aiming to seize the big opportunities and develop solutions for growers,” Mr Fifield said.

“We also launched a new platform, Hort IQ, to provide access to the latest, most comprehensive Australian fruit, vegetable, and nut consumer data. Understanding how consumers act, think, and feel about horticultural produce is an essential step in accelerating local and global demand for Australian horticultural produce.”

Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry Senator Murray Watt, told delegates Australia’s horticulture sector was achieving historic results.

“Australia’s agricultural production is forecast to rise to $84 billion next year, the third highest result on record. Horticulture output is forecast to reach $17.4 billion over the next financial year and exports are forecast to surge 11% over this period, to hit $4 billion,” he said.

Horticulture Awards for Excellence

The Horticulture Awards for Excellence including the prestigious Seeka Marketer of the Year Award (MOYA) produced by IFPA and Produce Plus were presented to 10 outstanding individuals or companies at the conference’s plenary sessions and gala dinner.

Perfection Fresh Group Marketing Manager Kristie Emerson was named Seeka Marketer of the Year for the multi-channel Qukes baby cucumber Quke O’Qlock campaign, created to encourage Australians to eat more fruit and vegetables after identifying 96% were not getting their recommended daily intake (RDI).

“The whole team is proud to have won MOYA alongside such high-calibre nominations. It’s testament to the hard work of the whole team and is great motivation for us to keep innovating in fresh produce campaigns. We hope it inspires consumers to include Qukes baby cucumbers at every snacking occasion,” Ms Emerson said.

The campaign which was created around snack occasions for Perfection Fresh’s hero baby cucumber snacking line, targeted adult and family households and ran for 17 weeks. It reached some 9.9 million consumers and achieved a sales volume increase of 9.7% through more than 350 independent retailers, she said.

Nutrano Produce Group was named Hort Innovation Exporter of the Year.

“We are honoured to be recognised for our contribution to Australia’s horticulture industry and our dedication to exporting quality citrus and mangoes worldwide,” Export Manager Mathew Roberts said.

Other award winners were: Syngenta Grower of the Year: Rocky Lamattina & Sons; Corteva Agriscience Young Grower of the Year: Zeke Zalsman, Zaldeesh Farms; Bayer Researcher of the Year: Doris Blaesing, RMCG; Butler Market Gardens Environmental & Sustainability: End Food Waste, Australian Banana Growers Council and Melons Australia; UPL Tech & Innovation Award: RapidAim; Muirs Community Stewardship Award: Veg Education; Boomaroo Nurseries Women in Horticulture Award: Bree Watson, Bundaberg Fruit & Vegetable Growers; and VISY Industry Impact Award: Ian Layden (Gatton Smart Farm Ag Tech Showcase), QDAF.

Perfection Fresh Group Marketing Manager Kristie Emerson is named Seeka Marketer of the Year.

Evolving conference enters new phase

Hort Connections 2025 returns to Brisbane on 4-6 June. IFPA A-NZ and AUSVEG will conduct a comprehensive survey of the market and set the event’s strategic direction over the next few months, looking ahead with a five-year vision, before planning gets underway for 2025.

“For the first time in the event’s history, it will be held from a Wednesday to Friday, offering delegates a refreshing change to enjoy the gala dinner on the Friday night and stay on in one of our leading producer states to celebrate Queensland Day (6 June),” IFPA Membership and Marketing Manager A-NZ Tim Withers said.

“Hort Connections continues to evolve and is a major drawcard for cities vying to host it. It is now the largest event of its type for the fresh produce and floral sector in the Southern Hemisphere,” he said.

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