Experts: For Sonoma County, the future is food

  • Whole Foods Market Co-CEO Walter Robb gives the keynote address to the Food and Ag Industry conference, Thursday Nov. 21, 2013 at the Hyatt Vineyard Creek in Santa Rosa. (Kent Porter / Press Democrat) 2013

Sonoma County is "tailor-made" to benefit from the unprecedented opportunities coming to farms, food processors and retailers, Whole Foods co-CEO Walter Robb said Thursday.

"We're on the doorstep of a food revolution like I've never seen," said Robb, speaking at the first North Coast Food and Agriculture Industry Conference held in Santa Rosa.

Robb, who highlighted a number of county farms and food processors, said one of the biggest new trends concerns consumers buying healthy, locally produced foods. He said the trend "is greater now" than even interest in organic foods and he predicted that it "continues to grow in spades."

Sonoma County, he said, can do well because it has the advantages of natural beauty, diversity of products and a rich heritage of farming and food production.

Also speaking Thursday on new opportunities was California Department of Food and Agriculture Secretary Karen Ross.

A rising middle class in Asia and India is leading to "an explosion of exports" in dairy and other foods, said Ross, and California is benefiting.

"We have a worldwide strategic advantage because we can grow just about anything," said Ross, noting the state's farmers produce more than 400different crops.

She urged grape growers and wineries in particular to consider the opportunities from overseas markets.

"I don't think there's enough wine for China. I really don't," she said.

About 275 people attended the conference, which was presented by the North Bay Business Journal. The event took place at the Hyatt Vineyard Creek hotel.

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