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USDA: Food Prices to Climb This Year

WASHINGTON — Total food prices this calendar year will rise 2.5% to 3.5%, according to a forecast just released by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Economic Research Service.

Much of the rise will result from the delayed effects of last year’s drought in the Midwest.

Even though the drought was severe, destroying a huge amount of field crops, food prices remained flat during 2012.


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That’s because, while prices rose for beef and veal, poultry, fruit and other foods, those hikes were offset by drops in the price of pork, eggs, vegetables and nonalcoholic beverages. Other food categories remained flat.

Read more: Fresh Food Prices Set to Rise in 2013

In addition, while the drought ravaged corn and soybean crops, which does affect food prices, it typically takes months for commodity price changes to show themselves at retail, according to the ERS.

“Most of the impact of the drought is expected to be realized in 2013,” the ERS report states.

Not surprisingly, beef prices are already up 1.7% in May over last year in May. Conversely, a decline in exports and an increase in hog production have kept pork prices almost flat. In fact, May pork prices were down 0.2% from May a year ago.

USDA’s ERS bases its forecast on current conditions and inflation.

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Bottom Dollar employees to receive severance as stores close

All 66 Bottom Dollar Food locations will close Jan. 15 and every employee will be offered severance, the company announced. Eligible employees will also receive career transition services.

“We want to thank our associates, customers and communities for their support over the past four years,” Gene Faller, VP of retail operations for Bottom Dollar Food.

Delhaize Group announced the sale of Bottom Dollars stores and associated lease liabilities in the greater Philadelphia and great Pittsburgh markets to Aldi in November. The transaction is expected to close in the first quarter of 2015. Aldi has not announced plans for the locations, although it will likely reopen most of the stores under its own banner later this year.

Related

Aldi’s purchase closes book on Bottom Dollar

Shoppers react to Bottom Dollar news

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Produce flash sale site offers deals to retail, foodservice buyers

A new website called Produce Pipeline advertises daily flash sales with discounts of 10% to 20% for retailers, foodservice and wholesalers.

Though flash sale sites like Groupon have been around for years, it’s a relatively novel concept for the produce industry.

“So for a variety of reasons — geography, marketing capacity, a number of other issues — it’s been challenging to move produce quickly on the spot market. And that’s what we’re trying to help growers and shippers do and buyers benefit from,” said Produce Pipeline founder Randy Hartmann.

For the past 10 years, Hartmann has worked at his family’s company, Pacificpro, a produce distributor based in Bellevue, Wash. He noticed that the company often talked to buyers looking for deals and growers trying to unload extra produce, but it was difficult to connect the two.

“We’ve got five salespeople in the office all talking to different people on the phone. Everybody’s talking to different growers and shippers. And there’s no way efficiently to put the two together,” said Hartmann.

“And so we came up with this as an idea of how we could efficiently update buyers nationwide with a full run of commodities that various growers, well-known growers and shippers around the country are looking to move.”

Produce Pipeline, which went live Oct. 1, is able to source produce and ship it all over the country thanks to Pacificpro’s established business relationships.

A daily email alerts potential buyers to the top deal of the day as well as eight other deals on items like apples, onions and lemons. A recent offer featured Granny Smith apples at $ 9 for a box of 72, compared to a regular price of $ 12.90 per box.

Thus far, Hartmann said about half of Produce Pipeline’s customers have been supermarket retailers — with the other half comprised of foodservice and wholesale operators — but the majority of the interest comes from supermarkets.

“But what we’re finding is that typical produce buyers are accustomed to buying a certain way. They buy from relationships they’ve had for a long time. And they’re accustomed to doing it over the phone, via email or potentially EDI [electronic data interchange]. And this is a new medium. And so it’s trying to get the buyers comfortable with making a purchase of a perishable commodity via a new medium,” said Hartmann.


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He has been working with buyers to help them understand what the company is all about. On request, Produce Pipeline can send photos of the produce, product labels and food safety documentation.

In addition, Pacificpro can provide logistics to buyers that need it.

“For our larger retail customers, a lot of times they may have their own in-house logistics department, and so that’s not something they would need,” said Hartmann.

“But for others, they may say, yeah I really like that deal on Gala apples, but I only need five pallets of them for an ad I’m running next week and I don’t have a truck out there. Well we can deliver it for them at no additional cost.”

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Judge places FDA on court-ordered schedule for FSMA rules

WASHINGTON — The Food & Drug Administration must issue final produce safety and preventive controls regulations no later than June 2015, and propose other key food-safety regulations by Nov. 20, 2013, according to a court order handed down by a federal judge after two consumer groups sued FDA over its delay in releasing FDA Food Safety Modernization Act rules.

The Center for Food Safety and Center for Environmental Health sued FDA last August for not meeting the deadlines Congress established in FSMA. Only two major regulations were proposed by FDA in January, while other proposals have been undergoing final White House review for months.

The FDA argued in the case that the law’s requirement for multiple public meetings, resource constraints and the complexity of the issue made it nearly impossible to adhere to the Congressional mandate.

But U.S. District Judge Phyllis Hamilton sided with the groups in April, and after the FDA and the consumer groups could not reach a mutually agreed-upon timetable for the FSMA rules, she set her own timetable in a three-page court order issued June 21.

Under the new schedule, FDA must finalize the produce safety and preventive controls proposals by June 30, 2015, and propose all remaining regulations, including the Foreign Supplier Verification Program, third-party accreditation, preventive controls for animal foods and intentional contamination, by Nov. 30, 2013.

The public comment period cannot go later than March 31, 2014, and all final rules must be released by June 30, 2015, said the court.

The Produce News | Today’s Headlines

Judge places FDA on court-ordered schedule for FSMA rules

WASHINGTON — The Food & Drug Administration must issue final produce safety and preventive controls regulations no later than June 2015, and propose other key food-safety regulations by Nov. 20, 2013, according to a court order handed down by a federal judge after two consumer groups sued FDA over its delay in releasing FDA Food Safety Modernization Act rules.

The Center for Food Safety and Center for Environmental Health sued FDA last August for not meeting the deadlines Congress established in FSMA. Only two major regulations were proposed by FDA in January, while other proposals have been undergoing final White House review for months.

The FDA argued in the case that the law’s requirement for multiple public meetings, resource constraints and the complexity of the issue made it nearly impossible to adhere to the Congressional mandate.

But U.S. District Judge Phyllis Hamilton sided with the groups in April, and after the FDA and the consumer groups could not reach a mutually agreed-upon timetable for the FSMA rules, she set her own timetable in a three-page court order issued June 21.

Under the new schedule, FDA must finalize the produce safety and preventive controls proposals by June 30, 2015, and propose all remaining regulations, including the Foreign Supplier Verification Program, third-party accreditation, preventive controls for animal foods and intentional contamination, by Nov. 30, 2013.

The public comment period cannot go later than March 31, 2014, and all final rules must be released by June 30, 2015, said the court.

The Produce News | Today’s Headlines

SN 2015 Prediction: In-store pharmacy beefs up specialty services

The pharmacy customer is a valuable one. That’s why supermarkets will do more to make them loyal to their stores. A key part of retail health and wellness offerings next year will be new pharmacy programs, products and services. One way retailers will differentiate themselves from the competition is by offering specialty pharmacy services. Specialty pharmacies help patients manage complex, chronic conditions by assigning a healthcare team to develop an individualized plan for the …

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Supermarket News

McCafe arrives at Albertsons

Albertsons is promoting the launch of McDonald’s McCafé-brand packaged coffee with a sweepstakes to win free one-year supply.

All those who upload a photo of their favorite coffee mug to the sweepstakes website are eligible to win. The contest runs through Jan. 5.

While the coffee will roll out to most retailers early next year, it’s already available at Albertsons.


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“Now available in the coffee aisle,” Albertsons writes in promotional materials.

The retailer is selling the coffee in 12-ounce bags, as well as in K-cup packs.

As reported, McDonald’s and Kraft teamed to launch  McCafé packaged coffee in supermarkets and other food retailers nationwide.

Made with 100% Arabica beans, the coffee is available in ground and whole bean 12-ounce bags. Among the flavors: Breakfast Blend, French Roast, Colombian and Premium Roast Decaf.

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Walmart names McKenna U.S. COO

Wal-Mart Stores on Wednesday said that Judith McKenna has been promoted to COO of Walmart U.S., succeeding Gisel Ruiz, who has been appointed EVP of Walmart International.

The appointments are effective immediately, and continue the rapid churn at the senior levels of the retailer’s U.S. operations. That division, still struggling to keep up the sales pace of competitors like Costco and Kroger, replaced CEO Bill Simon in August, and last month saw chief merchant Duncan Mac Naughton resign amid a merchandising shakeup.

Judith McKennaMcKenna, who had been serving as chief development officer for Walmart U.S., will report directly to U.S. CEO Greg Foran. McKenna joined Walmart nearly 20 years ago in its Asda division in her native U.K., eventually serving as Asda’s CFO and COO. McKenna also served Walmart International as EVP of strategy and international development.

At Walmart U.S., McKenna’s initiatives included the development of the newly opened Grocery Pickup facility, which was based on Asda’s success operating similar vehicles in the U.K. McKenna joined Walmart nearly 20 years ago as part of its Asda leadership team in the U.K., where she served as the CFO and COO. She moved to Walmart International as EVP of strategy and international development, and most recently served as chief development officer for Walmart U.S. As chief operating officer, McKenna will lead a team of 1.3 million associates. She will also continue to lead Walmart’s small format stores, development of new formats, expansion of Walmart services and the integration of digital commerce into the retailer’s existing U.S. stores.

“At her core and by experience, Judith is a retailer who has made major contributions to our business throughout her career,” Foran said in a statement. “It’s exciting to bring her skills in managing store operations, small format growth, logistics and e-commerce to an expanded role in our U.S. operations. Her knowledge of global best practices and her success in leading our associates around the world will help drive our Walmart U.S. business forward.”

Gisel RuizRuiz started as a management trainee and gained a depth of experience across key roles in labor relations, operations and human resources. Most recently as COO for Walmart U.S., Ruiz led the retailer’s focus on improving operational efficiencies, opened more than 400 new U.S. stores, and increased representation of women and people of color across operations leadership roles. As EVP of Walmart’s International People Division, Ruiz will be a key member of CEO David Cheesewright’s leadership team.


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“Gisel is an inspirational leader who has consistently contributed to Walmart’s growth and success throughout her 22 years with the company. Her proven track record and unwavering commitment to our associates make her the perfect choice for this new role,” said Cheesewright. “The expertise and leadership that Gisel brings are needed as we take our International Division to the next level. I’m looking forward to the impact she’ll have on our associates and business around the world.”

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Wholesalers face serious challenges, report says

Serious financial challenges are likely to continue for U.S. grocery wholesalers for at least the next five years, and companies that fail to improve efficiency and deliver increased value to customers will be in danger of shutting down, according to a report by IBISWorld.

IBISWorld is a market research firm based in Melbourne, Australia, with offices around the world.

According to the report, large grocery wholesalers have been able to expand market share over the last few years, while smaller, often underperforming companies have scaled back or exited the market altogether, causing the industry to contract, and the number of wholesalers is likely to continue to decline over the next five years.

Consumer demand at supermarkets is expected to increase slowly in 2015, “and this slow growth represents a potential threat to the [wholesale] industry,” the report indicated.

Posing a further threat is the trend among supermarkets and other food distributors to bypass wholesalers and buy directly from manufacturers and growers — a trend IBIS said has escalated quickly over the past three years because of rising food prices.

As an improving economy encourages more consumers to dine out, “savvy wholesalers will re-position themselves in a bid to capture new restaurant and fast-food chain customers, and these outlets will form a growing portion of the industry’s customer base,” the report said.


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It also suggested wholesalers may opt to move more into niche markets to serve formats that cater to ethnic communities such as Hispanics and Asians. “With traditional grocery stores underserving ethnic markets and demand for ethnic foods increasing, wholesalers will have an opportunity to serve these niche markets and cultivate relationships with manufacturers of ethnic foods,” the report noted.

“However, larger wholesalers are expected to start distributing more specialized goods in the next five years as they compete with manufacturers who self-distribute,” the report warned.

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Walmart, Target report strong Thanksgiving sales

Big box retailers Walmart and Target reported strong sales from Thanksgiving and early Black Friday. Target said by 9a.m. Friday “online sales had already exceeded total sales from the same day last year.”

Walmart said on Friday that its online Thanksgiving sales were record breaking, and second only to its Cyber Monday sales in 2013.

“Throughout the day, we welcomed more than 22 million customers to our stores — that’s more than the number of people who visit Disneyland in an entire year — and our associates served them with pride. During our big events, our cashiers had nearly every register open. And once again, we delivered safer, exciting events for our customers,” said Laura Phillips, Walmart senior vice president of merchandising, in a statement.

Cyber Monday sales expected to dip

The National Retail Federation said that 126.9 million consumers plan to shop on Cyber Monday, down from 131.5 million last year, according to a survey conducted this weekend by Prosper Insights & Analytics.

With good deals extending past Black Friday and Cyber Monday, shoppers may not have urgency to buy right away. Target, for instance, is continuing its deep holiday discounts for a week and waiving shipping fees through Dec. 20.

“For today’s shopper, every day is ‘Cyber Monday,’ and consumers want and expect great deals, especially online, throughout the entire holiday season — and they know retailers will deliver,” said NRF President and CEO Matthew Shay, in a statement.

“Retailers will still offer unique deals exclusive to Cyber Monday, but consumers also know shopping on Cyber Monday won’t be their last chance to find low prices and exclusive promotions.”

According to the Shop.org eHoliday survey, 97.6% of online retailers are offering special Cyber Monday promotions. More than 19% of shoppers will use their mobile devices to shop Cyber Monday, and almost 85% will use their desktop computers.

The Wall Street Journal reported that brick-and-mortar stores have been cutting prices to compete with online retailers like Amazon.

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Produce groups urge the FDA to change off-farm packinghouse rules under FSMA

WASHINGTON — Different standards for packinghouses under the Food Safety Modernization Act based on their location will cause confusion within the industry and are not science-based, produce industry groups told officials at the Food & Drug Administration during a Thursday public meeting on FSMA changes.

Under the FDA’s current interpretation of FSMA, on-farm packinghouses would need to meet produce safety standards, but off-farm operations, which must register with the FDA, would have to meet more extensive and costly preventive control requirements.

Registered facilities that only handle raw agriculture commodities and don’t conduct further processing should be covered under the produce safety rule, Reggie Brown, executive vice president of the Florida Tomato Exchange, argued during the meeting held in College Park, MD. Food safety and public heath benefits are likely to be best served by a single rule, he said.

“The current regulation as proposed will result in confusion in the produce industry by requiring those actually subject to registration to establish an independent food-safety program for raw agricultural commodities rather than those established by the produce rule,” he said, adding that all the additional recordkeeping, staffing and testing requirements for off-farm operations based “only on the physical location of the operation is not practical.”

David Gombas, senior vice president for food safety and technology at the United Fresh Produce Association, urged the FDA to add language to the FSMA rules that would allow off-farm facilities that meet produce safety requirements to automatically satisfy preventive controls.

FDA staff acknowledged the issue has not been put to rest by the latest fixes to its farm definition.

“We’re considering [this issue] ourselves,” Rebecca Buckner, the FDA’s implementation manager, said during the day-long meeting.

But the issue is not easy to resolve because the statute requires facilities registered with the FDA to meet preventive controls, said Jenny Scott, senior adviser at the Office of Food Safety at the FDA. Only farms and retail operations are exempted from registering with the FDA as facilities.

“We are looking at all those definitions and what can and can’t change,” said Scott. “We certainly appreciate your thoughts of how a facility that has to register could be moved into the produce rule that applies to farms.

“I’m sure that’s an area where you have your legal counsel looking at very carefully,” she quipped.

Gombas also urged the FDA to back off product testing as a verification tool for raw agricultural commodities.

“You test one strawberry or apple, you’ve tested one strawberry or apple,” he said. “The results tell you nothing about the rest.”

He also proposed a simpler, modified approach to water testing and urged the FDA to move away from its complicated testing standard in the produce safety rule.

In other comments, consumer groups urged the FDA to scrap its current proposed small business definition of less than $ 1 million in annual food sales for the preventive controls rule, suggesting the large number of exempted processors and foreign suppliers will put consumers at risk.

The Produce News | Today’s Headlines – The Produce News – Covering fresh produce around the globe since 1897.

Produce groups urge the FDA to change off-farm packinghouse rules under FSMA

WASHINGTON — Different standards for packinghouses under the Food Safety Modernization Act based on their location will cause confusion within the industry and are not science-based, produce industry groups told officials at the Food & Drug Administration during a Thursday public meeting on FSMA changes.

Under the FDA’s current interpretation of FSMA, on-farm packinghouses would need to meet produce safety standards, but off-farm operations, which must register with the FDA, would have to meet more extensive and costly preventive control requirements.

Registered facilities that only handle raw agriculture commodities and don’t conduct further processing should be covered under the produce safety rule, Reggie Brown, executive vice president of the Florida Tomato Exchange, argued during the meeting held in College Park, MD. Food safety and public heath benefits are likely to be best served by a single rule, he said.

“The current regulation as proposed will result in confusion in the produce industry by requiring those actually subject to registration to establish an independent food-safety program for raw agricultural commodities rather than those established by the produce rule,” he said, adding that all the additional recordkeeping, staffing and testing requirements for off-farm operations based “only on the physical location of the operation is not practical.”

David Gombas, senior vice president for food safety and technology at the United Fresh Produce Association, urged the FDA to add language to the FSMA rules that would allow off-farm facilities that meet produce safety requirements to automatically satisfy preventive controls.

FDA staff acknowledged the issue has not been put to rest by the latest fixes to its farm definition.

“We’re considering [this issue] ourselves,” Rebecca Buckner, the FDA’s implementation manager, said during the day-long meeting.

But the issue is not easy to resolve because the statute requires facilities registered with the FDA to meet preventive controls, said Jenny Scott, senior adviser at the Office of Food Safety at the FDA. Only farms and retail operations are exempted from registering with the FDA as facilities.

“We are looking at all those definitions and what can and can’t change,” said Scott. “We certainly appreciate your thoughts of how a facility that has to register could be moved into the produce rule that applies to farms.

“I’m sure that’s an area where you have your legal counsel looking at very carefully,” she quipped.

Gombas also urged the FDA to back off product testing as a verification tool for raw agricultural commodities.

“You test one strawberry or apple, you’ve tested one strawberry or apple,” he said. “The results tell you nothing about the rest.”

He also proposed a simpler, modified approach to water testing and urged the FDA to move away from its complicated testing standard in the produce safety rule.

In other comments, consumer groups urged the FDA to scrap its current proposed small business definition of less than $ 1 million in annual food sales for the preventive controls rule, suggesting the large number of exempted processors and foreign suppliers will put consumers at risk.

The Produce News | Today’s Headlines – The Produce News – Covering fresh produce around the globe since 1897.

Shaw’s Ends Loyalty Program With New Campaign

WEST BRIDGEWATER, Mass. — Shaw’s and Star Markets stores on Friday will launch a new marketing campaign, introducing thousands of everyday lower prices and adopting its new parent company’s policy of offering discounts with or without a loyalty card, a spokesman told SN Wednesday.

The campaign, known as “You’re in for Something Fresh,” seeks to convey that customers are in for a new experience at Shaw’s and Star Market. Customers will see a redesigned circular and new in-store signage designed to create excitement and illustrate the company’s commitment to quality products and customer service.

As previously reported in SN, Boise, Idaho-based Albertsons, which reacquired Shaw’s and Star Market from Supervalu earlier this year, is eliminating the loyalty program at its Albertsons banner stores. Since then its Jewel-Osco and Acme banners have also unveiled plans to eliminate their loyalty prorgams.

Malvern, Pa.-based Acme Markets launched a similar strategy to Shaw’s last week, kicking off the effort with a video message from its president, Jim Perkins. Perkins said customers at Acme could expect to see cleaner stores, better service everyday low prices and a new guarantee on fresh products.

Jewel-Osco this week also launched a campaign using the same slogan and promoting savings without a card.

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Revised FSMA Provisions Need More Tweaks

The public is generally pleased with the revised provisions of four rules under the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA), but the public comments at the Food and Drug Administration’s public meeting Thursday suggest that the agency may have more tweaking to do.

Certain aspects of the rules for produce safety, preventive controls for human food, preventive controls for animal food and Foreign Supplier Verification Programs (FSVP) have been modified to provide more flexibility to producers and suppliers.

A change in the definition of farms allows people to pack and hold their own and others’ raw agricultural commodities without being subject to the preventive controls rules because these activities are already covered in the produce safety rule. Several people commented Thursday that the definition did not extend far enough.

“Designations based on location or ownership are not risk-based designations, and they overlook an important reality about the majority of American farms: many farms consist of multiple parcels, buildings, and structures that may or may not be contiguous,” said Sophia Kruszewski, a policy specialist with the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition.

“We’ve heard that from a lot of different folks and expect to get a lot of comment on that and are considering ourselves,” noted Rebecca Buckner, co-lead for preventive controls in FDA’s Office of Foods and Veterinary Medicine.

In the supplemental proposals, FDA decided to define a “very small business” producing human food as one with less than $ 1 million in annual sales and a small business as producing animal food as one with less than $ 2.5 million in annual sales. Several commenters expressed opposition to the $ 1 million threshold, arguing that it conflicts with the statutory framework of the legislation by expanding exemptions beyond what Congress had intended.

Patricia Buck, director of outreach and education for the Center for Foodborne Illness Research and Prevention, explained that the Tester Amendment — which exempts food producers that sell the majority of their food directly to consumers within the state and have less than $ 500,000 per year in sales – was critical for moving the FSMA bill through Congress.

“We are concerned that this proposed very small business definition upsets the delicate balance struck by legislators when they created this exemption provision: they wanted to minimize the regulatory burden on small operations and, at the same time, minimize any resulting harm to public health,” explained Sandra Eskin, director of food safety for the Pew Charitable Trusts.

Eskin, Buck and others also expressed their frustration that FDA proposed a process for reinstating an exemption after a qualified facility or grower has lost the status.

“We fear that, by creating a right to reinstatement, FDA will encourage food processors [and growers] that initially qualify for the exemption to sell contaminated products, knowing that they will be able to quickly fix a problem and regain an exemption,” Eskin explained.

Worrisome manure changes

Caroline Smith DeWaal, food safety director for the Center for Science in the Public Interest, and Buck gave some of the most impassioned comments when they spoke about the changes to raw manure and compost intervals.

The original proposal set a nine-month minimum between the application of raw manure and harvest and a the 45-day minimum application interval for compost. The supplemental language eliminated these minimums deferring a decision on an appropriate interval until it conducts more research.

Although this was considered a “huge win” for organic farmers, to DeWaal it was a failure to protect public health.

“It is not good science, nor appropriate for public health, for FDA to simply walk away from its responsibility to set standards for this important but highly risky agricultural input,” she said in her prepared statement. “The agency claims that it can develop a more scientific standard for the application of raw manure and compost in five to 10 years. This is clearly too long to leave consumers unprotected.”

She and others called on FDA to adopt interim standards for raw manure and compost use and suggested codifying the National Organic Program’s (NOP) standards for conventional produce growers while the agency considers alternatives.

“Going from nine months to zero is not science-based and we challenge the agency to do better than that,” DeWaal said during the Q&A session.

Samir Assar, director of the produce safety staff within FDA’s Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition said that FDA had studied the NOP standards and didn’t feel the science was strong enough to indicate whether they were the appropriate standards for public health protection.

Following DeWaal in the Q&A, Buck asked the panelists what level of assurance the agency could provide that its manure research efforts would be completed in a timely fashion. “Waiting ten years is not appropriate,” she said.

Assar responded that FDA is committed to moving forward “as quickly as possible” to develop the risk assessment and transition producers to less-risky composting practices. “We’re thinking five to 10 years, but we’re hoping it will be more towards the five years,” he said.

“But that’s not helpful,” Buck shot back. “If it’s going to take you ten years — hopefully five — you need the interim standard now.”

Where things stand

FDA’s Buckner said that the agency was aware of and working to address many of the issues raised at Thursday’s meeting, adding that it’s important for stakeholders to submit detailed comments.

With regards to the other three FSMA rules that have not seen reproposed language, ”we are aware that we have requests for supplemental proposals on those and we are considering those,” Buckner said.

The final day to submit written comments on the revised rules is Dec. 15.

Food Safety News

Why technology will never replace people

With several consolidations and acquisitions taking place over the last 12 months, what will future organizational charts look like? The most accurate answer is, leaner. Yet to be determined is, more efficient?

We tend to think of efficiencies as pure productivity in the abstract. In pursuing efficiencies of scale, certainly sustainable efficiencies are the goals. However, remove the abstract and we realize that people, not systems, effectuate most of the results.

It’s true that technology, the main culprit, has replaced a number of jobs in the U.S. workforce (although just as many, if not more, have been by humans in Asia). But how much can technology really replace the human element in a service/people driven business?

Technology certainly creates efficiencies, but where executed best, technology and humans act as complements of one another, not in place of. The fixation of how can technology replace humans keeps us from addressing a more important question — how can people work better together? And in a service business, technology enhances this, it doesn’t replace it. Indeed, technology allows innovative companies to unleash human capabilities in the value chain.

Gary Hamel, management guru, cites that the pursuit of efficiencies of scale has led corporations to trade away units of innovation for units of efficiency. And worth noting, markets are much more flexible, and move much faster, than hierarchies. In essence, putting a premium on innovation. Let’s not forget that innovation comes from flesh and blood human beings, not bureaucracies.

Multiple surveys tell us that more interaction with store employees is what customers seek most. Technology can enhance the shopper experience. But the experience still lies predominately in the physical world, not the digital. Still, we see initiatives in digital/mobile being created as if they are the panacea to the shopper experience. Again, where executed best, technology and humans act as complements of one another.


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A good example of this is Harris Teeter’s Express Lane pick up service, which has been followed by Wal-Mart To-Go. Instacart, Peapod and FreshDirect also come to mind. All marry technology and human capabilities while creating new jobs as a net gain: Conception requires a team to create and design the service. Maintaining daily technological functionality/optimization also requires a team. Lastly, order selectors and drivers complete the service offering, creating jobs all along the channel.

From my perspective, “Shopper Experience” is a mere techno/marketing buzzword that without human interaction lacks substance. Or as Peter Thiel, founder of PayPal and original investor of Facebook, likes to say, “We’ve seen innovation in bits, but lack innovation in atoms (humans).”

In the end, the sustainable efficiencies of these mergers will be mostly determined by the fusion of people, not scale. The first is an art, the latter a hard science. And where done best, art and science coalesce to produce outstanding results.

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PLMA 2014: Let the treasure hunt begin

PLMA’s annual store brands trade show is so big that each year, I map out my show floor strategy the day of the event.

I initially planned to do the same for this year’s show, running Nov. 16 -18 in Chicago. I thought an action plan is needed being that there will be more than 2,600 exhibit booths of food, snack and beverage, household and kitchen, GM, and health and beauty products. Over 40 countries will be represented, including 20 national pavilions. 

I typically start out by visiting the showcase of best new products. It’s here where I can see what the trends are. With these trends in mind, I group my booth exhibits by category, such as health and wellness or ethnic.

But I’ve learned that preplanning doesn’t always work. Browsing the aisles I’m often sidetracked by cutting-edge products completely different than the ones I planned to see.

That’s because many store brand suppliers are tapping into existing trends and even creating new ones, from health and wellness products to new packaging and specialty ingredients.

So this year, I’m taking a different approach. Rather than plan out most of my booth visits, I will instead blindly browse many of the aisles waiting for products to catch my eye.

I look forward to this year’s treasure hunt.

Supermarket News

PLMA 2014: Let the treasure hunt begin

PLMA’s annual store brands trade show is so big that each year, I map out my show floor strategy the day of the event.

I initially planned to do the same for this year’s show, running Nov. 16 -18 in Chicago. I thought an action plan is needed being that there will be more than 2,600 exhibit booths of food, snack and beverage, household and kitchen, GM, and health and beauty products. Over 40 countries will be represented, including 20 national pavilions. 

I typically start out by visiting the showcase of best new products. It’s here where I can see what the trends are. With these trends in mind, I group my booth exhibits by category, such as health and wellness or ethnic.

But I’ve learned that preplanning doesn’t always work. Browsing the aisles I’m often sidetracked by cutting-edge products completely different than the ones I planned to see.

That’s because many store brand suppliers are tapping into existing trends and even creating new ones, from health and wellness products to new packaging and specialty ingredients.

So this year, I’m taking a different approach. Rather than plan out most of my booth visits, I will instead blindly browse many of the aisles waiting for products to catch my eye.

I look forward to this year’s treasure hunt.

Supermarket News

PLMA 2014: Let the treasure hunt begin

PLMA’s annual store brands trade show is so big that each year, I map out my show floor strategy the day of the event.

I initially planned to do the same for this year’s show, running Nov. 16 -18 in Chicago. I thought an action plan is needed being that there will be more than 2,600 exhibit booths of food, snack and beverage, household and kitchen, GM, and health and beauty products. Over 40 countries will be represented, including 20 national pavilions. 

I typically start out by visiting the showcase of best new products. It’s here where I can see what the trends are. With these trends in mind, I group my booth exhibits by category, such as health and wellness or ethnic.

But I’ve learned that preplanning doesn’t always work. Browsing the aisles I’m often sidetracked by cutting-edge products completely different than the ones I planned to see.

That’s because many store brand suppliers are tapping into existing trends and even creating new ones, from health and wellness products to new packaging and specialty ingredients.

So this year, I’m taking a different approach. Rather than plan out most of my booth visits, I will instead blindly browse many of the aisles waiting for products to catch my eye.

I look forward to this year’s treasure hunt.

Supermarket News

PLMA 2014: Let the treasure hunt begin

PLMA’s annual store brands trade show is so big that each year, I map out my show floor strategy the day of the event.

I initially planned to do the same for this year’s show, running Nov. 16 -18 in Chicago. I thought an action plan is needed being that there will be more than 2,600 exhibit booths of food, snack and beverage, household and kitchen, GM, and health and beauty products. Over 40 countries will be represented, including 20 national pavilions. 

I typically start out by visiting the showcase of best new products. It’s here where I can see what the trends are. With these trends in mind, I group my booth exhibits by category, such as health and wellness or ethnic.

But I’ve learned that preplanning doesn’t always work. Browsing the aisles I’m often sidetracked by cutting-edge products completely different than the ones I planned to see.

That’s because many store brand suppliers are tapping into existing trends and even creating new ones, from health and wellness products to new packaging and specialty ingredients.

So this year, I’m taking a different approach. Rather than plan out most of my booth visits, I will instead blindly browse many of the aisles waiting for products to catch my eye.

I look forward to this year’s treasure hunt.

Supermarket News

Foodborne Illness Victims Request Additional FSMA Funding

Victims of foodborne illness and their families are urging Congress to appropriate additional funding for implementation of the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA).

Several Congress members and plenty of food safety advocates have written to the leaders of the House and Senate appropriations committees this year asking that they increase FSMA funding in the next federal budget.

The authors of the latest letter are 75 people in 34 states who fell ill from eating contaminated food and their relatives who refer to themselves as “the names behind the statistics.”

Geoff Soza of Encinitas, CA signed the letter and supports FDA’s efforts to finalize strong food safety regulations because he nearly died from an infection of Hepatitis A in 2013 after eating contaminated frozen berries.

An email his wife of 30 years wrote to their daughter at the time described him as “Gagging, retching, burning to the touch, aching and lacking even the energy to sit up. He lay lifeless on the hospital bed, his face and eyes bright yellow. He has refused to eat for 48 hours.” There was the possibility he would need his gall bladder removed or a liver transplant.

Even after he left the hospital, Soza says, it was four months before he felt healthy again.

It’s important for him to do anything he can “to prevent things like this from happening again to anybody” and that victim stories can have a stronger impact on effecting change, he told Food Safety News.

“We should have better food safety rules,” Soza said. “The country thinks pretty highly of itself, but if we can’t take care of our population, we’re lacking, no matter what else we do.”

The House and Senate agriculture appropriations bills for FY2015 included an increase of as much as $ 25 million for FDA food safety activities. When FSMA was approved in 2010, the Congressional Budget Office estimated that FDA would need an increase of more than $ 580 million to fund the expanded food safety activities. FDA has since revised that estimate to between $ 400 and $ 450 million.

Soza and the other victims who signed the letter, sent to to Reps. Harold Rogers (R-KY) and Nita Lowey (D-NY) and to Senators Barbara Mikulski (D-MD) and Richard Shelby (R-AL) Monday, requested that an additional $ 300 million be allocated to FDA over the next two years.

“As Congress continues to consider funding for Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) food safety budget, we hope you will keep in mind the estimated 48 million Americans who are sickened annually by foodborne illness,” they wrote.

Food Safety News