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AFM’s Guac Fiesta extended to reach Hispanic football fans

Avocados from Mexico will extend its Guac Fiesta campaign to reach the Hispanic trade in key markets. The program is designed to drive consumption of Avocados From Mexico through aggressive retail promotion in key Hispanic markets during prime football season and the Super Bowl.9E998C4E-3849-46E4-AB47-76DCE485E597

The Guac Fiesta Hispanic program will run Jan. 1 to Feb. 1 in California, Arizona, Texas, Chicago, New York and Miami, targeting 1,000 Hispanic chain stores and independents. The program will feature a mobile sweepstakes and an AFM coupon offer that also gives shoppers a fun new recipe to try. Additionally, the campaign will include digital and social media, merchandising, and trade and consumer public relations efforts.
 
“Guac Fiesta is a great way to reach the bicultural Hispanic who loves American football,” Stephanie Bazan, AFM’s Hispanic marketing director, said in a press release. “Last year was the first year the Big Game was broadcast in Spanish and the sport is a great way to engage Hispanics during the top U.S. occasion in which guacamole is consumed. American Football season is a fun time when families and friends come together to experience the game and that is no different for the Hispanic fan base.  Adding avocados to a favorite dish is a great way to add some flavor to the fiesta.”
 
The campaign is intended to build excitement with shoppers through a text-to-win campaign where they will have a chance to win a big-screen television for football viewing parties. Retailers will also receive support to promote the product, such as tear pad coupons and in-store purchase coupons for shoppers.
 
According to Experien Simmons data, the interest in NFL football and college football among Hispanics has increased between the years of  2010 and 2014.  While the amount of Spanish-speaking Hispanics that watch the NFL has increased, the majority of Hispanics who watch the NFL are bi-cultural and Engish speaking according to Nielsen.
 
For more information about Avocados from Mexico or to learn more about the Guac Fiesta Hispanic campaign, visit www.theamazingavocado.com.

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

AFM’s Guac Fiesta extended to reach Hispanic football fans

Avocados from Mexico will extend its Guac Fiesta campaign to reach the Hispanic trade in key markets. The program is designed to drive consumption of Avocados From Mexico through aggressive retail promotion in key Hispanic markets during prime football season and the Super Bowl.9E998C4E-3849-46E4-AB47-76DCE485E597

The Guac Fiesta Hispanic program will run Jan. 1 to Feb. 1 in California, Arizona, Texas, Chicago, New York and Miami, targeting 1,000 Hispanic chain stores and independents. The program will feature a mobile sweepstakes and an AFM coupon offer that also gives shoppers a fun new recipe to try. Additionally, the campaign will include digital and social media, merchandising, and trade and consumer public relations efforts.
 
“Guac Fiesta is a great way to reach the bicultural Hispanic who loves American football,” Stephanie Bazan, AFM’s Hispanic marketing director, said in a press release. “Last year was the first year the Big Game was broadcast in Spanish and the sport is a great way to engage Hispanics during the top U.S. occasion in which guacamole is consumed. American Football season is a fun time when families and friends come together to experience the game and that is no different for the Hispanic fan base.  Adding avocados to a favorite dish is a great way to add some flavor to the fiesta.”
 
The campaign is intended to build excitement with shoppers through a text-to-win campaign where they will have a chance to win a big-screen television for football viewing parties. Retailers will also receive support to promote the product, such as tear pad coupons and in-store purchase coupons for shoppers.
 
According to Experien Simmons data, the interest in NFL football and college football among Hispanics has increased between the years of  2010 and 2014.  While the amount of Spanish-speaking Hispanics that watch the NFL has increased, the majority of Hispanics who watch the NFL are bi-cultural and Engish speaking according to Nielsen.
 
For more information about Avocados from Mexico or to learn more about the Guac Fiesta Hispanic campaign, visit www.theamazingavocado.com.

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

UFCW, Food 4 Less reach tentative agreement

Members of the United Food and Commercial Workers Union employed by Food 4 Less will vote Sept. 2 on whether to accept a contract offer that was finalized early Tuesday.

The union said it will recommend the members approve the three-year agreement, which offers raises throughout the term of the agreement and leaves the employer contribution to the health and welfare fund unchanged.

The previous contract, covering approximately 6,000 employees at 100 Southern California Food 4 Less stores, expired in June.

According to Bryan Kaltenbach, president of Food 4 Less, “We are pleased to reach an agreement that is good for our associates, who will continue to have a solid and competitive compensation package.”

He said the tentative agreement includes wage increases; quality, affordable health care; and financial support from the company for employee pensions.


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According to a union spokesman, the UFCW was prepared to go on strike Wednesday, “but at the 11th hour, the international union got more involved and Kroger [which owns Food 4 Less] got more involved, and we were able to break the stalemate hanging over our heads in the face-to-face meetings.

“Things moved forward from there, and we were able to negotiate an agreement late Monday and put the finishing touches on it this [Tuesday] morning.”

The spokesman declined to discuss specific terms of the contract before the membership had a chance to see those terms.

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As More Imported Foods Reach the Dinner Table, Holes Remain in FDA Safety Net

(This report by Rick Schmitt was first published June 26, 2014, by FairWarning, a Los Angeles-based nonprofit news organization focused on public health, safety and environmental issues, and related topics of government and business accountability.)

In April 2012, a team of inspectors from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) investigated a seafood company in southern India that had been exporting tons of frozen yellow fin tuna to the United States. What they found was not appetizing: water tanks rife with microbiological contamination, rusty carving knives, peeling paint above the work area, unsanitary bathrooms and an ice machine covered with insects and “apparent bird feces,” according to the report.

FDA issued an “import alert” that barred Moon Fishery India Pvt. Ltd. from shipping fish to the U.S. But the damage to public health had been done. By the time FDA got around to inspecting the plant, a Salmonella outbreak was erupting around the country. Ultimately, 425 people in 28 states and the District of Columbia were sickened, with victims ranging from babies to octogenarians. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 55 people were hospitalized.

The fact that tons of bad fish had sailed into this country was not a surprise. FDA has been outgunned and overmatched for years as a rising tide of imported food has found a place at the U.S. dinner table. Because of budget constraints, ordinarily only 1 to 2 percent of food imports are physically inspected by the agency at the border each year. Typically, operations such as the one in India are inspected only if something goes terribly wrong.

And the threat of illness from imports may be growing. According to an analysis of FDA data by FairWarning and the Investigative News Network (INN), FDA today rejects about the same number of shipments of foreign food as it did a decade ago — when imports were less than half the current level.

The violations that FDA inspectors are finding pose some serious health risks. According to the analysis by FairWarning and INN, some 16,700 shipments of imported foods were barred over the past decade because they included a “filthy, putrid, or decomposed substance” or were “otherwise unfit for food.” That was the leading reason imports were rejected. According to FDA records, foods rejected in 2013 included hard candy from Mexico deemed “filthy” or “poisonous,” Salmonella-infected cumin and ginger from India, and fish from Vietnam with excessive levels of histamine.

William Hubbard

FDA declined to make officials available to comment for this story, either on background or on the record. The agency also refused a request by FairWarning to accompany inspectors at a port of entry. In response to questions, an FDA spokeswoman provided publicly available links to the agency website, previously issued press releases and congressional testimony by agency officials. While acknowledging gaps, the agency says technology, including a new computer system, is helping inspectors zero in on some of the worst offenders.

Imports were supposed to face tighter scrutiny by now. In January 2011, President Obama signed into law a bipartisan overhaul of the way FDA regulates imported and domestically produced foods, known as the Food Safety Modernization Act. But outsized hopes for the law have gone unfulfilled because of agency foot-dragging, flagging interest in Congress for public funding, and food industry opposition to proposed user fees to finance the reform.

Smorgasbord of Tainted Food

At least eight foodborne illness outbreaks — tied to hundreds of illnesses, hospitalizations and deaths — have occurred since the law was passed. The smorgasbord of tainted foods includes a brand of ricotta cheese from Italy that was linked in 2012 to a multi-state outbreak of Listeriosis, a bacterial infection. Among the victims: a California woman, 27 weeks pregnant, who gave birth prematurely after eating some of the cheese. Her child tested positive for Listeria and later died.

That adds to an already large toll of food poisoning victims. CDC estimates that one in six Americans suffers from a foodborne illness each year, with children, the elderly and the infirm suffering disproportionately. Economic costs of disease outbreaks to consumers, farmers and food processors are huge — more than $ 100 billion a year, according to one estimate.

Rejected: Top Reasons Imported Foods Have Been Refused by FDA

“They look at very, very little. They sample very, very little. There is a risky environment out there for food because FDA is so weak,” says William Hubbard, a former FDA senior associate commissioner who is now a consultant. “It is still a little bit of an honor system.”

Carl Nielsen, a former director of FDA’s import operations who has testified before Congress about gaps in monitoring imports, says nothing has changed for years. “It is the same system. It is the same lack of resources. It is a huge, huge problem,” he said.

To be sure, some of the worst cases of illness in recent years have involved home-grown foods. Some three dozen people died in 2011 after eating cantaloupe from a farm in Colorado. Three officials of a Virginia peanut company are scheduled to stand trial this summer on fraud and conspiracy charges in connection with a Salmonella outbreak that killed nine people and sickened 700.

But rising imports have brought rising concern.

“It is important to note that while FDA is not able to physically inspect a large percentage of food entries, all import entries are electronically screened using an automated system, which helps field inspectors determine which products pose the greatest risk and, therefore, should be physically examined.” — FDA, in a 2013 report to Congress.

Stepchild of Food Safety

About 15 percent of the food that Americans now consume is imported, including about half the fruits and vegetables in the winter and most seafood throughout the year. Virtually all spices and many ingredients in processed foods come from abroad. FDA-regulated imports originate from an estimated 130,000 facilities worldwide in 150 countries, a daunting number to oversee even under the best of circumstances.

FDA has been a stepchild of federal food safety. It is responsible for 80 percent of the U.S. food supply, including imports, but its resources are dwarfed by those of the Food Safety and Inspection Service, an arm of the Agriculture Department, which regulates meat, poultry and eggs.

The Food Safety Modernization Act called for a big increase in FDA inspection staff and set bold new goals for preventing contamination at foreign food plants. Under the law, private auditors are to certify that foreign plants meet federal standards, complementing the work of FDA inspectors. Importers, for the first time, will have to vouch for the manufacturing practices of the suppliers they do business with overseas. With bipartisan support, the law was hailed as a milestone, one of the most significant changes in food regulation since Upton Sinclair’s “The Jungle” exposed sordid conditions in the meatpacking industry at the turn of the last century, triggering the first federal food laws.

Today, key regulations covering imports called for under the new law have not been implemented, and the agency is under a consent order to pick up the pace, following a lawsuit by a public-interest group. FDA is far behind in meeting other mandates, too. The law requires the agency to inspect 19,200 foreign plants by the 2016 fiscal year. In 2012 — the latest year for which data are available — the agency had inspected just 1,342 plants, with little hope of much growth anytime soon. “Reaching the goal of 19,200 foreign inspections called for by FSMA,” FDA wrote in a report to Congress last year, “would require hundreds of millions of dollars in new funding which the agency cannot realistically expect to receive.”

Congress has shown little appetite for supplying those funds. “This is mindless, what is happening,” said Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-CT), a lead sponsor of the food safety legislation. “We need to provide the money to FDA so we can protect people.”

The idea that imported foods are available for consumption without ever being inspected, at the source or at the border, surprises and unnerves many Americans.

Sheila Lewis

Sheila Lewis, a Virginia-based auto broker, was one of the 425 people who got Salmonella poisoning after eating tuna from Moon Fishery, the Indian business that became the target of an FDA “import alert.” She was on a buying trip to Pennsylvania in March 2012 when she capped off a day of shopping with a meal at a favorite sushi bar where she ordered the spicy tuna roll.

When Lewis started feeling ill, she thought it was related to the fact that she suffers from Crohn’s disease, an inflammatory bowel disorder, so she did not immediately seek medical treatment. Doctors later told her that the wait almost killed her. Her suffering from Crohn’s has since become more acute, which she suspects is related to the tuna poisoning.

Team Dispatched to India

Federal authorities traced the outbreak to four restaurants in the U.S. that had bought tuna “scrape” — so-named because it is scraped from the bones after fish is filleted — from Moon Fishery. FDA immediately sent a team to inspect the plant in Kerala and issued the order blocking further imports the day the inspection was completed.

Lewis is unsettled by the timing and the discovery of decrepit and unsanitary conditions.

“That is not something that happens overnight. How often was this facility being monitored?” she says. “After several hundred people have been sickened and hospitalized, now we go out and check what their facility looks like? That is such crap.”

Since 2007, Moon had sent about 150 shipments of tuna into the U.S.; it is unclear how much, if any, was inspected. According to the records, four shipments of the “scrape” came through the port of New York in early 2012, including one in March when Lewis and others got sick. Four shipments in May — after the FDA import alert — were rejected for Salmonella, including shipments of tuna loin and “scrape.”

FDA declined to comment on the inspection history of the tuna and the plant in India. In a report last year, the agency highlighted the tuna case as a “landmark” example of interagency cooperation in tracing the cause of an outbreak.

The gatekeepers in this system are FDA entry reviewers who are stationed at ports of entry and use computers to track and decide the fate of hundreds of scheduled shipments from abroad each day.

When they make the rare decision to inspect cargo, they take into account the food and region of origin as well as the history of the manufacturer and importer. A software program FDA calls PREDICT (Predictive Risk-based Evaluation for Dynamic Import Compliance Targeting) gathers the data and scores each shipment.

A Rising Tide of Food Imports

FDA also bars products through import alerts, which put importers on notice that their products will be detained and warehoused until they can prove them safe. FDA manages scores of food-related import alerts, some of which have been outstanding for years, covering everything from Basmati rice from India to frog legs from Bangladesh.

But the number of import refusals, as a barometer of the system, has remained generally unchanged for a decade, even as the volume of imports has greatly increased. According to the analysis by FairWarning and INN, the refusal rate in 2012 was just over half the rate of 2002.

Seeking a Technological Fix

FDA acknowledges the limits of its inspection program but believes that its new technology has improved its ability to target suspect foods.

“It is important to note that while FDA is not able to physically inspect a large percentage of food entries, all import entries are electronically screened using an automated system, which helps field inspectors determine which products pose the greatest risk and, therefore, should be physically examined,” the agency said in a report to Congress last year.

Yet FDA apparently has no idea of the scale of the risk from imported foods. Consumer groups have pushed the agency for years to determine how many inspections it would take to intercept most problem foods. Critics say the process has been driven by available resources rather than science.

“They just do a back of the envelope calculation,” said David Plunkett, senior staff attorney for the food safety program at the Washington, D.C.-based Center for Science in the Public Interest. “Shouldn’t you be able to put together a program that says if we sample ‘X percent’ we have a 90-percent chance of catching most of the problems out there? We don’t do that.”

One of the things that FDA inspectors missed last year was a shipment of pomegranate seeds from Turkey. The shipper, Goknur Foodstuffs Import Export Trading, an Ankara-based grower and processor of fruits and fruit juices, had previously sent lots of fruit to the U.S. without incident. But a few episodes had raised red flags.

Shipments Turned Back

According to the review of import data by FairWarning and INN, a shipment of apple juice concentrate from Goknur was rejected by FDA at the port of San Francisco in 2004 due to fear it was tainted by mycotoxin, a highly toxic mold. Another Goknur shipment was turned back in 2010 because a fruit container appeared to be made of a “poisonous” or other hazardous substance. Four shipments in 2011 were rejected for failing to accurately list ingredients.

Michael Walters

Last year, CDC blamed pomegranate seeds from Goknur for an outbreak of Hepatitis A that sickened 162 people in 10 states. The seeds were used by other companies to make organic fruit drinks.

FDA declined to discuss its handling of the case, but experts say the prior problems with Goknur should have made inspectors more vigilant.

“The history of a line is extremely important,” said Dean Cook, a retired former supervisory inspector for FDA at the port of Baltimore.

“The fact that the manufacturer was negligent in one area kind of bleeds over into his disregard in other areas,” Cook said. “The question here is whether the entry reviewer was aware of the past violation. A lot of it goes back to resources.”

Goknur, in court papers filed in response to personal injury claims, has denied that the seeds caused the Hepatitis outbreak. An attorney for the company in the U.S. said she was unable to comment.

In a news release last year announcing import restrictions on the pomegranate seeds, Michael R. Taylor, FDA’s deputy commissioner for foods and veterinary medicine, said: “The Hepatitis A outbreak shows how we have improved our ability to investigate and respond to outbreaks, but also why we are working to build a food safety system that more effectively prevents them.”

Last May, Michael Walters, a youth detention center worker in Colorado, was among those who got sick from the pomegranate seeds. They were an ingredient in an antioxidant fruit mix he bought at Costco, which he used for smoothies and health drinks.

“I was loading up twice a day with this stuff, trying to promote good, vigorous heart health,” says Walters, 61, who had recently undergone quadruple heart bypass surgery.

On vacation with his wife in Yellowstone National Park to celebrate their 25th wedding anniversary, Walters began to feel tired, feverish and nauseous. At first, he thought it might be his heart. His daughter made the connection with the berry mix when she noticed a recall notice on the Costco website. Walters was later diagnosed with Hepatitis A and was hospitalized because his doctors were worried about his liver shutting down. Six months later, he says, he was able to return to work.

Walters was one of eight consumers sickened by imports who testified at an FDA hearing last fall on stalled regulations called for by the new food safety law. Walters appreciated the opportunity to speak but could not help notice that the room was crowded with food industry representatives. He worries about how their influence will shape the process going forward. He also worries how consumers are supposed to protect themselves, given that imports have become an everyday staple. He is trying to have some faith in the system and is hoping for the best.

“Overall, it’s just really set us back at a time in life when you’re supposed to be reaping the benefits of 45 years of work,” he testified at the FDA hearing. “I urge you all to continue on this path with the food modernization act and implement it and enforce it as quickly as you can … to prevent this kind of affair from having other people suffer as we have.”

Denise Malan of the Investigative News Network contributed to this report.

Food Safety News

Agencies Reach Catfish Inspection Agreement Required by Farm Bill

After the 2008 Farm Bill moved the responsibility for catfish inspection from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) over to USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS), the two agencies did not play nice with one another. Before long, USDA catfish inspection turned into a poster child for government duplication and wasteful spending. Millions were spent, both agencies had responsibilities, and no catfish really got inspected.

So, in the new 2014 Farm Bill, Congress decided to do something about it and included new language ordering FDA and FSIS to play nice and share their toys. New language inserted in the new Farm Bill mandates FSIS and FDA to enter into a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) to improve interagency cooperation and prevent duplication.

FDA has now announced that it has successfully entered into a MOU with FSIS and posted it all on the government’s website.

In the announcement, FDA said the agreement covers Siluriformes fish and fish products, including commercial catfish, basa and pangasius.

The Catfish Farmers of America have not said anything publicly about the new MOU, but the organization behind moving catfish inspection to USDA is known to be pleased with the agreement.

“Food safety remains the industry’s singular driver in supporting FSIS inspection of catfish,” says a CFA insider. “Critics argued that both FSIS and FDA would be inspecting catfish, and this MOU is another step in ensuring that congressional intent to avoid duplication is carried out.”

The agreement, signed by FSIS Administrator Alfred V. Almanza and FDA Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition Director Michael M. Landa, commits the two agencies to:

  • Plan for an orderly, phased transition of primary regulatory authority over catfish and catfish-like products.
  • Follow already existing procedures for dual jurisdiction establishments. Such facilities are those than prepare, pack, hold, and otherwise handle both catfish and other fish products.
  • Coordinate issuing catfish-related guidance and regulation.
  • Agree that all other fish will remain FDA’s regulatory responsibility.

The Indianola, MS-based CFA has long claimed that 98 percent of the imported seafood against which its domestic product competes comes into the country without any inspection. For the past decade, it has worked to bring all catfish species under USDA inspection, and domestic catfish producers see the quick agreement by FSIS and FDA as signifying that the agencies are now committed to the transfer.

Not all are so sure. The National Association of State Directors of Agriculture said that several seafood groups, some of which did not think the MOU could be “a final resolution to the issue” were allowed to review a draft of the agreement.

Most U.S. farm-raised catfish are produced in the Gulf states. CFA claims the catfish and catfish-like species raised in Southeast Asia enter the U.S. with virtually no safety inspection and depress markets for the domestic catch.

The Russian Agency for Health and Consumer Right banned imports of Vietnam’s catfish-like pangasius last Jan. 31 after it found E. coli and listeria in fish products from 16 out of 35 exporting fish farms. Russia has not yet lifted that ban.

Food Safety News

Experts say Florida’s blueberry production may reach 25 million pounds

Twenty years ago, there was virtually no commercial production of blueberries in the state of Florida, except for U-pick farms and berries grown for local markets. This year, some experts said Florida’s blueberry production may reach 25 million pounds, putting the state in the ranks of other leading producers like North Carolina, Georgia, California and Oregon.

Michigan and New Jersey still lead the way in domestic production with more than 50 million pounds each, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, but Florida’s totals are growing every year, a trend that seems sure to continue for the foreseeable future.

Florida produced 21.5 million pounds of blueberries in 2013, up 14 percent over 2012, according to Bill Braswell, a state industry leader, farm manager for Clear Springs Packing LLC in Bartow, FL, and the owner of Polkdale Farms and Juliana Plantation in Auburndale, FL.

Braswell said harvest will begin in mid-to-late March in South and Central Florida with North Florida kicking off in mid-April. The crop is in good condition and Braswell expects volumes to peak during the second and third weeks of April, just ahead of the Georgia deal coming on at the end of that month.

Blueberry production has exploded in Florida in recent years due to new Southern highbush cultivars from the University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences that need fewer chill hours and bear more fruit. Consumer demand has continued to increase as well. And Florida growers bring the first fresh blueberries of the calendar year to the U.S. market, with a six-week window of market exclusivity between the end of Chilean imports and the beginning of domestic seasons in Georgia and the Carolinas.

Barely established, that exclusive window is already under attack, with Chilean imports stretching later and Georgia and Carolina seemingly starting earlier each year, Florida growers said.

Even though the Chileans are “squashing us from one direction” and “we’re butting heads more with our late competitors California and Georgia, we still have our own niche,” said Ken Patterson of Island Grove Ag Products in Hawthorne, FL, who was instrumental in the founding of the Florida industry.

As the Florida deal grows, its nature is changing. While the industry was once a collection of individual visionaries, success has brought competition. Many of the growers who first forayed into Florida blueberry production have fallen by the wayside as major players have seen opportunity in the state.

In the 1990s, several enterprising Florida growers launched commercial blueberry operations, almost all of them in a five-county area around Ocala. “There were a lot of players, but out of all those, only one of them survived that I know of, the rest all went by the wayside, mainly because of inferior varieties,” said Patterson, who served six years as the Southeastern rep on the National Blueberry Council and remains on the board.

With improved varieties coming from IFAS at regular intervals, over the last few seasons big players have gotten into the Florida blueberry deal in a big way, companies with well-known names like Sunny Ridge, Dole, Driscoll, California Giant and Wishnatzki Farms.

That has made it difficult for smaller producers to compete. And the industry’s next tool for propelling growth will put even more pressure on small and medium growers. In the next few years, mechanization promises to propel the Florida industry to even greater heights.

“The average cost to pick a pound of blueberries in Florida right now is 75-80 cents, total,” Patterson explained. “If you can get that to 10 or 15 with a machine, and the machine never shows up drunk and it’s there every day, that’s huge. All I gotta feed a machine is fuel.”

Even newer varieties of the Southern highbush hold berries on the bush long enough to make mechanical harvesting viable and all larger growers are replacing parts of their acreage with those varieties each year.

“There’s a lot of new blueberry acreage going in in Florida,” said Patterson.  “Since I sell plants, I kind of am in tune with that. People used to be putting in five and 10 acres, now it’s 40 and 60. Citrus people are putting it in, strawberry people are putting it in. The health benefits propelled us in a huge way in the last 10 years — it’s been phenomenal and there’s a lot more coming.”

When the Florida Blueberry Growers Association held its first meeting a few years ago, “there were about 25 of us there and we all knew each other by name.” This year’s meeting in early March drew hundreds of attendees. “I don’t know anybody any more,” Patterson joked. “I feel like an old-timer.”

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

Experts say Florida’s blueberry production may reach 25 million pounds

Twenty years ago, there was virtually no commercial production of blueberries in the state of Florida, except for U-pick farms and berries grown for local markets. This year, some experts said Florida’s blueberry production may reach 25 million pounds, putting the state in the ranks of other leading producers like North Carolina, Georgia, California and Oregon.

Michigan and New Jersey still lead the way in domestic production with more than 50 million pounds each, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, but Florida’s totals are growing every year, a trend that seems sure to continue for the foreseeable future.

Florida produced 21.5 million pounds of blueberries in 2013, up 14 percent over 2012, according to Bill Braswell, a state industry leader, farm manager for Clear Springs Packing LLC in Bartow, FL, and the owner of Polkdale Farms and Juliana Plantation in Auburndale, FL.

Braswell said harvest will begin in mid-to-late March in South and Central Florida with North Florida kicking off in mid-April. The crop is in good condition and Braswell expects volumes to peak during the second and third weeks of April, just ahead of the Georgia deal coming on at the end of that month.

Blueberry production has exploded in Florida in recent years due to new Southern highbush cultivars from the University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences that need fewer chill hours and bear more fruit. Consumer demand has continued to increase as well. And Florida growers bring the first fresh blueberries of the calendar year to the U.S. market, with a six-week window of market exclusivity between the end of Chilean imports and the beginning of domestic seasons in Georgia and the Carolinas.

Barely established, that exclusive window is already under attack, with Chilean imports stretching later and Georgia and Carolina seemingly starting earlier each year, Florida growers said.

Even though the Chileans are “squashing us from one direction” and “we’re butting heads more with our late competitors California and Georgia, we still have our own niche,” said Ken Patterson of Island Grove Ag Products in Hawthorne, FL, who was instrumental in the founding of the Florida industry.

As the Florida deal grows, its nature is changing. While the industry was once a collection of individual visionaries, success has brought competition. Many of the growers who first forayed into Florida blueberry production have fallen by the wayside as major players have seen opportunity in the state.

In the 1990s, several enterprising Florida growers launched commercial blueberry operations, almost all of them in a five-county area around Ocala. “There were a lot of players, but out of all those, only one of them survived that I know of, the rest all went by the wayside, mainly because of inferior varieties,” said Patterson, who served six years as the Southeastern rep on the National Blueberry Council and remains on the board.

With improved varieties coming from IFAS at regular intervals, over the last few seasons big players have gotten into the Florida blueberry deal in a big way, companies with well-known names like Sunny Ridge, Dole, Driscoll, California Giant and Wishnatzki Farms.

That has made it difficult for smaller producers to compete. And the industry’s next tool for propelling growth will put even more pressure on small and medium growers. In the next few years, mechanization promises to propel the Florida industry to even greater heights.

“The average cost to pick a pound of blueberries in Florida right now is 75-80 cents, total,” Patterson explained. “If you can get that to 10 or 15 with a machine, and the machine never shows up drunk and it’s there every day, that’s huge. All I gotta feed a machine is fuel.”

Even newer varieties of the Southern highbush hold berries on the bush long enough to make mechanical harvesting viable and all larger growers are replacing parts of their acreage with those varieties each year.

“There’s a lot of new blueberry acreage going in in Florida,” said Patterson.  “Since I sell plants, I kind of am in tune with that. People used to be putting in five and 10 acres, now it’s 40 and 60. Citrus people are putting it in, strawberry people are putting it in. The health benefits propelled us in a huge way in the last 10 years — it’s been phenomenal and there’s a lot more coming.”

When the Florida Blueberry Growers Association held its first meeting a few years ago, “there were about 25 of us there and we all knew each other by name.” This year’s meeting in early March drew hundreds of attendees. “I don’t know anybody any more,” Patterson joked. “I feel like an old-timer.”

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

Oneonta Starr Ranch Growers-Columbia Reach packing on new line

Higher QC and more capacity
Oneonta Starr Ranch Growers-Columbia Reach packing on new line


Columbia Reach SR box supply line

Columbia Reach Pack, part of the Oneonta Starr Ranch Growers’ group of grower/packers, began packing on its newly installed line in mid-January, according to Scott Marboe, marketing director for Wenatchee, WA-based Oneonta.

Columbia Reach, located in Yakima, WA, began marketing through Oneonta Starr Ranch Growers more than a decade ago, and Marboe said apples produced by the operation are sorted and packed by state-of-the-art equipment.


Columbia Reach sorter

“The new line is a 10-lane Greefa sizer that is about 300 feet long,” Marboe said on Jan. 21.

The equipment was installed by United Sales Inc., a packing machinery manufacturer located in the Yakima area. United also built the existing front line, he said.

Housed in a 98,000-square foot facility, the line features defect sorting on all 10 lanes, and Marboe said internal defect sorting is also part of the new technology.

“We have robotic palletization for stacking boxes,” he said. “Right now we have 17 accumulating lanes to feed the robot, and we have room to add 34 more lanes. Also, we have room to add a second 10-lane sizer next to the current one.”

Poly baggers are fully automated Sims machinery, and the mesh baggers are fully automated Giro baggers, Marboe said.


Columbia Reach new storage racks and packing line

“The new line joins the existing state-of-the-art inventory control system.  Every cold storage room is racked for efficiency and to maximize capacity, and our average inventory of more than 1,200 pallets is managed by an RF Scanner system. We know where every pallet in the building is, and our inventory rotation is better than 99.9 percent accurate,” he added.

Looking ahead, Marboe said, “Columbia Reach will also add more CA to the operation, increasing capacity to 121 rooms and with storage for 185,000 bins.”

For more information:
Scott Marboe
Oneonta Starr Ranch Growers
Tel: +1 509-663-2191
[email protected]

Publication date: 1/27/2014


FreshPlaza.com

Envy apples reach volume milestone

The latest apple from Enza has a following any new fruit would Envy. The aptly named apple will surpass the 100,000-carton mark out of Washington this season for the first time ever, as growers endeavor to feed the demand that continues to outpace supply.

Trial volumes of Envy apples from New Zealand were introduced in North America by The Oppenheimer Group in 2009, but it wasn’t until 2012 that Enza harvested the first small commercial volumes in Washington state. Envy2lbUS-front lrgGrown for this market in New Zealand, Chile and Washington, consumers will soon have access to bright red, sweet, crisp Envy year-round. Meanwhile, Enza and Oppy are preparing for the anticipated 2 million cartons that will be harvested in Washington by 2020 by laying some important groundwork now.

“We’re in the midst of extensive consumer research into attitudes and purchasing behavior surrounding premium apples,” said David Nelley, apple and pear category director for The Oppenheimer Group. “We’re seeking key learnings that will enable us to design campaigns based on sound research. The goal is to sustain Envy’s return to the grower and sales velocity at retail as its volume grows.”

Indicators thus far are promising. “Faithful following and meaningful conversations over social media have been part of Envy’s character since the beginning. Even while distribution has been limited by our modest volumes, people constantly comment on the intense flavor of the apple and want to know where they can find it,” Nelley said. “If an apple is your go-to snack of the day, you want to make it really tasty. What is really telling, however, is that Envy is the favorite apple of several retail buyers.”

He noted that pricing is several dollars per box ahead of last year despite the uptick in volume, and the apple is performing beautifully in a range of channels, from club, to large-format national retail, to gourmet niche. Envy is also in high demand for exports to Asia.

“Envy was bred specifically with the attributes of sweetness, intense flavor and crispness. As luck has it, it wants to grow large, red and is very slow to brown when sliced. This variety has a lot of good things going for it,” Nelley said.

Another export sweetheart for Enza and Oppy during the Washington season is Pacific Rose. The large, pink, crisp-sweet apple is currently shipping overseas at high rates to meet Chinese New Year orders. However, in the last few seasons it has also been successfully re-established with domestic retail, Nelley said. Organic Pacific Rose is already sold out for the season.

Rounding out the Enza threesome from Washington is JAZZ, which is also enjoying excellent demand, particularly for size 100 and larger fruit, according to Nelley,

“The year’s crop is predominantly smaller-sized apples,” he said. “This gave us the opportunity to bring our two-pound ‘pouch’ bags to the forefront of our marketing efforts. It’s a vehicle that worked very well for our cherry program, so we are translating ‘grab and go’ success to apples.”

While continuing to strategically market the domestic program, Oppy, the exclusive marketer of imported JAZZ apples, is actively planning for the New Zealand season, which begins in May.

“While there was a little hail in Hawke’s Bay before Christmas, the subsequent weather pattern in the growing regions is helping to tee up an excellent fresh crop,” Nelley said. “We were able to translate a very strong 2013 New Zealand JAZZ season, which is predominantly large-sizing, into a solid Washington campaign. We are now setting up the transition into fresh crop in May, as JAZZ is now among the top 10 preferred apples at retail and continues to grow in gross sales.”

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

Israeli citrus production will reach 551 thousand metric tonnes

Israeli citrus production will reach 551 thousand metric tonnes

Israel is a medium-sized producer and exporter of fresh citrus fruit. Post forecasts that Israel’s citrus production in MY 2013/2014 will reach 551 thousand metric tonnes (TMT). About one-third of local citrus production is mandarin (easy peeler) varieties and the most produced mandarin is the Or/Orri variety, about 62 TMT in MY 2013/14.

Post estimates that in MY 2013/14 Israel will export roughly 175 TMT of its harvest. It is anticipated that Israel will likely process again some 200 TMT, or 36 percent of the crop. The balance of 176 TMT will be consumed as fresh citrus fruit in the local market.

Due to unfavourable weather conditions in MY 2012/2013, citrus production totalled 516 TMT, a 12 percent decrease compared to the previous MY. About 167 TMT (31 percent) was exported. In addition, 175 TMT was processed, and the balance of 175 TMT was consumed fresh, in the local market.

The “Star Ruby” (grapefruit) and “Or/Orri” mandarin varieties alone account for 36 and 29 percent of total citrus exports, respectively. Oranges (mainly the Shamouti variety) on the other hand, continue to see their export market share significantly drop.

Russia and Ukraine have increased their market share in terms of Israeli citrus exports in recent years, buying now about 25 percent of the total of Israeli citrus exports.

About two-thirds of citrus deliveries to domestic processors in recent years have been grapefruit. Orange deliveries for processing have continued the decline noted in recent years.

Citrus planted area totalled 19,200 hectares in 2013. Out of the total planted citrus area, 5,000 hectares are the Or/Orri mandarin variety.

Click here for the full report

Publication date: 12/24/2013


FreshPlaza.com

Victorian table grape exports reach record levels

Victorian table grape exports reach record levels

Australian Table Grape Association chief executive Jeff Scott says growers have shifted their focus to international markets instead of selling their fruit locally. “Last year, statistically we had our largest year ever, where we did 77,000 tonnes of exports to mainly Asian countries, in particular Hong Kong and China,” he said.

“You would have to say that the domestic price, or season, last year was very ordinary compared to previous years. As a result of that, growers will obviously look for alternatives where they can get the best return for their product.”

The Victorian Government’s latest food and fibre report shows the value of table grape exports have increased 80 per cent in the last year. Exports of Victorian grapes were worth $ 174 million, up from $ 97 million the year before.

The last time exports were worth more was during the 2008/09 financial year, when exports totalled $ 187 million.

The report shows fresh and dried fruit exports were worth $ 285 million to Victoria last year, with grape exports worth more than any other horticultural export. Mr Scott says he expects table grape exports to Asia will continue to grow. “(Growers) know the condition, quality and maturity of grapes that now needs to be sent over to countries like China,” he said. “The more we can educate the growers along those lines, the more that they will have that export focus to send their fruit over there.”

Source: abc.net.au

Publication date: 10/16/2013


FreshPlaza.com

Wegmans, Teamsters Reach Tentative Deal

ROCHESTER, N.Y. — Wegmans Food Markets here said it has reached a tentative agreement with Teamsters Local 118, also based here, on a new contract covering 900 warehouse workers, drivers and others at the company’s headquarters.

The two sides declined to release details of the agreement, which was reached after months of talks. The Teamsters on Sept. 30 had rejected a previous offer from the company and authorized a strike.


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According to local reports, Wegmans has been seeking to shift workers from the Teamsters statewide retirement plan to the company-run fund, while the Teamsters themselves were seeking to retain their union fund.

The Wegmans plan is a defined-contribution plan, in which each retiree would have available to them only the funds that have been paid into their accounts. The Teamsters fund, by contrast, would pay a set amount on a regular basis throughout the rest of the retiree’s life.

It was not clear Monday how the disagreement was resolved. The tentative agreement was set to go before the union members for ratification.

Wegmans declined to comment on the talks, and a Teamsters spokesperson could not be reached.

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Alberta Loblaw Workers Reach Agreement

CALGARY, Alberta — Loblaw Cos. and the union representing about 8,500 of its workers in Alberta have reached a tentative agreement on a new contract, although the workers were continuing to strike on Monday.


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Voting on the new contract is set for Tuesday. The workers are represented by United Food and Commercial Workers Canada Local 401.

Members of the local who work at 55 Loblaw Real Canadian Superstore and Liquorstore locations went on strike on Sunday, in art because of concerns about being scheduled for too few hours each week.

Read more: Alberta Loblaw Workers Strike

“The new agreement will present employees with a number of significant improvements over and above the company’s last offer,” the union said in a statement on Monday.

It also asked workers to continue striking until the contract has been ratified by members.

Loblaw had reached tentative agreements with the leaderships of UFCW local 832 in Manitoba and UFCW local 1400 in Saskatchewan in the last two weeks.

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Supermarket News

Loblaw, Union Reach Agreement

SASKATOON, Saskatchewan — Union workers at Loblaw stores across the province have reached a tentative agreement with the retailer on a new contract, according to United Food and Commercial Workers Local 1400 here.

The agreement, which still requires the approval of workers, came just days before the contract was to expire, the union said.


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Loblaw workers in Manitoba represented by UFCW Locals 401 and 832 reached a tentative agreement late last month.

Negotiations between Loblaw and workers are continuing in Alberta, where the union has called a strike deadline Sunday.

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Cyclospora Illnesses Reach 646 in 24 States

At least 646 people have now fallen ill with Cyclospora infections in connection to an outbreak that hit 24 states between June and August, according to the latest update from the U.S. Center for Disease Control and Prevention.

At least 44 of those individuals have been hospitalized. Those ill range in age from less than one year to 92 years old, with a median age of 52.

According to the CDC’s count, the number ill by state is as follows:

Texas (283 illnesses), Iowa (154), Nebraska (86), Florida (32), Wisconsin (17), Illinois (12), Arkansas (12), New York (9), Georgia (5), Missouri (5), Kansas (4),  New Jersey (4), Louisiana (3), Minnesota (3), Virginia (3), Connecticut (2), Michigan (1), Ohio (2), California (1), New Hampshire (1), South Dakota (1), Tennessee (1), and Wyoming (1).

The Texas Department of State Health Services has reported a total of 307 cases of Cyclospora infection in the state this year, causing a minor discrepancy with the CDC’s count. But that’s because the CDC’s count only includes cases believed to be associated with the Cyclospora outbreak, whereas the Texas count includes all known Cyclospora illnesses in the state dating back to January 2013, according to health department spokeswoman Christine Mann.

Public health officials in Iowa and Nebraska have connected the 238 illnesses in those states to salad mix produced by Taylor Farms de Mexico and served at Olive Garden and Red Lobster restaurants. On August 12, Taylor Farms de Mexico voluntarily halted operations for an investigation from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, which did not find any environmental contamination of Cyclospora.

Health investigators have determined that the cases in Texas and the remaining states are not connected to Iowa and Nebraska, and are still investigating the probable source of contamination. The illnesses in those states peaked a full two weeks after the illnesses in Iowa and Nebraska, suggested they came from another source.

Map for September 10, 2013

Epi Line Graph for August 28, 2013

 

 

 

Food Safety News

Cyclospora Illnesses Reach 630

As of this morning, the CDC reports a total of 609 cases of Cyclospora infection have been reported from 22 states and New York City. The number of cases identified in each area is as follows: Texas (257), Iowa (156), Nebraska (86), Florida (31), Wisconsin (16), Illinois (11), Arkansas (10), New York City (7), Georgia (5), Missouri (5), Kansas (4), Louisiana (3), New Jersey (3), Connecticut (2), Minnesota (2), New York (2), Ohio (2), Virginia (2), California (1), New Hampshire (1), South Dakota (1), Tennessee (1), and Wyoming (1).

Although the CDC reports the Texas total as 257, Texas reports that a total of 278 cases of Cyclospora infection have been reported in Texas in 2013 with the vast majority having onsets in June and July. Most Texas cases are reported from the Dallas/Fort Worth area. DSHS is investigating the cases to identify possible common exposures and to determine whether they are linked to an outbreak in other states.

Most of the illness onset dates have ranged from mid-June through mid-July.

Among 471 ill persons with available information, 40 (9%) have reported being hospitalized. No deaths have been reported.

National Cyclospora Outbreak: What We Do and Do Not Know

Food Safety News