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Produce industry races to sustain talent at PMA Foodservice Conference

More than 300 produce and floral industry professionals will lace up for the annual PMA Foundation 5K Race for Talent in Monterey, CA, this July. The race benefits PMA Foundation efforts to attract talent into the industry and provide development opportunities for young professionals.

The race is made possible by a series of sponsors, including Champion Sponsors Castellini Group of Cos., Grimmway Farms, Sunkist Growers and Taylor Farms.pma2013Runners at last year's 5K Race for Talent enjoyed a beautiful course along the coastline of Monterey Bay.

In addition to supporting the industry’s talent-development challenges, runners will compete for a series of highly coveted accolades, including top three overall males and females, best team attire, best team spirit and largest team to register.

“This is such a fun event and a great way to kick off the weekend for PMA," Lauren Hattersley of Taylor Farms said in a press release. "Each year we have great team participation and already have 20 people signed up. What I love about the 5K is the fact that it doesn’t matter if you are running or walking, it’s about getting out and setting a personal goal for yourself and finishing the race with the support of your team behind you. Watch out for Team Taylor!” 

Registration for the race and PMA Foodservice Conference is still open on www.pmafoundation.com. Visit www.fsc.pma.com for a full schedule of the conference’s activities.

Chiquita inks deal on mid-Atlantic distribution hub

The Diamond State Port Corp. and Chiquita Brands International have reached an agreement by which Chiquita will continue to use the Port of Wilmington as its mid-Atlantic distribution hub for the next five years.

Also, the agreement includes two five-year lease renewal options that will extend Chiquita's relationship with Wilmington until 2029.

With the retention of Chiquita's business, the port will continue to handle more bananas than any other port in North America and retain its claim as "Top Banana."

In 1988, Chiquita consolidated its mid-Atlantic supply chain operations at the Port of Wilmington, now its largest port operation in North America. It leases 28.7 acres at the port and its vessels make approximately 52 port calls annually. Chiquita operates a fully containerized service between Central America and Wilmington discharging bananas, pineapples and other tropical fruit and vegetables, and loading back forest products, used automobiles and general cargo.

"We are extremely pleased that Chiquita has decided to sign a new lease with the port and continue our long and fruitful relationship," Gene Bailey, executive director of the DSPC, said in a press release. "Chiquita is a most important customer and responsible for hundreds of jobs and the resultant and significant economic impact to our port, state and region. We are grateful to the governor and the general assembly for the support, which has allowed us to make those capital equipment acquisitions and infrastructure improvements needed to retain Chiquita's business despite a very competitive environment."

"The Port of Wilmington is an important destination for Chiquita and our customers," Mario Pacheco, Chiquita's senior vice president of global logistics, added in the press release. "We are pleased that we have reached an agreement that will enable us to continue to call Wilmington home for many years to come. Wilmington is a great partner for Chiquita and we look forward to growing our business together in the years ahead."

Fresh From the Start touting advantages of Maine broccoli

With this year’s Maine broccoli season set to begin in mid-July, Fresh From the Start LLC is eager to offer its clients high-quality product that offers advantages over that which is sourced from the West Coast.

Eric Scannelli, senior vice president of sales and marketing at the Riverhead, NY-based company, which operates as a division of Hapco Farms, said retailers in the East look forward to the Maine broccoli deal because they can obtain product that is days fresher than what is sourced from California. What’s more, the freight advantage is significant, considering truck rates from the West Coast are already topping $10,000.

DSC00163This year Fresh From the Start expects to ship more than 1 million boxes of Asian-cut crowns and bunched broccoli from Maine. Fresh From the Start ships primarily Asian-cut crowns, which account for approximately 80 percent of its volume. The remaining volume is made up of bunched broccoli, and product is shipped to clients along the Eastern Seaboard and into the Midwest.

The company has been in the Maine broccoli deal for over 20 years, and it has steadily increased its volume each year, according to Scannelli. “Again this year, we expect to ship over 1 million boxes of Asian-cut crowns and bunched broccoli from Maine,” he said.

Fresh From the Start has been able to increase its Maine broccoli business over the years by developing and investing throughout the growing process to allow for improved quality and supply. For example, last year Fresh From the Start invested significantly in cooler capacity and warehouse systems for increased efficiency in loading and delivery. Additionally, Fresh From the Start works with seed companies to improve quality by using varieties that are specifically created for growing conditions in Maine and consumer preferences on the East Coast.

Scannelli added that continued development and innovations in the field include pest-management systems integration, seed-to-delivery traceability with Good Manufacturing Practices and Good Agricultural Practices programs, annual AIB International audits with consistent “Superior” ratings and multiple quality inspections during the harvesting process.

Because quality is the top priority at Fresh From the Start, the company has recently upgraded its ice injector and boxes, which are designed to prevent product damage, and it employs its own in-house inspector and provides a U.S. Department of Agriculture inspection on each load to ensure that customers are receiving only the best product.

All broccoli is hand-cut and packed in the field to minimize bruising and post-harvest handling, which requires a large, stable work force, according to Scannelli.

“We have a 95 percent employee-retention rate from season to season,” he said. “By providing modern housing, free transportation and handling all recruitment functions in house, we have ensured that the harvest crews will be in place to fill all orders with on-time delivery regardless of weather conditions or other factors. With the same work force in place every season, our customers can be assured of consistent quality from order to order, week to week, and season to season.”

Aside from broccoli, Fresh From the Start offers a seasonal cauliflower program from July into mid-October, as well as year-round supplies of cantaloupes, citrus, grapes, onions, potatoes, peppers, watermelons and strawberries.

Fresh From the Start encourages customers to visit its Facebook page, where photos and updates about it crops and programs are available.

Information about the company and its products and services is also available at www.hapcofarms.com.

“We are committed to fully servicing our customers’ needs with the best quality product at the best possible price,” said Scannelli. “When customers buy from us, they are actually dealing with the grower, not just some broker that is looking for the cheapest cost that will do the job.”

Retail View: Online sales small, but future could be bright

CHICAGO — It is difficult to gauge the effect online grocery sales might have on the nation’s brick-and-mortar retailers.

On the one hand, sales are projected to almost double in the next few years. On the other hand, that will represent only 3 percent market share by 2017.

Yet it is hard to discount the impact knowing that both Amazon and Google have set their sights on changing the way America buys groceries.

Panelists Randy Burt, principal at A.T. Kearney Inc., and Tony Stallone, vice president of merchandising and food safety for the online retailer Peapod, discussed the future of that business model at the United Fresh Produce Association convention June 10-12, here.

Burt set the stage for the discussion with a few facts about the proposition. In the first place, it is not as new and cutting-edge as most people think. He showed a 1913 advertisement that featured a grocery store touting home delivery. Of course, the consumer of a century ago couldn’t use the Internet to place an order, but the concept of ordering from afar and have the product delivered was already being explored.

As we all know, home delivery of groceries did not take hold then, nor did it catch on when Webvan stormed cyberspace around the turn of this century to champion the concept. But Burt said that since that famous Webvan flameout, there has been slow but steady growth and the concept may be poised for exponential growth in the relatively near future.

“There are three things driving growth today,” he said.

Burt listed urbanization, consumer demand for convenience and changing demographics as all contributing to what some see as a bright future. He explained that more and more people are moving away from the suburbs and into cities. These growing populations in a smaller geographic area make home delivery more efficient and feasible.

Convenience has always been presumed to be the main driver behind home delivery of any product, and there is no doubt that today’s consumer feels stressed and time-starved. Changing demographics at both ends of the adult spectrum are creating more single households and fewer traditional families, which have always been the target of the nation’s chainstores.

Though these factors are promising, Burt said there is no doubt that online sales have not yet taken off. Sales are projected to grow to $11 billion for 2017 from the current $6.8 billion, but he noted that is still only a 2-3 percent market share.

“It is growing fast, but not taking a significant percent of the market,” he added.

Interestingly, Burt said the concept is much further advanced in Europe, with the United Kingdom, Germany, France, Belgium and the Netherlands all registering much higher online grocery sales than the United States. He said in the United States the jury is still out about what will work online.

However, he did note that Amazon Fresh and Google Express are entering the same space with high expectations. Both have succeeded before in forecasting what Americans will do online, so it is difficult to bet against them.

Stallone of Peapod, which has successfully brought online grocery shopping to several markets in the populated Northeast as well as the Chicago area, believes the entry of these giant online companies to the space “will be a game changer” for the retail industry.

Amazon, he said, wants to become the largest retailer in the world. To do that, it must sell food, since that is a huge part of everyone’s daily buy. He said traditional retailers will have to become more efficient to compete.

Currently, the biggest difficulty in succeeding at online ordering and delivery is the delivery part. It is expensive and it is difficult for any retailer to make it work for the relatively inexpensive delivery charge that most people are willing to pay.

Stallone relayed some of the Peapod experiences over the last decade as it has built its business. One of the most surprising things is that fresh produce is an important driver of the service.

When first launched, critics said the service was more for dry goods than perishables, figuring that consumers wanted to pick their fruits, vegetables and meats by themselves. That has not proven to be the case.

As consumers have gotten comfortable with the logistics of home or office delivery, they have expanded their trust in the program to include the perishables, and they now represent a large portion of the individual ring.

Peapod has altered its business model over the years and it now offers home and office delivery as well as ordering online combined with pickup at a pickup center or even at a traditional store

Initially, Peapod tried various fulfillment options, including filling orders from brick-and-mortar grocery stores that were owned by its parent company, Ahold.

But Stallone said it ended up that the pickers were competing against in-store shoppers for goods, which led to a greater out-of-stock ratio. Today, the orders are filled at warehouses designed specifically for that purpose. Most customers have the choice of home delivery, pick up at a store or pick up at a center.

He revealed that Peapod is the 55th largest online retailer, which is about at the same level as Nike. About 90 percent of the orders include fresh produce, with an average produce buy in the neighborhood of $23 of the total $160 order.

Peapod stocks 700 to 900 produce SKUs on a daily basis. The top produce sellers by volume are nearly the same items that sell in a traditional store: bananas, berries, apples, sweet corn and avocados. By dollar amount, strawberries top the list. Organic produce represents about 22 percent of the produce sales.

The company does offer sales and merchandising opportunities online, often pairing various items together under the banner of “Fresh Deal of the Day.”

For example, its combination buy of mozzarella cheese, tomatoes and basil typically results in a 600 percent lift, with mozzarella registering the biggest increase.

Stallone said when this information is presented to the cheese companies, they will gladly fund the discount on the combo pack to appreciate those gains in sales for their item.

Ambrosia test shows how consumers access information

Understanding how consumers utilize package information to access Web and digital information are key questions CMI is attempting to answer via a new test of the "Ambrosia" brand apple pouch bag.  

“Use of premium packaging has been trending upward in the apple industry as well as the produce industry overall,” Steve Lutz, vice president of marketing for CMI, said in a press release.Ambrosia-QR-Code-Test  “We’ve found high-graphic packages like pouch bags create a store-level billboard for products but also can entice consumers to connect with us via social media and Web pages. We’re using this test to document what catches shopper attention and identify the methods used to connect to digital offers.”

Katharine Grove, marketing specialist at CMI said that to implement the test the company created brand new packaging for imported Ambrosia apples. She said CMI wants to determine if consumers interested in additional product information are more likely to scan a QR code with a smartphone or simply use a Web-based search engine.  CMI developed a contest, displayed on the new packaging, giving consumers the opportunity to win premium kitchen gadgets. Consumers were given the option of entering the contest by either scanning the QR code or visiting the website.

Web analytics are already providing feedback on the effectiveness of both types of implementation. Grove said that conventional thinking is QR codes have fallen out of favor with consumers and most shoppers respond to Web-based addresses.

“We’re about 75 days into the Ambrosia test and we’re quite surprised with the findings,” said Grove. “To date, approximately 46 percent of all consumer responses have come by QR code with 54 percent from the Web address. QR codes may have lost some momentum with consumers, but our packaging data is showing that this remains a powerful vehicle for connecting with shoppers."

CMI will use the findings from this packaging test to determine future messaging to include on packages. The test will conclude at the end of the import Ambrosia season in August.