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The Volm Cos., based in Antigo, WI, which has been providing bagging solutions to the produce industry for more than half a century, will be debuting an extension to its automatic bagger line at the United Fresh Produce Association convention in Chicago.

Communications Manager Marsha Verweibe told The Produce News that the new AutoPack combines the popular Volmpack Semi-Automatic Bagger with a new Bag Placer that stages the wicketed bags to place under the bagger’s filling head.

“This new feature allows for a fully automated system, eliminating the need for manual placing of the bags,” she said.

Another unique advantage with the AutoPack is its ability to pack smaller consumer packages as light as 10 pounds. With a growing number of its current customer base packing multiple package styles, this added versatility eliminates the need to invest in additional filling equipment.

This new addition to the company’s lineup of bagging solutions for the fresh produce industry is available in a standard and a high-speed version, which is capable of reaching speeds of up to 19 bags per minute for 50-pound bags.

Verweibe noted that the Semi-Automatic Bagger is still offered as a stand-alone machine. Customers who buy the original bagger can still upgrade to a fully automated solution with the addition of the Bag Placer in the future.

“The feature allows for a cost-effective improvement into the filling of these large-format bags, without limiting the options to further automate in the future,” she said.

The firm will be well represented at the United Fresh trade show with a booth demonstrating how the new equipment works. Verweibe also invited interested parties to visit the Packaging Equipment Solutions menu selection on the firm’s website (

Volm began its journey into the packaging world in 1954 as a retail outlet in Bryant, WI, selling groceries and hardware supplies to local dairy and potato farmers. Soon, Gerald Volm realized that the potato growers were looking for a more reliable supplier of burlap bags for their bulk potatoes, which was the most popular way to deliver potatoes to market in those days. Volm started offering the bags as a distributor for other producers, but eventually moved into the manufacturing business.

Over the years, the firm added more and more packaging solutions and expanded into new locations to service more customers. It now has a network of manufacturing and distribution facilities throughout the United States as well as a strong presence in both Canada and Europe.

Richard Ruiz has long been a proponent of the health benefits of fresh fruits and vegetables, and the role the produce industry can play in improving the quality of life of U.S. citizens. And with the country poised for new leadership in this presidential election year, Ruiz feels there is great potential to make further advancements toward that goal.

“Most people already know that the largest expenditure in the United States — more than Social Security, the military, foreign aid or domestic spending such as infrastructure, schools or emergency services — is our healthcare costs,” said Ruiz, owner and president of Ruiz Sales, an Edinburg, TX-based distributor of tropical fruits from Mexico. “Healthcare takes over 25 percent of our entire budget, and this will only continue to increase as the population gets older and as more and more healthcare problems and epidemics grip the nation. If we could cut our nation’s healthcare expenditure by half, we would save $468 billion per year.”

Toward that end, he feels strongly that elected officials should focus on investing money at the grade school level to provide healthy meals to children and educate them about the benefits of a healthy diet.

“If we help kids establish healthy eating habits early, we will both increase fresh produce consumption and create a healthier America,” he said. “After all, we are what we eat.”

Ruiz applauds the efforts of organizations like the Produce for Better Health Foundation and the United Fresh Produce Association for creating awareness about the benefits of increased produce consumption and initiating efforts to put more fruits and vegetables into schools.

“We need more organizations to also spread awareness of the benefits of fruits and vegetables, and more important, we need our elected government officials to invest in awareness, education and research on the benefits of fresh fruits and vegetables in order to better everyone’s health,” he said.

This year represents an important time for the future of America, he added, with U.S. citizens set to elect a new president and potentially many new members of Congress.

“We will pick the direction of the country later this year, and we need to pick a direction that emphasizes the future health and well-being of our next four generations,” said Ruiz. “It’s important to elect a president and Congress this election year that will support a strong military, secure our borders, facilitate job creation and growth, and fix our many issues with immigration, especially within our produce industry.”

He said that when it comes to immigration, the U.S. produce industry is reliant on skilled immigrant workers, especially from Mexico. “The fact of the matter is that much of the required agricultural work is not really wanted by U.S. citizens.  Instead, the people who harvest and pack our fresh fruits and vegetables are mostly Mexican immigrants who have the necessary skills and drive to do this kind of necessary work for our country. Without this skilled Mexican labor, it would be difficult to transport fresh fruits and vegetables from the farm to the customers’ forks.”

So who does Ruiz think will do the best job in the Oval Office?

“I am a longtime supporter of the Republican Party, and I am supporting Donald Trump for president,” he said. “Because he has been through his ups and downs, and because he understands business, I think he will be good for America. He will be smart enough to get a good team and he is not beholden to large donors and special interests. Trump rose up because people want something different and are crying out for change, and that is something that Trump can offer.”

By the third week in June, Salinas, CA-based Tanimura & Antle Inc. will be shipping hydroponically grown Butter lettuce from its headquarters in the Salinas Valley.

Caitlin Antle Wilson, sales and marketing director at Tanimura & Antle, noted that it has been 10 years since the firm opened its hydroponic facility in Tennessee and began shipping from that location. With the addition of a Butter lettuce operation in California, she said the firm will have the capacity to ship around 20,000 cases per week on a year-round basis.  

The new operation will increase production but will also allow the longtime giant in the lettuce arena “to keep it local and reduce food miles.”

Wilson said that for the most part, the California production would be sold on the West Coast while the Tennessee Butter lettuce output will be used to service the firm’s Eastern customers.

The increased production is also a testament to the increasing popularity of Butter lettuce.

Along with Little Gems sweet lettuce, Butter lettuce is one of the items registering the highest percentage of sales gains for the firm. Tanimura & Antle sells the rootless version of the product, as Wilson said research has shown that removing the roots prior to shipping results in a longer shelf life.

When production does begin in mid-June, Wilson said the company would ramp up immediately to that 20,000 case-per-week level. She did say that although the lettuce is grown indoors hydroponically, greenhouse production is affected by outside weather conditions, including the shorter days of winter. Consequently, she said that during some winter periods, reaching the same production level as during summer proves challenging.

To support the expansion of this production, Tanimura & Antle is working with its customers, running trade promotions and promoting the item through social media.

IFCO North America announced it has signed more than 130 growers to participate in its wood grain reusable plastic containers program. IFCO wood grain RPCs are used to ship fresh produce to Walmart under an agreement reached with the world’s largest retailer in October.

“Our goal is to constantly improve the fresh food shopping experience for Walmart customers and IFCO is helping us meet that goal,” Shawn Baldwin, senior vice president of produce/global food sourcing for Walmart, said in a press release. “We are pleased to see IFCO wood grain RPCs penetrate the supply chain so quickly, and they are getting positive reviews from growers and customers alike.”

“In today’s hyper-competitive marketplace, we are always looking for ways to expand our market share,” Stephan Boutin, grower services manager at L&M, a Raleigh, NC-based grower, added in the press release. “IFCO wood grain RPCs protect our produce, the increased airflow means our produce has a longer shelf life, and we know consumers will like them as much as we do.”

“IFCO’s wood grain RPC business with Walmart expands on a partnership that began in 2000,” added Daniel Walsh, president of IFCO North America. “Today, millions of RPCs are shipped for Walmart and its growers, including 1.5 million wood grain RPCs. We are delighted to provide Walmart with IFCO RPCs that meet their needs. Only a company with IFCO’s scale and resources is uniquely positioned to meet demands and deliver results year after year.”

Last October, IFCO and Walmart announced IFCO would supply the world’s largest retailer with newly designed wood grain RPCs for its wet and dry produce, initially including apples, potatoes, onions and citrus items.

“Whether we’re talking about wood grain or black RPCs, IFCO RPCs are more efficient, cost-effective, sustainable and protect fresh produce better than single-use packaging, such as corrugated cardboard,” Walsh added.

IFCO has a strong commitment to supporting local economies, companies and workers in the marketplaces where it does business whenever possible. IFCO’s wood grain RPCs are 100 percent sourced and manufactured in the United States. In addition, IFCO wood grain RPCs are cleaned and sanitized at one of six U.S. service centers throughout their life cycle.

For its line of high-quality greenhouse vegetables, Heathrow, FL-based Village Farms International Inc. uses sensory-focused appealing trademarked names, high-impact graphics and consumer-friendly packaging.

The combination results in great marketing and promotional opportunities that translate to increased and repeated sales by its customers.

As confirmation, the company’s Love Handles series of grab-n-go snack bags has been nominated as a finalist in this year’s Produce Innovation Awards for the Best New Vegetable Product category at the United Fresh trade show. All finalists will be on display on the show floor June 21-22 in Chicago.

Douglas Kling, senior vice president and chief marketing officer, told The Produce News that the company is proud its exclusive collection of Love Handles Snack Bags has been nominated for the award this year.

There are five varieties, Heavenly Villagio Marzano, Cabernet Estate Reserve, Cherry No. 9, True Rebel Mix and Lip Smack’n Grape.  Each variety packed in a 10-ounce grab ‘n go quick zip pouch are filled with Village Farms’ exclusive, full-of-flavor tomato varieties, said Kling, who added that the company is excited about the opportunity to share the news of its product innovation with visitors to the expo.

“Consumers are looking for tomatoes that are tasty, sweet and healthy, while packaged for convenience,” said Kling. “So the Love Handles series of bags is really helping people get a handle on healthy snacking.”

Village Farms continues expand with new varieties and packs that are fresh and appealing and that draw consumer attention.

In addition to Kling, Michael A. DeGiglio, president and chief executive officer; Bret Wiley, vice president of sales and sales operations; Mike Robinson, vice president of distribution; Lyra Vance, director of strategic business and sales development; Debi Street, director of variety development and innovation; Helen L. Aquino, director of brand marketing and communication; Mike Carr, national field marketing manager; and Krysten DeGiglio, assistant regional sales manager, will be on hand at the company’s business suite (No. 1838) during the show.

”We are also participating in the Fresh Festival for School Foodservice, and cosponsoring the opening reception being held this year at the Museum of Contemporary Art,” said Kling. “There is a lot of excitement going on for Village Farms at the United Fresh event this year.”

The Fresh Festival for School Foodservice is a private, off-the-trade-show-floor tasting reception for school foodservice buyers from the nation’s largest and most influential school districts. The event will be held Tuesday, June 21, immediately after the first day of the show.

Many good things are happening for Village Farms. The company recently announced that it had formed an exclusive distribution agreement with Great Northern Hydroponics in Kingsville, ON.

”We are happy to be able to extend our exclusive specialty tomatoes varieties with additional production capacity,” DeGiglio said in a May 28 press release. “This allows us to expand our entire product line into the Ontario market, eastern Canada, as well as the Midwest and eastern United States to both existing customers and new customers.”

Village Farms announced on April 5 it had entered an agreement to build a two-megawatt solar array adjacent to its 30-acre Permian Basin Division greenhouse in Monahans, TX.  

‘We are excited to announce our next renewable energy development, which not only enhances one of our strategic priorities in supporting our core sustainable growing practices, but also locks in our daytime electricity costs at our Permian Basin facility, one of the world’s most advanced hi-tech greenhouses, for the next 20 years,” DeGiglio said in the press release.