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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.

Schnucks transitions to new executive leadership

Todd R. Schnuck has taken over as chairman and chief executive officer of Schnuck Markets Inc., and Anthony T. Hucker has been named president and chief operating officer — the first non-family member to hold this office — of the St. Louis-based company.

The title change finalizes the transition to Todd Schnuck from former CEO Scott Schnuck, who now serves as chairman of the executive committee.

The new CEO will guide oversee the organization’s top leadership team and will advance the Schnucks vision of nourishing people’s lives through the growth and development of the company — Schnucks recently opened a replacement store in St. Charles, MO, and a new store in Farmington, MO, will open Nov. 19. He will also work to integrate the fourth generation into the business.

Todd Schnuck earned his bachelor's degree in psychology from the University of Virginia and an MBA from Cornell University. He joined Schnucks full time in 1987 from his position as associate vice president/investment banking with A.G. Edwards & Sons Inc. in St. Louis. 

He has strong affiliations through board service with organizations that further education, community and environment. Currently, he serves on the Boards of Commerce Bancshares Inc., Donald Danforth Plant Science Center (executive committee finance chair), United Way, Fair St. Louis Foundation and Urban League of St. Louis (past chairman). He also serves on the University of Virginia’s Jefferson Scholars Foundation Board.

Hucker holds a bachelor's degree in retail marketing from the University of Manchester and a diploma in international marketing from the Chartered Institute of Marketing. He has continuing executive education from MIT, Harvard, Wharton and Chicago Booth School of Business, where he teaches strategy and retailing. He is also a guest lecturer at the Marriott School of Business at BYU, the Saïd School of Business at Oxford University and Trinity College, Dublin. He previously served as president of Giant Food, based in Washington, DC. Hucker has also held executive leadership roles at Walmart and he was part of the original start up team that set up Aldi in the United Kingdom.

PBH launches new marketing contest for university students

As seen in supermarkets, hospitals and schools across the nation, the Fruits & Veggies-More Matters brand logo helps Americans make healthy choices in every form — fresh, frozen, canned, dried and 100 percent juice.

In support of Produce for Better Health Foundation's mission of motivating Americans to eat more fruit and vegetables to improve public health, PBH announced its sponsorship of a new program, the Formula 5 Marketing Competition.

The competition will offer marketing majors at accredited colleges and universities within the United States the opportunity to influence fruit and vegetable marketing, sales and consumption within America._

To participate in the competition, small groups of junior and senior marketing students will create a complete marketing proposal and plan, including indicators of success and financials. Three to five proposals will be selected and team representatives associated with each proposal will be invited to attend PBH's 2015 annual conference, where they will present the marketing proposal and plan to all conference attendees during the general session. The attendees will then be afforded two full days to interact and talk with the team representatives.

"I, along with our Executive and Marketing Committees, am very excited to announce this new marketing competition to the industry," Elizabeth Pivonka, president and chief executive officer of PBH, said in a press release. "It is unique in that we are only inviting marketing majors to participate. We believe this uniqueness will prove beneficial when it comes to the proposals because the students themselves are not only current or potential consumers [of fruit and vegetables], they likely haven't been significantly influenced by past and current marketing strategies to increase fruit and vegetable sales and consumption, and are learning traditional, non-traditional, and digital marketing techniques."

The marketing competition is not only another new way PBH is delivering value to donors, supporters and the fruit and vegetable industry, but also an avenue for industry companies to tap into new ideas from millennial marketers, as well as the opportunity to identify talent through internships and build relationships with top marketing colleges across the country.

PBH's 2015 annual conference, The Consumer Connection, will be held March 16-18 at the Hotel Valley Ho in Scottsdale, AZ. The early-bird registration is available through Dec. 31.

Locus Traxx Worldwide and Paramount Citrus sign partnership

Locus Traxx Worldwide, a leader in real-time temperature, location and security monitoring for perishable and high-value shipments in transit, announced that it has entered into a partnership with Paramount Citrus, one of the largest fresh citrus growers in the western United States. This integration will boost efficiency, visibility and live load temperature and location tracking into Paramount's transportation management system solution.

"We are excited to join forces with Paramount Citrus, one of the leading companies in the produce industry," David Benjamin, president and chief executive officer of Locus Traxx Worldwide, based in Jupiter, FL, said in a press release. "This company grows, packs and then ships their own product; it is imperative for them to track and monitor their precious cargo. They are unique because they are able to see their product from its infancy all the way to the shelves in a supermarket. Locus Traxx Worldwide is happy to assist them in helping them achieve ultimate product quality by integrating with their TMS system."

"Paramount Citrus is excited to announce that the SmartTraxx GO of Locus Traxx Worldwide will be used with all of our direct delivery carriers," Jeff Cottingham, director of transportation at Paramount Citrus, added in the press release. "As the only citrus grower, packer and shipper utilizing this solution, it reinforces our commitment to food safety by tracking the location and temperature of our direct delivery trucks, and also ensures that the freshest citrus arrives at your door."

California Giant expands consumer network with new blog

California Giant, a Watsonville, CA-based shipper of a full line of berries, has unveiled a new blog to continue its emphasis on consumer engagement to build brand loyalty.

The new blog is a stand-alone tool using new methods of permission-based marketing that attracts consumers, converts them into leads and ultimately builds brand evangelists. The new format of permission-based marketing is a tool California Giant will ultimately convert all of its online tools to in 2015 as it focuses even more on better serving the consumer that is buying their berries.

"Our Buzz Blog is a great place for sharing news, recipes, tips, videos and more," Cindy Jewel, vice president of marketing, said in a press release. "Consumers subscribe to stay up-to-date with the latest happenings at California Giant Berry Farms, and keep coming back for new content. Each time we learn more about their preferences and make sure we are on point to provide information they specifically want, which keeps them engaged and feeling a personal connection to our company."

The beautiful photography on the site grabs consumers immediately, but the content on the new blog maintains their attention with everything from promotions and prize-winning opportunities, to freebies and giveaways, recipes and cooking ideas, nutritional information and health news.

California Giant also provides opportunities for consumers to learn about philanthropic opportunities and events the company and staff participates in as well as what is happening on the farm. A key new element that boosts readership and continues to expand the database of consumers is the opportunity to check out great posts and recipes by guest authors, the company's favorite food bloggers.

The bloggers are constantly feeding the Buzz Blog with new content, great photography and seasonal information featuring California Giant berries.