United’s Guenther calls for ‘trade equilibrium,’ urges Congress to pass Trade Promotion Authority

WASHINGTON — Congress must reinstate “trade equilibrium” by enacting Trade Promotion Authority to quickly pass new trade agreements, so U.S. fruit and vegetable companies can break down the growing number of non-tariff trade barriers, Robert Guenther, United Fresh Produce Association’s senior vice president for public policy, testified March 18 on Capitol Hill.

With shipments to the United States tripling in recent years, U.S. trade policies need to be put exports on an even keel, Guenther told members of a House Agriculture Committee.

“Exports of commodities such as apples, pears, peaches, citrus and potatoes to countries including [South] Korea and Mexico have been limited due to non-tariff barriers, among other examples,” he said.

Future trade deals should be based on sound science that break down artificial trade barriers and ensure there’s a dispute settlement process that can resolve these issues quickly.

Guenther praised the recent announcement that China will open its door to all U.S. apple varieties, an example of how the fresh produce industry benefits from trade opportunities. Other trade deals can boost the industry.

“For example, the National Potato Council estimates that adoption of the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade agreement could increase fresh potato exports to Mexico by nearly $150 million a year, up from the current level of $39 million,” he said.

Guenther urged Congress to pass TPA, which would allow only an up-or-down vote on trade deals, to strengthen the hand of U.S. officials and help them negotiate the best trade deals with European and Asia-Pacific countries.

House Agriculture Chairman K. Michael Conaway (R-TX) said TPA is key to inking the massive trade deals and helping U.S. farmers and ranchers.

“If we are unsuccessful in our efforts to gain access to markets for American food and fiber products, other countries will fill that demand,” he said. “That is why it is time to pass TPA.”

Kroger names president of Columbus division

The Kroger Co. named Joe Grieshaber president of its Columbus division, replacing Bruce Macaulay, who is retiring after 42 years with the company. Grieshaber's successor will be named at a later date.

"Joe is an accomplished leader with a diverse background and expertise in our fresh departments," Mike Ellis, Kroger's president and chief operating officer, said in a press release. "His strong values and engagement with our associates will ensure continued growth and success in our Columbus division. We are looking forward to Joe's continued leadership."

Grieshaber, 57, began his career with Kroger in 1983 as a store management trainee in Nashville, TN. He has served in a variety of leadership roles with Kroger, including meat merchandiser, district manager and as vice president of merchandising for the Columbus division. In 2003, he was named group vice president of perishables merchandising and procurement, where he was responsible for fresh and natural foods throughout Kroger's family of stores. He has served in his current role as president of Dillons since 2010.

He has actively supported community organizations throughout his career, and he serves on the boards of the Hutchinson Regional Health Care System, state and local chambers of commerce, and the local United Way. He and his wife, Vickie, have three grown daughters.

Grieshaber joined Ellis and the Kroger family in wishing Macaulay all the best in retirement: "Bruce's passion for our associates, customers and the community have contributed to Kroger's growth in countless ways. While his knowledge, compassion and guidance will be missed, Bruce's legacy will continue within our industry, company and the community."

SunSelect enters B.C. season with strong crops and momentum

Powered by a robust first winter of production from its new California facility, leading British Columbia greenhouse grower SunSelect Produce has entered the Canadian season ready to drive sales.

The Aldergrove, BC-based grower began shipping new-crop cucumbers and sweet Bell peppers in mid-March, with production expected to extend through late fall. As BC's largest red, yellow and orange pepper producer, expectations are high for consistent volumes and quality throughout the season.

SunSelect is the only Fair Trade-certified pepper grower in Canada, offering a unique opportunity for retailers to differentiate and satisfy their most discerning customers. Fair Trade premiums earned on SunSelect peppers benefit worker communities in both Guatemala and Canada.

Meanwhile, peppers and tomatoes grown in SunSelect's new greenhouse in Tehachapi, CA, will continue shipping to key markets in the western United States and Canada. Much of this product is also earmarked for strong local "grown in California" consumer programs, according to Len Krahn, SunSelect co-owner and general manager.

"The mild winter has positioned us well with strong plants poised for solid production out of BC," Krahn said in a press release. "At the same time, we can continue to serve our customers south of the border with the high-quality peppers and tomatoes we are producing in California, which are ideal for locally grown promotions."

SunSelect opened the doors to its high-tech 32-acre California greenhouse last October. Tehachapi is proving to have an excellent climate for greenhouse production. Low humidity, cool nights and high light levels each play a huge role in producing consistent quality and sizing, Krahn said.

As well, the climate is conducive to growing in a positive pressure greenhouse, as opposed to using roof vents, because pest populations in the area are naturally low.

Success to date has prompted SunSelect to accelerate the expansion of the facility. The next phase will entail an additional 32 acres of sweet Bell peppers, tomatoes-on-the-vine, a diversified mix of specialty tomatoes and innovative value-added packaging. Production will begin this fall.

The Oppenheimer Group is SunSelect’s marketing partner and an investor in its B.C. and California greenhouses. Oppenheimer’s executive category director-Greenhouse, Aaron Quon, shares Krahn's enthusiasm, saying, "SunSelect is off to an impressive start in Tehachapi. Customers are very receptive to the quality of the product — it delivers everything our retail partners have come to expect from the SunSelect brand, great appearance, vibrant color and excellent flavor."

As well, SunSelect tomatoes-on-the-vine have joined the Sesame Street eat brighter! movement under the Oppy umbrella with truss tags featuring Cookie Monster and Elmo.

Consumption events key to CAC promotions

Avocados have become a year-round staple for many consumers, but the top consumption holidays of the year are still very important merchandising opportunities.

In 2014, the marketing promotions surrounding Fourth of July resulted in the United States consuming 109 million pounds of avocados during that holiday period. At the time that became the greatest avocado-consumption event for U.S. consumers ever recorded. Promotions surrounding this year’s Super Bowl, which was played Feb. 1,summerThe California Avocado Commission is gearing up for that Fourth of July promotional period with display materials and promotional ideas. saw consumption of 122 million pounds, creating a new record. No doubt handlers of avocados will try to once again top that record for Fourth of July 2015, which falls right in the middle of the California avocado season. To put those numbers in perspective, that means those largely weekend events are seeing as many avocados consumed nationwide in a few days as were consumed in eight to 10 weeks just 20 years ago.

The California Avocado Commission is gearing up for that Fourth of July promotional period with display materials and promotional ideas. The holiday coincides well with the commission’s strategy of the last several years to emphasize consumption events and new usage ideas to consumers. CAC touts those party-inducing events because avocados have proven to be a great accompaniment to any gathering as guacamole or for snacks or even for grilling.

Because of the mild 2014-15 winter that California avocado growers experienced this year, the fruit has sized earlier and some of the state’s growers were able to capitalize on the promotions surrounding the Super Bowl and provide retailers with fruit in January. That isn’t always the case. For example, in 2014 the crop was basically marketed from March through September. But this year, marketing has been moved up about a month with most of the California fruit expected to be sold during the February through August time frame, though there were some sales in January as previously mentioned. Most of those sales were to several California retailers that featured California avocados in their “big game” advertising and promotional displays.

CAC sponsored sales and display contests for the late January and early February time period, and provided extra incentives to motivate in-store personnel to get behind the sale and promotion of California avocados. In Northern California, Mollie Stone’s, a small, upscale chain of nine stores, conducted a California avocado display contest. The chain did promote the fact that they were the first retailer in the area to carry California avocados.

Gelson’s Markets, a similar type of retailer with 12 stores in the Los Angeles market, also carried California avocados for its promotions leading up to Super Bowl weekend. The chain developed a sales contest, with supporting ads and displays, and reported excellent sales increases. Several other regional chains also carried California fruit during that time period and promoted it as such.

CAC supported the early-season promotions with California avocado display bins and signage, and sponsored the prizes for the account contests. The commission also utilized a tightly targeted social media campaigns with geo-fencing to promote these promotions to local consumers. For example, using geo-fencing, CAC identified consumers within a seven-mile radius of Mollie Stone’s locations and targeted them with California avocado advertisements.

In some ways, the late January promotion was a dry run for CAC’s planned efforts during its marketing period. There are several upcoming holiday consumption events when featuring California avocados makes perfect sense, including, Easter, Cinco de Mayo, Mother’s Day, Memorial Day, Father’s Day and the aforementioned Fourth of July. Some years the end of the summer Labor Day Weekend also is cause for celebration and the utilization of California avocados. This year it remains to be seen just how many California avocados will be left to market at the end of summer. If consumers eat them up as the current trend indicates, there will be few left… though still plenty of avocados from other points of origin to fuel a Labor Day Weekend promotion.

PBH releases new consumer report

Every five years, Produce for Better Health Foundation releases its updated State of the Plate report, a Study on America’s Consumption of Fruit & Vegetables. PBH commissioned consumer research through The NPD Group to use its National Eating Trends database for the year ending May 2014 to examine current consumption of fruit and vegetables in the United States, including consumption levels by age, gender, life cycle, health segmentation, meal occasion and form.pivonElizabeth Pivonka

The report provides the fruit and vegetable industry, health professionals and consumer intermediary groups with the latest fruit and vegetable consumption trends; updated information on the varying demographics of fruit and vegetable consumers; an overview of consumption levels by lifecycle and eater segment; projected growth of fruit and vegetable consumption for the next five years; and recommendations about what can be done to make the information in the report actionable.

Fruit and Vegetable Consumption Trends

Per-capita fruit and vegetable consumption has declined 7 percent over the past five years, primarily driven by decreased consumption of vegetables (-7 percent) and fruit juice (-14 percent). However, there is only a 2 percent decrease in fruit consumption during this same time period if fruit juice is excluded from the overall fruit total.

The overall fruit and vegetable consumption losses are tied to two significant behaviors: a decline in the dinner side dish for vegetables driven by the desire to simplify meals (including side dish salads, which also reduces the use of other salad-related vegetables such as tomatoes and cucumbers); and reduced consumption of fruit juice at breakfast.

Despite these losses, however, fruit and vegetables are still a cornerstone of the American diet. Vegetables are four of the top five side dishes at the in-home dinner meal, and fruit is second only to candy as a snack.

Shifting Demographics of Fruit & Vegetable Consumers

When looking at age demographics, younger consumers are eating more fruit compared to 2009. Among children ages 2-17, there is a 17 percent increase in fruit consumption, excluding juice. Overall vegetable consumption is down, but store fresh vegetables have grown among children (10 percent) and young adults over the past five years.

While adults ages 50 and older consume the most fruit and vegetables, this group’s double-digit decline was a significant factor in the overall decline of fruit and vegetable consumption since 2009.

A negative generational effect is occurring among these older consumers, which means that those over age 50 are consuming fruit and vegetables less often than their counterparts 10 years ago.

Conversely, a positive generational effect is occurring in those under age 40, meaning they are consuming more fruit and vegetables than their counterparts a decade ago.

Consumption Levels by Lifecycle & Eater Segment

Fruit and vegetable consumption data can be further analyzed to identify if singles, seniors or working women households are eating more or less compared to other lifecycle groups.

Working women (working parents, single female parent and dual income with no children) and traditional family (married with children under 18 years old present; only 1 spouse employed full-time) households are consuming more fruit, but less fruit juice and vegetables, per capita over time.

Only 13 percent of the population are seniors (single or married, male or female head of household, age 65+), yet these households represent 17 percent of all vegetables consumed and 18 percent of all fruit consumed, excluding fruit juice.

Singles (under 65 years old) represent more of the population than seniors, but account for the smallest share of consumption of vegetables or fruit.

NPD also grouped the population into five segments based on varying attitudes. The three consumer segments focused on health account for 60-70 percent of fruit and vegetable eatings, yet only represent half of the total population. All three of these segments, however, have shown the most decline in fruit and vegetable eatings over the last five years.

This is especially disturbing given that people presumably focused either on leading a healthy lifestyle or a health condition appear to be thinking less about fruit or vegetable consumption when it comes to their overall health.

Projected Growth of Fruit & Vegetable Consumption

Considering the aforementioned generational effect, changing life stages and other factors, consumption of total fruit and total vegetables are expected to grow roughly 4 percent, respectively, in the next five years, or roughly the same rate as population growth, resulting in relatively flat per-capita consumption.

Looking at fruit and vegetables subsets, however, there is an expected 9 percent growth in fruit (excluding juice) and an 8 percent growth in fresh vegetables expected in the next five years. Per-capita consumption would be 5 percent and 4 percent, respectively.

Recommendations to Increase Fruit & Vegetable Consumption

Fruit and vegetable marketers should seize the opportunity to partner with companies who prepare and sell the core food groups most often associated with fruit and vegetables such as beef and poultry protein entrees, salads and Italian dishes.

Yogurt, pizza, poultry sandwiches and Mexican food are also among the fastest growing food items and complement fruit and vegetables nicely.

The health benefits of consuming a variety of fruit and vegetables, varied tastes and textures, and ease of preparation should continue to be emphasized with older consumers as they continue to focus on their overall health and well-being, and their desire to simplify meals.

A final recommendation is to focus on the affordable cost of fruit and vegetables. Since most fruit and vegetables are consumed in the home, it is important to inform consumers that the price of a home-prepared meal is one-third the cost of the average meal way from home.

Encourage price-sensitive consumers to eat more meals at home by showcasing how the purchase of ready-made meals, and other convenience items from the supermarket, are less expensive than eating out.  

“The good news is that we are seeing progress and positive forward-looking trends in fruit and vegetable consumption among consumers under age 40, which includes PBH’s target audience of parents with young children. The efforts of many are paying off,” Elizabeth Pivonka, president and chief executive officer of PBH, said in a statement. “The bad news is that consumer groups traditionally most interested in health and who eat the most fruit and vegetables, including those ages 50 and above, are trending downward in their consumption over time.”

To bring to light additional findings in the 2015 State of the Plate report, PBH will host a one-hour webinar on Tuesday, March 31 from 2-3 p.m. EST. Interested participants can click here to register. The full 2015 State of the Report can be found on the PBHFoundation.org website in the Research section.