Longtime Procacci Bros. salesman retiring after 35 years

In August of 1980 when Mike Barber sat down with JM Procacci to interview for a banana sales manager position with Procacci Bros. Sales Corp. in Philadelphia, “Caddyshack” was the No. 1 movie in America, the cost of bananas was 36 cents per pound and the terms “organic,” “specialty,” and “ethnic” produce had not yet been incorporated into the vocabularies of produce buyers.

Thirty-five years later, JM Procacci, Procacci Bros.’ director of operations when Barber was hired, still remembers being floored by his extensive knowledge of banana procurement.Mike-Barber---West-Africa-1996In 1996 Mike Barber found himself in West Africa, exploring the possibility of sourcing pineapples.

“That’s the most I’ve ever learned in a job interview,” Procacci recalled. “Mike Barber had something that all of the other candidates lacked — experience.”

Despite being only 30 years old when he joined Procacci Bros., Barber had already put together an impressive resume. In 1971 a teaching opportunity with the Peace Corps brought him to Venezuela, where he quickly immersed himself in the Venezuelan culture and the teaching profession. Over the next six years Barber’s students came to include public and private school students, undergrad and graduate students, doctors, lawyers, engineers and business owners. It was in Venezuela that Barber met his life companion, Rosa, and added his two most treasured titles, “husband” and “father.”

Barber’s journey in the produce industry began in 1978 when he partnered with a longtime friend to operate a produce company in Dominica, West Indies. In his new role, Barber was tasked with using his Spanish-language skills to gain access to underutilized growers in the Dominican Republic. He secured the proper licenses and permits and the company began making regular shipments of mixed produce to its customer bases in Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands and St. Maarten.

Over the next two years, Barber dedicated himself to learning the ins and outs of the produce industry. Then, in 1980, he and his young family moved to Philadelphia. Barber was hired by Procacci Bros. shortly thereafter and immediately began making substantial contributions toward growing Procacci’s banana business, often spending late nights setting up promotional displays with Joe Procacci Sr. at various store locations in the Philadelphia area.

During his time with Procacci Bros., Barber made countless contributions that brought value to the company and to the produce industry in general. In addition to overseeing exponential growth in Procacci’s banana business, Barber’s contributions during his 35 years with the company include, but are not limited to, introducing fresh herbs, miniature vegetables and edible flowers to the Philadelphia market; establishing Procacci Bros.’ organic produce program, which made a wide variety of organic produce available to countless produce shoppers in the Northeast for the first time; expanding Procacci’s tropical produce offerings to include a wide variety of West Indian and Caribbean roots and fruits; creating the company’s first Chinese and Middle Eastern vegetable program; and developing contracts with exporters in Mexico to initiate direct shipments for a wide variety of Mexican produce, long before importing tropical produce from Mexico was commonplace in the U.S. produce industry.

Barber’s accomplishments were only possible because he took the initiative to go out and search the world for great produce. On his many journeys as an agent for Procacci Bros., he explored the world and made friends along the way.

Barber went to places such as Guatemala to evaluate mango production and quality; Costa Rica in search of banana farms and other independent growers; the plantain and banana farms of Ecuador; and to nearly every sourcing region in Mexico, from the cactus leaf fields in Puebla to the avocado and mango farms in Michoacán to the famous Central de Abasto in Mexico City.

In 1996, Barber even found himself in West Africa, exploring the possibility of sourcing pineapples from another potentially overlooked region of the world.

Barber’s plans for retirement include working together with his wife to care for their large collection of tropical plants, visiting the many friends that he and Rosa have made over the years, spending time with his family, and “playing with my grandchildren every day.”

“Procacci Brothers, and I personally, would like to express our deepest gratitude to Mike Barber for 35-plus years of dedicated service to Procacci Brothers,” company President Mike Maxwell said. “We wish Mike and his family many, many years of health and happiness in his retirement.”

Hy-Vee expands into the Twin Cities


NEW HOPE, MN — More than 100 shoppers waited excitedly in the drizzling rain at 6 a.m. Sept. 22 for the doors to open so they could get a peek inside the much-anticipated first Hy-Vee supermarket here. After nine months of construction and a cost of more than $27 million to build, furnish and stock the 90,738-square-foot store, it did not disappoint. The roughly 9,000-square-foot produce department contains 1,100 items, including 125 organic and 35 homegrown.PRODUCE-MANAGER-4Alex Chambers, produce manager, stands in front of Hy-Vee’s homegrown produce 'work of art' display and anticipates a busy first day during the opening of Hy-Vee’s New Hope store in Minnesota.

Simultaneously, another nearly identical Hy-Vee store opened about 30 miles away in Oakdale, MN, ushering in the Iowa-based, employee-owned company’s expansion into the Twin Cities marketplace.

More stores are scheduled to open in the Twin Cities in 2016 — one in Brooklyn Park and one in Lakeville — with two others are on the docket. The grocer is aggressively targeting the area and plans to open four to five stores each year in suburban Minneapolis-St. Paul locations.

“It’s a big day for New Hope, a big day for Hy-Vee,” said Mayor Kathi Hemken at the ribbon-cutting ceremony.

Tony Taylor, store director at Hy-Vee New Hope, told The Produce News that the store’s opening exceeded expectations.PRODUCE-7Hy-Vee offers around 125 organic produce items at its New Hope, MN, store.

“We knew they’d be very receptive, we just didn’t know how much,” said Taylor. “The fact that we had a full parking lot, with people circling the lot for 30 minutes trying to find a parking spot, spoke volumes.”

These aren’t the first Hy-Vees in Minnesota; there are already 17 in the southern part of the state, but it will be the company’s largest market by population. It will face tough competition from local grocery leader SuperValu’s Cub Foods in addition to Lunds & Byerlys, Kowalski’s, Whole Foods, Trader Joe’s, Aldi, Coborn’s, Walmart, Target and local co-ops.

Yet Randy Edeker, Hy-Vee’s chief executive officer, sounded confident when he said in a past interview, “Once we announced we were going into the Twin Cities I had lots of notes from mayors up there saying ‘build here please.’ We do have a large Midwest following. We have no illusions that we will all of a sudden kick the door open and open 20 stores. We don’t do it that way. We’ll have a steady, gradual growth.” And Edeker predicted to the StarTribune in July, “We see this as being our largest market someday.”PRODUCE-4Exotic fruits and melons from all over the world abound in the New Hope, MN, Hy-Vee’s colorful produce department.

So what exactly will set Hy-Vee apart from all of its competitors?

“Our customer service,” spokeswoman Tara Deering-Hansen said in an interview. “Every employee is trained in friendliness. We are all trained to focus on that customer standing right in front of us. We feel you can’t get that anywhere else.”

Taylor agrees that Hy-Vee’s people make all the difference.

“There’s a lot of great companies out there that probably have really good produce, but I think there’s a lot of times where your people, their expertise, their knowledge, being able to tell the customer what the right way to pick out a great pineapple, or cantaloupe, or whatever it may be — just having those experts in place makes a world of difference,” Taylor said.

Another competitive advantage, according to Taylor, is the fact that they “create art with produce.”PRODUCE-9John Earley, assistant produce manager at the New Hope, MN, Hy-Vee, checks the banana display after a hectic day in the new, nearly 9,000-square-foot produce department.

“We don’t just stack it out there like your average retailer,” said Taylor. “We want to have the freshest product, we want to have local and homegrown, but we want to create an impact when you walk in and you’re just amazed — like, ‘I just saw Picasso create this piece of art with all this produce.’ That’s why you see a rainbow of produce and angles and different things. We want to sell a lot of produce but I think that you have to make it a ‘wow,’ and produce in Hy-Vee makes it a wow.”

Not to mention the sheer size of the stores and the variety of offerings as further distinguishing factors. Hy-Vee stores are about 50 percent larger than Cub Foods stores, plus Hy-Vee offers one-stop shopping convenience with a full-service restaurant with bar and outdoor dining; a pharmacy with drive-up window; an in-store express clinic; dietitians and wellness department; full-service floral and design shop; made-to-order salad and sushi bars; certified wine, beer and spirit specialists as well as a wine-tasting area; in-store chefs and cooking demonstration stations; HealthMarket and bulk foods sections; one entire aisle dedicated to gluten-free foods; mother’s rooms; Starbucks coffee kiosk; dry cleaning and postal service; Minnesota Vikings and University of Minnesota Gophers swag; baby clothes and pet-care items — plus the stores are open 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

Together the two new Hy-Vee stores have provided over 1,000 jobs to the Twin Cities area. The New Hope Hy-Vee hired more than 550 new employees, about 450 of them local teens and young adults.

“When you take 450 of your kids, and get them into jobs and train them to be good, productive citizens — it’s amazing,” Mayor Hemken said.

City of Los Alamitos recognizing Frieda’s founder

The city of Los Alamitos, CA, has proclaimed Oct. 15, 2015, as “Frieda Rapoport Caplan Day,” to celebrate the accomplishment of its longtime resident, the founder of Frieda’s Specialty Produce.

Mayor Richard Murphy presented Caplan with the proclamation at the Sept. 21 city council meeting, noting Caplan’s “hard work and dedication to the produce industry and the city of Los Alamitos.”

“One of the nice things is that three of our clients have their stores in Los Alamitos — Ralphs, Sprouts and Vons-Safeway,” Caplan said in a press release. “Do not forget to look for your exotic fruits and vegetables!”friedaFrieda Rapoport Caplan, founder of Frieda’s Specialty Produce.

To commemorate the occasion, the Los Alamitos City Council will host a free public screening of Fear No Fruit, the Frieda Caplan documentary, on Thursday, Oct. 15 at the Los Alamitos Community Center. Caplan, along with daughters Karen Caplan, president and chief executive officer of Frieda’s Specialty Produce, and Jackie Caplan Wiggins, the company’s vice president and chief operating officer, will be present for a post-screening meet and greet with the local community.

“[Caplan] is such a champion in her industry, you would not know the things she had done until you come and see the movie,” Council Member Warren Kusumoto added in the press release.

A resident of the small northern Orange County city since 1958, Caplan still lives in the same home she shared with her daughters and late husband, Al Caplan. In 1994, daughters Karen and Jackie relocated Frieda’s Specialty Produce to Los Alamitos from Los Angeles.

Publix joins PFK in supporting Feeding America programs

Last spring, Publix was able to support Feeding America’s local children’s programs through the Produce for Kids campaign by supplying 1.2 million meals to local families and children in need. 

On Sept. 24, Produce for Kids and Publix will launch a second 2015 in-store and digital campaign to educate local families on the benefits of healthy eating while raising funds for local Feeding America member food banks.

Since 2002, Publix has raised more than $2.4 million through the Produce for Kids campaign for children’s organizations within the Publix footprint. Eleven participating fresh fruit and vegetable suppliers, representing every major category of fresh produce, support the Produce for Kids campaign, which will run through Oct. 28. Publix grocery shoppers are encouraged to support these brands by eating more nutritious fruits and vegetables.

“We’re thrilled to team up with Publix again this year to advocate the importance of healthy eating in the Publix market,” John Shuman, president of Produce for Kids, said in a press release. “Through the Produce for Kids campaign, we can help families choose healthier food options in their local grocery store while supporting local Feeding America food banks to help end hunger.”

Shoppers should be on the lookout for Produce for Kids signage, featuring The Very Hungry Caterpillar, in the produce section of all Publix stores to find out more information on the campaign. The display will direct shoppers to www.produceforkids.com, featuring more than 150 RD-approved recipes, meal planning tools, campaign information and healthy tips from real parents.

“Our Produce for Kids partnership allows us to educate our customers about the importance of beginning healthy eating habits early,” Maria Brous, media and community relations director for Publix, added in the press release. “The month-long campaign provides resources that introduce fresh fruits and vegetables to families and also allows us to give back to our local communities through a donation to Feeding America’s programs that support children.”  

During the campaign time period, The Very Hungry Caterpillar will interact with kids at two Produce for Kids in-store appearances on Sept. 26 at the Publix located at 1125 Park West Blvd., Mount Pleasant, SC and another in the Orlando, FL area. For more information, visit www.produceforkids.com/Publix.

The following companies proudly support the Produce for Kids campaign and raise funds for local Feeding America food bank programs: Avocados from Mexico; Chiquita Fresh; Coast Tropical; Crunch Pak; Del Monte Foods; Chiquita Fresh-Fresh Express; Shuman Produce; J&D Produce Inc.; Tasti-Lee Tomatoes; Ventura Foods; Wonderful Pistachios.

Kids opt for whole fruit over juice, apples over all else

A recent study published in Pediatrics has good news for the apple industry: apples make up nearly one-fifth of the fruit intake for children ages 2 to 19.

The youngest group — children ages 2 to 5 — tended to get more of their fruit intake through 100 percent juice than those ages 6 to 11, who were more likely to consume whole fruit. Accordingly, children 2 to 5 years old consumed less of their total fruit as apples, whereas bananas, apple juice, citrus juice, dried fruits and other fruit juices contributed a larger amount to their total fruit intake.

The study also shows that U.S. children consume an average of 1.25 cups of fruit each day, more than half of which comes from whole fruits (52.9 percent). One-third of fruit consumption was attributed to 100 percent fruit juices (33.5 percent), and the balance is made up of mixed dishes, which includes fruit drinks.

After apples (18.9 percent), the second-most-consumed whole fruit is bananas (6.8 percent). Melons (6 percent), citrus (4.6 percent), berries (4.3 percent), peaches and nectarines (3.5 percent) and grapes (2.8 percent) followed. Other fruits and fruit salads accounted for 5.5 percent of fruit consumption.