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Detroit bouncing back from bankruptcy, brings hope to produce terminal

Despite its economic struggles in recent years, the future of Detroit is looking bright as the city’s 16-month-long municipal bankruptcy case, the largest in U.S. history, officially ended Wednesday, Dec. 10.

Although things are certainly taking a turn for the better, the city still has a long road ahead, reversing decades of population loss and restoring its economy to what it once was.

“There are a lot of interesting things happening,” said Michael Badalament, sales associate for Detroit-based R.A.M. Produce Distributors LLC.800px-Detroit USA Taken From Windsor CanadaA two-year budget has been implemented to eliminate the majority of Detroit’s $12 billion debt load. “Are we there? Not yet, but the spirit is and the feeling is, it will be.”

“We still have enormous challenges delivering services in the city every day,” Mayor Mike Duggan told The Associated Press. “But at least now we are no longer a city that’s in bankruptcy.”

So what’s this mean for the Detroit Produce Terminal? Only good things, or so business folks hope.

“A lot of people weren’t so sure how things were going to shake out a few years back,” said Dominic Russo, buyer and sales associate for Rocky Produce, located on the Detroit Produce Terminal. “But now that the city of Detroit is out of bankruptcy, its economy is really strong. It’s roaring as far as new developments go, and it looks very promising. It’s the hot spot in the country right now.”

Russo added that in the city limits of Detroit, there is a tremendous amount of restaurants opening up, which is bringing a lot more people down to the city. “It’s really helped out the food economy by way of foodservice, and that helps us out for sure,” he said.

Thomas LaGrasso III, vice president of Detroit-based LaGrasso Bros., also commented on the city’s improving economy.

“The economy in Michigan has been gaining momentum in recent years, and 2014 is a reflection of that continued growth,” he said.

Thanks to Emergency Manager Kevyn Orr, who reached deals with most of the city’s creditors, a two-year budget has been implemented to eliminate a majority of Detroit’s $12 billion debt load.

As part of the approved plan, the city will have $1.7 billion to spend over the next 10 years to improve essential services, including investments in police, fire and sanitation departments.

Other improvements to the city will be made, such as fixes to its street lights and removal of blighted buildings. Cuts to some retirees’ pensions and civilian employee benefits were also made.

“It is now time to restore democracy to the people of the city of Detroit,” said Judge Steven Rhodes, who approved the city’s plan to rid itself of debt.

Fuel costs down but truck rates may not follow

Fuel rates that are more than $1 per gallon cheaper than they were a year ago are great news for truck drivers, but that may not translate into a big savings for truck rates.

At least that is the view of Paul Kazan, president of Interstate Transportation Systems Inc. in the Bronx, NY. “Fuel costs are only one component of the rate,” said the longtime transportation expert.

Kazan said that the biggest cost factor in the transporting of fresh produce is supply and demand, and that is not going to change regardless of the cost of fuel. “The lower fuel rate does allow there to be a lower floor,” he said. “A trucker who theoretically won’t go any lower than $6,000 (for a specific cross country trip), might reduce that price $400 or so when fuel is cheap.”

But fresh produce shipments typically get a premium for the trucker because of many other factors involved in the haul, including wait times at each end of the delivery. When the volume of product is up and the shipper and receiver need a truck, it is supply and demand that will dictate the price, not the cost of fuel. Additionally, Kazan said more conservative hours of service regulations enacted over the past few years are limiting the turns a trucker can make each month, further driving prices up. “Truckers used to be able to make three cross-country trips a month; now they can only make one-and-a-half. Somebody has to pay for that decrease.”

He did note that the U.S. Congress did relax some wait times between hours of service late in last year’s session. Kazan said that will help the cross-country drivers. But he lamented that getting drivers to do the long hauls is becoming less attractive every year, and it is harder to find drivers willing to make that run. “Let’s face it: it’s not a very attractive job. If they go cross country, they are going to be gone from home for two weeks. Then they come home, say hello, have that conjugal visit and are back on the road again.”

More and more professional drivers, he said, are opting for shorter runs of 1,000 miles or less so they can spend more time at home. The improving economy is allowing these truckers to be a bit more choosey in the lanes they drive or in the jobs they take. The construction industry tends to pull from the same labor pool, and that job can be a lot more attractive with regard to hours and time at home.

Kazan said the trucking industry is currently being served by immigrants looking for a better life. “We used to get the good ol’ boys from the South, but that source (of drivers) stopped probably in the 1990s. Now we have a lot of Sikhs, Russians and Eastern Europeans looking to get a piece of the American dream.”

He indicated that they start in the trucking industry and are able to make a pretty good paycheck without a formal education. However, many of them move on and find different jobs, especially as the economy heats up.

While Kazan took more of a 40,000-foot view, Lance Dichter of LD Logistics, also in the Bronx, NY, took a much narrower look at the current state of the industry: “Right now there is a lack of vegetables coming out of the West. I see no truck shortage problems for the January-through-March time frame,” he said in mid-January.

He added that the low fuel costs are very good for the trucker.

Braga Fresh adds Iceberg and green onions to Josie’s Organics line

Organic Iceberg and green onions are now being offered by Braga Fresh Family Farms as part of its premium-quality, USDA-certified line of organic produce — Josie’s Organics.Josies-Organics-Iceberg-Lettuce

Josie’s Organics Iceberg is available wrapped and naked, and green onions are available in cello bags — iced and iceless.  Both the Iceberg wrap and cello bags feature the popular and award-winning "Josie’s Organics" packaging design with signature blue polka dots and the friendly logo representing today’s busy moms.

“We stay tuned-in to what our customers need," Roger Zardo, Braga Fresh director of sales, said in a press release. "And because we’re a vertically integrated farming company that controls a lot of organic land, Braga Fresh is able to respond quickly, making new organic products available when the market isn’t meeting demand.”

In addition to Iceberg and green onions, the Josie’s Organics line includes broccoli, sweet baby broccoli, cauliflower, celery, chard, kale, spinach, beets, cilantro, parsley, radishes, Romaine hearts, green leaf and red leaf — and new products are always in trial.

Josie’s Organics products can be found in most Whole Foods, Central Market, Kroger, HEB and Safeway locations throughout the United States, as well as in many other grocery stores and supermarkets.

Half Your Plate program launches to encourage consumption of fruits and vegetables

The Canadian Produce Marketing Association and its partners launched Half Your Plate, a new healthy eating initiative, across Canada. Half Your Plate empowers Canadians of all ages to eat more fruits and veggies to improve their health while providing simple and practical ways to add a variety of produce to every meal and snack.halfp After a successful launch on social media this summer, Half Your Plate is now making its way onto produce packaging and into retail stores across Canada.

“We are hosting four events across Canada this week, including a Twitter Party to introduce Canadians more broadly to Half Your Plate," Sam Silvestro, chair of the CPMA marketing and promotions committee, said in a press release. "It’s a great opportunity to get out there and really show people how easy it is to fill half their plate with fruits and veggies at every meal and snack. Now is the perfect time to introduce consumers to Half Your Plate — It’s a new year and a great time to start eating healthier, especially when it’s this easy.”

“Rather than having people count servings or worry about serving size, our messaging is that at every meal, make half your plate fruit and vegetables," Ron Lemaire, president of CPMA, said in the release. "By the end of the day, you’ll have your recommended number of servings. That also translates when you’re at the grocery store. Half your cart should be fruit and veggies, and having retailers promote the campaign re-emphasizes the importance of making healthier choices at the store.”

Although Canadians are becoming more conscious of what they eat, studies show that the average person only consumes 3.5 to 4.5 servings of fruits and vegetables every day. Yet Canada’s Food Guide recommends that adults get seven to 10 servings per day, depending on gender. Half Your Plate encourages people to take it one meal at a time, analyzing the makeup of their plate rather than specific servings that can be confusing to many.

The Half Your Plate campaign was developed in collaboration with health partners the Canadian Cancer Society, the Canadian Public Health Association, and the Heart and Stroke Foundation.

Twitter Party details are available at www.halfyourplate.ca.

Mastronardi opens Pepperco USA greenhouse

Mastronardi Produce kicked off the new year by announcing its latest greenhouse venture: Pepperco USA, which will begin harvesting this spring.MPL-Pepperco

As one of the larger greenhouse pepper companies in North America, Mastronardi Produce has quietly grown its acreage and capacity in Coldwater, MI, since completing Phase II of its greenhouse operation this past summer.

“After the recent completion of Phase II, we decided to carry on expanding our Coldwater greenhouses to 100 acres,” Paul Mastronardi, chief executive officer, said in a press release. “We’ve already established a strong demand for our Michigan-grown tomatoes from retailers and were overwhelmed with the response from consumers. We’re anticipating even more enthusiasm for local SUNSET peppers this spring.”

Greenhouse builders Havecon Projects and Stolze wrapped up Phase II this past August and have been working through the winter to complete Pepperco. At 41 acres, Mastronardi’s greenhouse is one of the first large-scale pepper greenhouses in the United States.

Since opening its Coldwater facility in 2012, Mastronardi Produce has been leading the industry with advanced greenhouse technology to combat frigid Michigan winters and bring fresh, summertime flavor to the Midwest in a sustainable way.

“Because of the strategic location of Coldwater, we’re able to reduce food miles and deliver a vine-ripened product,” Joe Sbrocchi, vice president of business development, said in the release. “With such close proximity to a number of distribution centers, we’re able to harvest, pack and ship our produce to our clients’ doors the same day, which ensures our consumers are getting the freshest product possible.”