CERRITOS, CA — Nearly 300 produce professionals packed the Sheraton Cerritos Hotel, here, April 22 for the Fresh Produce & Floral Council’s Southern California Membership Luncheon.
Featured speaker Tom Stenzel, president of the United Fresh Produce Association, spoke about the important role fruits and vegetables play in today's society. Stenzel's speech concentrated on produce industry topics ranging from labor and drought to the impact that salad bars in schools are achieving in an effort to curb child obesity.
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Jump with Jill, a rock and roll nutrition show, is visiting schools across the Midwest thanks to the fall 2014 Produce for Kids campaign that took place across all Meijer stores Aug. 31 to Sept. 27. The donations made by participating produce suppliers during the fall campaign totaled $60,000 and allowed the Jump with Jill program to take place in 27 schools in Michigan, Ohio, Indiana and Kentucky.
“In partnering with Produce for Kids, we’re able to help educate our customers about the importance of making healthy food choices,” Shari Steinbach, lead dietitian and healthy living manager for Meijer, said in a press release. “Through the Produce for Kids campaign, we’re extending our reach further to educate students in schools by supporting Jump with Jill and its mission to teach nutrition to kids.”
Jump with Jill is a familiar initiative to families in the Midwest, armed with catchy songs, upbeat dance moves and a hip wardrobe to engage kids on the subject of health and leave them empowered to eat better. Mejier makes it a point to offer a diverse selection of fruits and vegetables making it easier for families to live out what they learned from Jump with Jill in the produce department of their local grocery store.
“It is tremendous to see the funds from the Meijer campaign utilized in this way,” John Shuman, president of Produce for Kids, said in the press release. “It was my original vision that Produce for Kids serve as a conduit for the produce industry to give back to local communities, and this is the perfect example of those funds at work.”
Suppliers who made this possible include Bolthouse Farms — carrots and juices; DOLE salads; Highline Mushrooms — fresh mushrooms; Mariani Packing Co. — Mariani premium dried fruit; Michigan Apple Committee — Michigan apples; Potandon Produce — Green Giant Fresh Klondike Rose and red potatoes; Stemilt Growers — Lil Snappers Gala apples and Bartlett pears; SUNSET Campari brand cocktail tomatoes; T. Marzetti Co. — Marzetti caramel dip; Westmoreland Sales — TopLine Farms seedless cucumbers; POM Wonderful — pomegranate juice and juice blends.
Martori Farms announced its exclusive Kandy Lemondrop Melon will begin shipping June 1. This year marks the third season the Arizona-based grower and shipper of premium melons will distribute the specialty Lemondrop variety.
According to Martori, Kandy Lemondrop Melons have a signature sweet tartness of lemon and subtle hints of honeydew and watermelon that set its flavor profile apart from other melons.
“These melons have gained so much popularity since making a debut in 2013, it makes perfect sense to meet consumer demand and bring them back for another season,” Steve Martori, managing member, said in a press release. “This summer we foresee the excitement to once again be positive among consumers.”
The characteristics of the Kandy Lemondrop Melon that make it unique are its distinct exterior appearance, high Brix level and flavor profile. The Kandy Lemondrop Melon is a unique hybrid of sweet Galia melons, a wild melon variety containing high citric acid content.
Western Growers and Silicon Valley Global Partners have entered into an exclusive strategic alliance agreement to accelerate the advancement of technology in the ag space.
WG, which represents fresh produce growers in the West, and SVG, a venture capital group, have begun a collaboration that will include promoting, vetting and investing in potential new technologies that could help the agricultural industry. The two allies will also collaborate on the opening of innovation centers in the California cities of Salinas and San Jose, and both are involved as sponsors of Forbes Reinventing America: The AgTech Summit in Salinas this summer.
The involvement in the Forbes event, and the new partnership, was not lost on that nationally acclaimed magazine as it touted that fact on its website this week: “As Forbes ramps up for its first annual summit on AgTech in Salinas, CA, this July 8 and 9, an interesting partnership has sprung up that highlights just how big a deal (and potential market) innovation in agriculture has become.”
It then went on to relay the information about the new partnership.
Tom Nassif, president and chief executive officer of Western Growers, told The Produce News that the collaboration will result in the investment of millions of dollars by the association and some of its members in the SVG Technology Growth Fund. He said that with California’s drought, diminishing natural resources, no movement on immigration reform and increasing food production costs, something has to be done to help growers survive. Nassif suggested that the key is to unlock untapped potential of the entrepreneurial class to find new solutions to old problems.
He added that because California is currently in the fourth year of what some are predicting will be a prolonged drought, developing new technologies in the use of water is a high priority. But he commented that advances in many other areas including robotics and drone technology are equally important.
John Hartnett, CEO of SVG Partners, said the partnership with Western Growers has both practical and financial benefits. He noted that the alliance immediately gives SVG, as well as many entrepreneurs, access to the organization’s membership, which is comprised of the most progressive produce growers and shippers in the world. And he said WG’s commitment to invest in the SVG Technology Growth Fund adds “financial muscle” to the relationship, and signals to everyone that it is more than just a feel-good partnership. The fund is separately led by an independent investment group and will include Western Growers as a strategic investor.
Nassif said Western Growers will operate the Salinas Innovation Center which will consist of staff, office space and communication tools. The physical location will be available for technology firms to meet with industry members, who will often serve as mentors, so that real-world solutions are developed for real problems. It is easy to get caught up in theoretical technological pursuits, but Harnett said it is important that whatever the technology entrepreneurs are developing has useful benefits in the industry.
This model has worked in many other sectors, as the concept of bringing together entrepreneurs with problems that need solving has proven to be a success.
Already the idea is being played out in the Salinas Valley. WG and several fresh major produce industry firms have been playing an active role in the Thrive Accelerator program that was launched last year. The Thrive Accelerator is a selective mentorship and investment program intended to connect technology-enabled startups with leading agricultural companies. In the first phase of the program, which was put together by SVG Partners, about 30 companies initially applied for inclusion. Ten start-ups were selected for incubation. Those companies have been working with mentors from agriculture, including WG members and staff, to vet their ideas and develop business models and plans. Award winners and results from this initiative will be featured at the Forbes’ AgTech Summit.
For his part, Harnett said, “We are delighted to partner with Western Growers to invest and accelerate technology in agriculture and also to co-host Forbes Reinventing America: The AgTech Summit. The intersection of technology and agriculture will pave the way to solve the exploding food production challenge, as well as deliver an incredible investment opportunity in the 21st century.”
Though he expects to see results in a timely manner, Harnett did warn that “this is farming not hunting.” The plan is not to just look for solutions but to develop them.
Nassif said Western Growers proactive involvement in this idea is representative of the direction the association has taken over the past decade. About a decade ago, it established a partnership with CH Robinson Worldwide to promote transportation solutions for its members, and it has used the expertise it has gained providing for the insurance needs of agriculture to become a state contractor in the health insurance sector.
But always the focus of WG’s ancillary effort are clear, according to Nassif. “We didn’t get into this technology endeavor for it to be a profit maker for the association. We are involved because agriculture has diminished resources, higher costs and no forthcoming solution for immigration reform. We have to do something to remain competitive.”
PATERSON, NJ — The April dinner meeting of the Eastern Produce Council has long been noted for two key components: new leadership is announced, and it is hosted by the South Carolina Department of Agriculture.
Those two components were in full force at the EPC dinner meeting held Tuesday evening, April 21, here at The Brownstone.
EPC President Paul Kneeland of Kings Food Markets opened the meeting by saying, "We welcome the South Carolina Department of Agriculture.This is their 44th year sponsoring" an EPC dinner.
Martin Eubanks, South Carolina's assistant commissioner of agriculture, led his state's delegation to the meeting and told attendees, "We're excited to be here. I'm excited to be here. We are looking for a great and exciting season in South Carolina."
Eubanks, who has represented South Carolina at the EPC's April meeting for many, many years, was enthusiastic about his state's 2015 peach crop, stating, "You will need two napkins when you eat our South Carolina peaches this year."
Charles A. Wingard of Walter P. Rawl & Sons Inc. and president of the South Carolina Fruit & Vegetable Association told attendees that tomatoes "are on schedule" and should be ready around June 1-5, and that squash and cucumbers should be ready around May 20. "We want to deliver the safest product," he said, and "we really do appreciate your business."
Matt Forrest, a peach grower and president of the South Carolina Peach Council, said that the state is expecting about 90 percent of a full crop. "Growers are busy thinning now," he said, "and we're ready to get started."
Eubanks concluded his remarks by saying, "This organization has meant a lot to us," adding, "I do believe in our crops. I do believe in what our growers are doing."
This meeting marked the end of Kneeland's two-year term as president of the Eastern Produce Council, and he was honored twice. First Eubanks surprised him with a plaque from the South Carolina Department of Agriculture in recognition of Kneeland's "dedicated leadership and service as president of the Eastern Produce Council." And then incoming President Vic Savanello of Allegiance Retail Services LLC presented a plaque that noted Kneeland's many years with the council, including serving as a director, as vice president and finally as president.
The evening concluded with the introduction of the new EPC leadership. In addition to Savanello as president, Marianne Santo of Wakefern Food Corp. was named first vice president, and Greg Veneziano of Bozzuto's Inc. was named second vice president. Sal Zacchia of RDD Associates continues as treasurer, Rob Goldstein of Genpro Inc. continues as secretary, and John McAleavey continues as executive director.