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C.H. Robinson supports nationwide hunger-relief efforts

C.H. Robinson and recently rebranded produce division Robinson Fresh have utilized their strengths to support two nationwide hunger-relief efforts. In recognition of a unique and collaborative effort, C.H. Robinson was presented with Second Harvest Heartland’s 2014 Hunger Hero Innovation Award for the company’s contribution to a large-scale agricultural rescue project.

Through an innovative pilot program, C.H. Robinson helped Second Harvest Heartland boost transportation efficiencies and played an integral role in the shipment of almost 1 million pounds of sweet corn to participating food banks throughout North America.

As member of Feeding America, a national network of more than 200 food banks serving every state in the United States, Second Harvest Heartland relies on the support of its vast network of community partners, volunteers and donors who are dedicated to this particular cause.

“With C.H. Robinson’s help we were able to improve on an important aspect of our business — getting food to those who need it the most,” Rob Zeaske, chief executive officer of Second Harvest Heartland, said in a press release. “C.H. Robinson received our Innovation honor because of their willingness and ability to go above and beyond to create new and effective solutions.”

Throughout 2013 and 2014, Robinson Fresh used its fresh produce knowledge and brand power to promote AARP and AARP Foundation’s Drive to End Hunger campaign. The initiative aims to raise awareness and funds to address the problem of hunger that exists among nearly 9 million Americans who are 50 years or older.

C.H. Robinson sourced and shipped more than 2.5 million pounds of Tropicana clementines in specially designed packaging that featured the campaign’s spokesperson, four-time NASCAR Cup Champion Jeff Gordon, and raised more than $70,000 for the AARP Foundation.

“Since AARP and AARP Foundation launched Drive to End Hunger, the initiative has donated more than 20 million meals and we couldn’t have done it without help,” Lisa Marsh Ryerson, AARP Foundation president, said in the release. “We are so thankful for the dynamic support that we received from Robinson Fresh and how successful their unique model was in helping us raise awareness.”

Fresh Produce Alliance fears that Canadian produce industry on the verge of losing preferential status in U.S. markets

Canadian fresh fruit and vegetables suppliers will soon lose preferential status when exporting to the United States if the Canadian government fails to follow through on its commitment under the Canada-U.S. Regulatory Cooperation Council. In 2011, the government committed to establish a comparable Canadian approach to protecting produce suppliers from buyers that default on their payment obligations, but little progress has been made, according to a press release issued by the Fresh Produce Alliance, a joint initiative of the Canadian Produce Marketing Association, the Canadian Horticulture Council and the Fruit & Vegetable Dispute Resolution Corp.

"According to data collected by the Fresh Produce Alliance, American suppliers are losing at minimum $10 million annually through Canadian buyer insolvency," Anne Fowlie, executive vice president of Canadian Horticultural Council, said in the press release. "This is, coincidentally, about the same amount that Canadian suppliers are recovering each year through the U.S. Perishable Agricultural Commodities Act Trust. Hundreds more Canadian suppliers depend on the security PACA offers for ease of mind in their trade relationships."

Until now, Canadians exporting to the United States have had the same rights under the PACA Trust system as American suppliers to recover payments easily and quickly if a buyer refuses to pay or declares bankruptcy with unpaid bills to produce suppliers. U.S. officials are warning that Canada's special status may soon be revoked if the Canadian government does not implement a reciprocal payment protection program in Canada.

Removal of benefits could be announced any day, according to the Sept. 23 press release, putting Canada's $1.6 billion in produce exports to the U.S. at higher risk of payment default.

"Canadian industry can ill afford to take on added costs, given that three-quarters of Canada's 10,000 fruit and vegetable producers are small businesses with average sales of less than $85,000 per year," Jim DiMenna, president and chief executive officer of Red Sun Farms, added in the press release. "Canadian exporters will be hit extremely hard because they will have to meet costly bonding requirements to achieve the same level of U.S. PACA trust protection they have enjoyed in the past."

The Canadian industry has requested the establishment of a limited statutory deemed trust, modeled on what currently exists in the United States, which would provide effective, inclusive protection that takes into account the unique characteristics of trade in perishable products. If movement towards establishing this limited statutory deemed trust is not soon demonstrated, the consequences may prove disastrous for Canadian produce exporters and the communities where they operate, according to the alliance.  

The Canadian fresh fruit and vegetable sector and its supply chain supported 147,900 jobs and created $11.4 billion in real GDP in 2013. Over 85 percent of the value of Canada's vegetables and fruit are grown in Quebec, Ontario and British Columbia. Rural communities in these provinces are at greatest risk from produce buyer insolvency.

Idaho potato export markets are increasingly important

Export markets are increasingly important outlets for U.S.-grown potatoes in general and specifically for Idaho, according to Frank Muir, president of the Idaho Potato Commission.

Speaking at the 86th annual convention of the Idaho Grower Shipper Association in Sun Valley, ID, Aug. 28, Muir commended the U.S. Potato Board for the efforts it is making to open or re-open various markets around the world for U.S. potatoes. In Idaho, “we are leveraging everything the U.S. Potato Board is doing internationally,” he said. “When we see the growth that is happening internationally, we have to be there, and we are.”

It is a relatively recent phenomenon, at least with regard to fresh-market potatoes. “This is something that has happened in the last 10 or 11 years,” Muir said. “We weren’t doing anything with fresh potatoes 10 years ago in export markets. We are now, in a big way, both in foodservice and retail” with activities ongoing in such countries as Mexico, Colombia, Panama, Brazil, Malaysia, Singapore and Macau. Among other things, “we are involved in trade missions … and reverse trade missions.”

The commission is also involved many of the same types of activities in countries that import Idaho potatoes as it is in the domestic market. Among other things, “we conduct training, in-store sampling and promotions in all of these countries.” Muir said.

As an example, when Mexico opened its borders to U.S. potatoes in mid-April 2014 beyond the 26-kilometer border zone where they had previously been admitted, the Soriana chain of supermarkets was among the customers in Mexico that quickly took advantage of the opportunity to put potatoes in additional stores beyond the border communities.

Just three weeks later, the border was closed again due to a court order. But during the brief time it was open, The Idaho Potato Commission “supplied 60 Soriana locations in Chihuahua and Monterey” with point-of-sales materials for a Potato Lover’s Month display contest.

Idaho sent 10 container loads of potatoes to Mexico, and more were on their way when Mexico again closed its border June 9, but until that happened “we were going big time with Potato Lover’s Month, and it was going to get bigger,” he said. “But Soriana was so pleased with what we did that they wanted to continue the Potato Lover’s program in the 31 Soriana stores within the 26-kilometer area. Soriana tells us that 80 percent of their potato sales are currently Idaho varieties, so even though we had to cut down, we are the major player with Soriana.”

Efforts to get Mexico to again re-open the country’s interior to U.S. potatoes, and when that happens “and we get further into Mexico, the commission is prepared to be there with “a major plan of action,” Muir said.

Fairway Market names new CEO: Jack Murphy, co-founder of Fresh Fields

Fairway Group Holdings Corp. has named Jack Murphy, a seasoned retail executive with strong experience in specialty food retailing, as its chief executive officer. Murphy was a co-founder of natural foods grocer Fresh Fields Inc. before it was sold to Whole Foods Inc., and most recently he served as CEO of Earth Fare Inc., an organics and natural food chain with locations in the Southeast and Midwest.

"We believe that Jack brings very strong leadership to Fairway and possesses highly relevant marketing and merchandising skills that are complementary to our organization," Charles Santoro, chairman of Fairway Market, said in a press release. "Jack has developed and implemented business strategies for unique and highly differentiated brands, and brings great enthusiasm, perspective and leadership to the company."

"I am very excited to lead this iconic food retailer, known for its longstanding and unwavering commitment to providing a huge selection of high-quality foods at great values to its millions of customers," Murphy said in the release. "Fairway Market is a true industry leader in innovative and exciting foods of all types. I'm honored to join this very special retail company and look forward to working with the entire Fairway Market team."

In addition to co-founding and serving as chief operating officer of Fresh Fields and as CEO of Earth Fare, Murphy was an operating partner at McCown Deleeuw & Co., a private equity firm that owned the 24 Hour Fitness chain, as well as vice president of operations at Purity Supreme Supermarkets.

Bill Sanford, who was appointed interim CEO in February while the company undertook a search for a new CEO, has decided to leave the company to pursue other interests. Sanford joined the company in 2008 as chief administrative officer and then served as chief financial officer and president before becoming interim CEO.

"Bill has made significant contributions as a member of Fairway's management team for the last six years, and we greatly appreciate his leadership and commitment throughout his time at Fairway," Santoro said.

AALPUM to hold second grape symposium

The Asociación Agricola Local de Productores de Uva de Mesa, known commonly by the acronym AALPUM, announced that it will hold its second International Table Grape Symposium Feb. 5-6 in Hermosillo, Sonora, Mexico.

The organization said it hopes to improve on the quality and impact of the first event, which was held in January 2013. The event will cover a variety of topics suggested by producers, researchers and technical advisers, including best practices for producing early crops. In all, 18 presentations are planned for the two-day event.

Sonora is the largest production area for table grapes in Mexico, and product is primarily intended for the export market. As such, farmers there have a particular focus on quality and sustainability.

For more information or to register for the symposium, log on to www.simposium.aalpum.org.