Longtime Sobeys leaders retire

Brothers David F. Sobey and Donald C. R. Sobey have announced their retirement from the boards of Sobeys Inc. and parent company Empire Co. Ltd., respectively. Each held the position of chair emeritus. Both have served on Empire's board of directors since 1963.

“No two individuals have played more significant roles in the growth and development of Empire and Sobeys than David and Donald Sobey,” Rob Dexter, chair of Empire Co. Ltd., said in a press release “For more than half a century, their contributions — both within the leadership of Empire and Sobeys as well as at the board level — have transformed these companies, facilitating their emergence and subsequent growth on the national stage."

David Sobey was introduced to the grocery business at an early age, honing his skills and knowledge working virtually every job there was in the family’s ever-expanding business, including store manager.  His career took him into increasingly senior leadership roles, including serving as chairman and chief executive officer of Sobeys from 1986 to 1995 and chairman from 1995 to 2001. When he retired in 2001, he was appointed chair emeritus by Sobeys Inc.’s board of directors. He was appointed to the Order of Canada in 1995

After graduating from Queen’s University in 1957, Donald Sobey joined his father and brothers in the family business; first in real estate financing for the rapidly expanding Sobeys grocery business and then with the fledgling Empire Co. Ltd., which had been set up to diversify the family’s business interests. He was appointed president of Empire in 1969 and chairman in 1985. When he retired in 2004, he was appointed chair emeritus by Empire’s board of directors. He was appointed to the Order of Canada in 2014.

“The Sobey family continues to be well represented by other generations on the board of directors, including some of David and Donald’s children,” Dexter said in the release. “As major shareholders, I know that both David and Donald will continue to remain engaged and very well informed on the strategic direction and decisions of the company.”

FPFC honors industry veterans at Expo

Dennis Gertmenian, the retired founder of Ready Pac Produce, was given the Norman H. (Buz) Bolstad Produce Award by the Fresh Produce & Floral Council at its Southern California Produce Expo on July 15. The companion Floral Achievement Award was presented to Marsha Oka-Holmes of Westland Floral in Carpinteria, CA.

The produce industry’s oldest regional trade show was held at the Disneyland Hotel Convention Center in Anaheim, CA. More than 200 firms exhibited at the show, which attracted more than 2,000 attendees with a very robust walk-up registration.DSC 0351Soccer star Landon Donovan and sports sideline reporter Kelliu Tennant were the featured speakers at the FPFC Expo. Click here for more photos of the event.

Landon Donovan, the recently retired U.S. soccer star, was the featured speaker. He talked about his career in a question and answer format with sports sideline reporter Kelli Tennant. Donovan entertained the crowd with anecdotes from his playing days but also discussed the valuable lessons he learned about life along the way. In 2014, he was left off the U.S. World Cup team by a coach carrying a grudge. Though he was deeply disappointed, Donovan said it taught him a lesson of humility and compassion that he never would have learned had he been picked.

Gertmenian, who is largely credited with launching the fresh cut salad industry in a bathtub about 30 years ago, was presented the award by last year’s winner Kent Kuwata of Smart & Final. Kuwata cited Gertmenian’s service to the industry, including his willingness to always give back and having one of the most generous open-wallet policies in the industry. The most recent example of that is his sponsorship of the FPFC Apprentice Program. Entering its second year, Gertmenian has personally been the sole sponsor of the program, underwriting the entire cost because he is a big believer in industry training efforts. With his turn at the podium, Gertmenian said he is very proud of the FPFC and how it has grown over the years. He also thanked the many mentors that helped him during his long career.

As the 2014 floral award winner, Alice Grazziani of Gelson’s presented Oka-Holmes with her award. She noted that the longtime industry veteran, who has worked for a handful of companies over the years, “is known as dedicated, hard-working and kind…the first to arrive and the last to leave.”

“I am so honored,” said Oka-Holmes. “But there are so many people in the room more deserving than me.”

Albertson’s dominated the FPFC Floral Design Contest, which is held in conjunction with the Expo. Dozens of contestants are given identical baskets of floral products and are required to create a design within a short time frame. Albertson’s designers took four of the six spots in thew two categories.

In Level A, which is for designers with four or more years of experience, the top three slots went to: 1st Place: Nicholas St. Clare, Albertsons; 2nd Place: Veronica Alvarez, Gelson’s Markets; and 3rd Place: Gene Dicaro, Gelson’s Markets. In Level B, which was for three or less years of experience, the winners were: 1st Place: Priscilla Moreno, Albertsons; 2nd Place: AshMarie Pardue, Albertsons/Vons; and 3rd Place: Robyn Turner, Albertsons.

While the FPFC does invite attendees to take home free samples after the Expo, the association also works with the Orange County Food Bank to donate leftover display produce to that organization. Kristin Kvesic, who is donated food program manager for the charitable organization, reported that 10,682 pounds of flowers and produce were collected and distributed to Orange County residents.

Allegiance Retail Services holds annual food show

EDISON, NJ — Allegiance Retail Services LLC held its annual Holiday Food Show Thursday, July 16, at the New Jersey Convention & Exposition Center, here, with fresh produce companies extremely well represented. allegiance2502Steve Margulis, Bob Gould and Tim Umscheid of C&S Wholesale Grocers with Vic Savanello, director of produce and floral at Allegiance Retail Services LLC.

At this year's show there were 275 vendors "representing every department in the store," said Vic Savanello, director of produce and floral at Allegiance, a retailer-owner cooperative headquartered in Iselin, NJ. "And there's a very big produce representation. And all our members attend under all the different banners."

In addition to all the vendors, about 500 people were expected to attend the show.

AgTech Summit shows future of agriculture

From drones mapping tens of thousands of acres to a personal in-home eco-system, technology advances for the agriculture industry were celebrated at The AgTech Summit, held in Salinas, CA, July 8, as part of the Forbes Reinventing America series. Western Growers was a major sponsor of the event.

One of the highlights of the day was the winner of the year-long Thrive Accelerator Program, developed by SVG Partners in conjunction with Forbes, Verizon and Western Groves.DSC 0336Western Growers Chairman of the Board Vic Smith of JV Smith Cos. giving the Forbes Innovation Award to Brian Antle of Tanimura & Antle at the recent AgTech Summit in Salinas. Launched in July of 2014, the Thrive Accelerator is a highly selective mentorship and investment program for technology-enabled startups working specifically in agriculture. Originally, there were close to three dozen firms submitting proposals, 10 were picked to move forward and team with ag industry mentors to help them develop their ideas into real-world products.

The overall winner was Nora Khaldi, founder and chief scientific officer of Nuritas in Dublin, Ireland. Nuritas scans food for peptides, which are pieces of proteins with potential health benefits, then isolates them. Nuritas uses these isolated peptides as ingredients in products that the firm claims can address issues such as aging and inflammation. Her technology offers alternative uses and markets for fresh fruits and vegetables and other agricultural products.

The Thrive Accelerator Sustainability award went to California Safe Soil, which has developed a process to use fresh produce shrink from the retail sector to develop a fertilizer-type product that is showing promise in greatly increasing plant vigor and yields. Founder Daniel Morash said the break-through technology creates a loop by recycling waste product into an input that he said increases yields by 25 percent in test plots. The firm is currently building facilities near Save Mart Supermarkets in California's San Joaquin Valley to capture the waste product from that retail chain. Morash said one store creates enough waste in one day to provide the material to treat one acre of farmland for one year.

Tom Nassif, president and chief executive officer of Western Growers, helped kick-off the day by participating in the opening panel, titled “The World’s Biggest Opportunity.” The panelists discussed how a generation of new technologies will revolutionize the way farming is done in the future. Nassif focused his remarks on the need for innovative solutions to the challenges facing the future of agriculture, in particular the increasing regulatory and market pressures to grow more with less.

“In the future, farming companies must continue to seek out and adopt new technologies that will allow them to increase yields while using less resources and inputs — such as water, labor, fertilizers and pesticides, and energy — and generating less waste,” said Nassif.

During the course of the summit events, two prominent produce industry members were honored with awards from Forbes. Bruce Taylor, founder and CEO of Taylor Farms, received the Forbes Impact Award in Leadership. Taylor was an early backer of the Thrive Accelerator program and has long advocated for more collaboration in the industry to address problems that can’t be solved by individual companies.

The Forbes Impact Award in Innovation went to Brian Antle, harvest manager for Tanimura & Antle. T&A is currently championing a better and more efficient way to plant vegetables using plant tape. The firm has used this innovation in its own operations and is currently testing it further to bring it to the commercial market by 2017.

While the event was held in Salinas and specialty crop production was highlighted by several speakers, it was fairly apparent that the agronomic crops and the huge farms that dot the Midwest tend to be the focus of research in the ag technology sector. The fresh produce industry will clearly benefit as these technologies are developed and adopted, but speaker after speaker spoke of mapping huge farms with drones and satellite images to more efficiently water and fertilize these thousands of acres. One speaker talked about a 70,000-acre lentil farm in Canada.

Many different companies have surfaced that use public mapping data from satellite images to help growers better manage their crops by more efficiently using resources and drilling down to sub-acre plots, even as small as five-meter plots.

Another topic of interest that surfaced several times during the day was biotechnology and other advances in plant breeding. Robert Fraley, the chief technology officer for Monsanto, discussed genetic engineering and similar advances that are helping to produce better varieties and crop protection tools that can solve a multitude of issues. Both he and Neal Gutterson, vice president of agricultural biotechnology at DuPont Pioneer, talked about technology that allows researchers to look into the micrbiomes of a plant. This allows plant breeders to study the genomes of a plant cell and be much more targeted in their approach.

One very interesting session featured Gabe Blanchet, the 24-year-old co-founder and CEO of Grove Labs, which is producing a bookcase-sized ecosystem that endeavors to put a green house in every home. The piece of furniture uses a fish tank and its byproducts to help provide nutrients for a mini greenhouse that he said can give consumers two to three robust bowls of salad per week. The company has already produced and sold the first 50 of these ecosystems in the Boston area. He expects to be in full production this fall with a price tag in the $2,000 range.

Venture capitalists were on several panels during the day discussing the type of technology and companies that are attractive to the investment community. In general, the comments indicated that ag technology and the food business have becoming an increasing popular play with the investment community. While the delivery of food to consumers — such as meal-oriented www.blueapron.com — is leading the way for investors, in-the-field technology is also garnering interest.

Mango display contest helps boost sales

The Defense Commissary Agency brightened its stores this season in a mango display contest sponsored by the National Mango Board. The NMB partnered with Bush’s Black Beans for this contest, using the theme “Mango and Black Bean Fiesta!” The contest received an impressive number of entries with over 150 participating stores, which reported a 32 percent increase in mango movement over the previous year.

The mango contest took place from May 4-17 and was open to the 179 DeCA stores in the United States and Puerto Rico.nbmaeThe Schofield Barracks Commissary was the DeCA Mango and Black Bean Display Contest winner for the Bands 10 to 14 category. The contest encouraged stores to build creative, eye-catching mango displays to engage and educate shoppers while moving mango volume.

A high-graphic mango bin was provided to use as the centerpiece of their displays. Point-of-sale materials were also provided to the stores, which incorporated mango cutting, selection and nutrition messages, plus easy recipe ideas for shoppers, including a mango and black bean salsa recipe. Stores were also able to use their own props and utilize their creativity to build the catchy displays.

Stores were divided into five groups based on store sales. Three winning stores in each group were awarded commissary gift cards that can be used as giveaways to shoppers. Although DeCA employees are not able to accept prizes, they are thrilled to receive these gift cards to help their local military families.

Entries were judged based on creativity, education, shopability and the presentation of both the mangos and Bush’s Black Beans in the display. “We value our relationship with DeCA and the great opportunity this contest provides to increase awareness of mangos. It helps inspire shoppers incorporate mangos in their dishes and educates them on how delicious and versatile this fruit is,” Rachel Muñoz, director of marketing at NMB, said in a press release. “This contest is such a great way to pump up mango sales and create excitement around mangos just in time for the summer months.”

Operated by the DeCA, commissaries provide groceries to military personnel, retirees and their families on military bases. Authorized customers purchase goods at cost plus a 5 percent surcharge, which covers the cost of maintaining and renovating commissaries. This enables military personnel to save an average of 30 percent or more on groceries when compared to commercial prices.