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Organic Trade Association: all over the world and back

At two Organic Trade Association-sponsored seminars in Japan in late 2014, more than 100 of that country’s top grocery retail food importers and distributors learned that athletes competing in the 2020 Summer Olympics in Tokyo will be eating organic. The OTA stated that this is the ambitious plan of Taka Yamaguchi, executive officer of Organic Japan.

Yamaguchi was part of a roster of agricultural, organic and food industry experts and policy officials that took part in the two capacity-filled OTA programs that brought industry and government leaders together in Tokyo and Osaka to learn about the range and quality of U.S. organic products. The meetings were also an attempt for the OTA to “get up to speed” on a bilateral trade deal that will help feed Japan's growing appetite for organic.

With a grant for $784,902 from the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Market Access Program to promote U.S. organic products abroad in 2015, OTA is gearing up a far-reaching strategy for 2015 that will include more organic promotional and education programs in Japan and around the globe.

“Exports are increasingly important to U.S. producers and handlers,” Laura Batcha, chief executive officer and executive director of the OTA, said in a press release. “The organic industry is invested in building the relationships and U.S. organic brand awareness required for long-term export growth. The industry is poised to fully utilize the much-welcomed grant assistance from USDA provided through its Market Access Program."

OTA will return to Japan in November 2015 where it will conduct targeted promotion of organic products to consumers and continue to build relationships with retailers and visionaries like Yamaguchi.

Beyond Japan, the OTA will also be busy leading a contingent of more than a dozen U.S. organic suppliers attending the BioFach World Organic Trade Fair in Nuremburg, Germany, the world's leading organic food trade show. OTA will showcase U.S. organic products in its large space within the USA Pavilion and will lead a session on the important U.S.-EU organic equivalency arrangement.

In Seoul, South Korea, OTA will participate in the Seoul Food & Beverage show. South Korea and the United States signed an organic equivalency arrangement in July 2014, and demand for organic in the prosperous Asian country has never been higher.

In Cologne, Germany, OTA and representatives of the U.S. organic industry will have a highly visible presence at the preeminent Anuga food show, the largest food show in the world. More than 150,000 buyers from almost 200 countries attend the huge event, making it one of the most critical and potentially profitable shows for the U.S. organic industry to attend.

In Anaheim, CA, at Natural Products Expo West, one of the biggest trade shows in the United States, OTA will bring stateside more than 20 organic food buyers from Asia and Southeast Asia, South America and Central America, Europe and Canada to talk business with U.S. organic suppliers.

In cities across Europe, OTA will be coordinating a large-scale promotion effort, with the focus on retailers to increase the awareness of the range, quality and consistency of U.S. organic products available for import.

A recent OTA survey of the U.S. organic industry shows a growing number of organic stakeholders involved in the export market — just over 60 percent of respondents surveyed last year said they export all or some of their organic products with an additional 20 percent reporting that they plan to get into the international arena.

The press release also stated that demand for organics in the United States has been booming, with sales in 2013 hitting a new record of $35.1 billion. Demand for organic around the world has been exploding as well, and U.S. organic exports in 2013 reached a new high of $537 million, up more than 20 percent from the previous year.

Hunts Point in negotiations to thwart Jan. 16 strike

Union workers at Hunts Point Terminal Market say workers who handle fruits and vegetables at the market, located in South Bronx, NY, have voted to authorize a strike as the deadline for a new contract looms closer, according to a report by ABC affiliate WABC-TV New York.

The strike is scheduled to start on Friday morning, Jan. 16, just as the bell strikes past midnight.

Members of Teamsters Local 202 voted overwhelmingly to authorize a strike Tuesday, Jan. 13, stopping work at the market as soon as Friday morning.

According to the report, the union said the main issues of contention are the amounts of wage increases and employees' health care costs.

Workers, who make an average of $44,000 a year, are asking for a raise that works out to an extra $25 a week. Management has countered with an increase of $16 a week. Contributions to health insurance are another union issue.

It is suggested that the teamsters union specifically chose Jan. 16 as the strike date, knowing well the working methodology of produce movement at Hunts Point, where dozens of long-standing produce distributors have held space for numerous generations.

Friday is typically the busiest day at the market, with customers needing to fill their shelves and dining tables for the weekend. But this is a particularly important weekend in that Monday, Jan. 19, is Martin Luther King Jr. Day, a national holiday during which the terminal market is closed.

The combination of this long holiday weekend, and the potential of hundreds of workers not showing up tomorrow morning to move produce, could result in some fresh but old produce still sitting on the docks on Tuesday morning.

It is also mentionable that companies located on Hunts Point Terminal Market are a highly resilient group. If the teamsters do strike, we’ll likely see a lot of company officials driving fork lifts and loading produce to get the job done, and done right, on Friday morning.

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.

Price Chopper campaign raises $47,000 and 29 tons of food

Price Chopper’s 2014 Check Out Hunger campaign, an annual giving program that was available at all 134 store locations, raised more than $47,000 and 29 tons of food for 12 local food banks and their affiliated kitchens and pantries in the chain’s six-state footprint: Connecticut, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New York, Pennsylvania and Vermont. 

“Our annual Check Out Hunger campaign helps to raise funds, food and awareness that hunger is a year-round issue for so many in our communities," Mona Golub, vice president of public relations and consumer services, said in a press release. "Traditionally, the start of the year is a tough time for food pantries that worked so hard to provide for those in need throughout the holiday season. We appreciate and acknowledge our teammates and customers who continue to generously answer the call to contribute and help their neighbors.”

From mid-November to mid-December, Check Out Hunger gave shoppers the opportunity to add a small monetary donation to their bill (bringing the total to the next whole dollar amount) through the Round Up Your Change program and/or purchase a set-price Food Package, a $5, $10 or $15 selection of pantry essentials.

The donations of cases of food and checks are being delivered to and picked up by area food banks and pantries, including the H&J Weinberg Food Bank (Wilkes-Barre, PA), Connecticut Food Bank (East Haven, CT), Food Bank of Central New York (Syracuse, NY), The Food Bank of the Hudson Valley (Cornwall on Hudson, NY), Food Bank of the Southern Tier (Elmira, NY), Food Bank of Western Massachusetts (Hatfield, MA), Foodshare (Bloomfield, CT), Hopkinton Food Pantry (Hopkinton, MA), Marlborough Community Cupboard (Marlborough, MA), New Hampshire Food Bank (Manchester, NH), Regional Food Bank of Northeastern New York (Latham, NY), Second Harvest Food Bank of the Lehigh Valley and Northeast PA (Allentown, PA), Vermont Foodbank (Brattleboro, VT) and Worcester County Food Bank (Shrewsbury, MA.)

 

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.