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USDA restricts PACA violators in seven states

The U.S. Department of Agriculture has imposed sanctions on seven produce businesses for failure to pay reparation awards issued under the Perishable Agricultural Commodities Act. The USDA announced the PACA sanctions Nov. 24.

The following businesses and individuals are currently restricted from operating in the produce industry:

  • Hong Phat Produce Inc., operating out of Portland, OR, for failing to pay a $62,233 award in favor of a California seller.  As of the issuance date of the reparation order, Que Mai Dinh was listed as the officer, director and major stockholder of the business.

  • Melonhead LLC, operating out of Boulder, CO, for failing to pay a $44,366 award in favor of a Colorado seller.  As of the issuance date of the reparation order, Michael S. Joseph was listed as a member of the business.

  • Hector Avila, doing business as Cal Fruit Co., operating out of Chula Vista, CA, for failing to pay a $43,717 award in favor of a Washington seller.  As of the issuance date of the reparation order, was listed as the sole proprietor of the business.

  • Mega Fresh LLC, operating out of Branford, CT, for failing to pay a $28,438 award in favor of a Florida seller. As of the issuance date of the reparation order, Gary L. Connolly was listed as a member of the business.

  • American Hydroponics Inc., operating out of Hopkinton, MA, for failing to pay a $10,162 award in favor of a Florida seller.  As of the issuance date of the reparation order, Jeffrey H. Barton and Phillip J. Todaro were listed as the officers, directors, and/or major stockholders of the business.

  • Alfred Huebinger, doing business as Cowboy Sales, operating out of Edinburg, TX, for failing to pay a $5,534 award in favor of an Idaho seller.  As of the issuance date of the reparation order, Huebinger was listed as the sole proprietor of the business.

  • August Battaglia, doing business as QMP Sales, operating out of Westmont, IL, for failing to pay a $3,080 award in favor of a Florida seller.  As of the issuance date of the reparation order, Battaglia was listed as the sole proprietor of the business.

In the past three years, the USDA resolved approximately 3,700 PACA claims involving more than $66 million. Its experts also assisted more than 7,100 callers with issues valued at approximately $100 million.

First lady joined by celebrities, new partners in support of #TeamFNV

FNV, a cutting-edge brand focused on increasing consumption and sales of fruits and vegetables among teens and moms, on Nov. 20 brought together celebrities, companies, athletes and social media superstars at the Ted Constant Convocation Center on the Old Dominion University Campus in Norfolk, VA, for FNV Live, a one-of-a-kind celebration of fruits and veggies.

The event featured live musical performances by Estelle, Jordin Sparks and Ashanti; stunts and challenges led by some of the nation’s top social media creators, including Paul Rabil and the Cowie Sisters; local celebrities, including radio personalities Shaggy and Dominique, and up-and-coming musician Jackson Breit; and remarks from Jessica Alba, Gabrielle Union and first lady Michelle Obama, who officially joined Team FNV, all in an effort to get local teens excited about fruits and vegetables.

“I love it that FNV is about making fruits and vegetables fun,” said singer and actress Jordin Sparks. “Anything I can do to make people aware of their daily food choices in a fun way, I’m all for. Especially now that I have a niece, it’s opened my eyes open even more to the importance of eating fruits and veggies.”

Two new FNV partners also were announced Nov. 20: Anthem Blue Cross & Blue Shield and Spartan Race, a leading obstacle race company. They join Team FNV’s founding members, which include Avocados From Mexico, Bolthouse Farms, the Honest Company, Produce Marketing Association, Produce for Better Health, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, sweetgreen, Victors & Spoils and WWE.

Event sponsors included Anthem Blue Cross & Blue Shield, Avocados From Mexico, Sunsweet Growers, Aquafina and Garmin.

“FNV is all about getting people excited about fruits and vegetables in a whole new way,” Lawrence A. Soler, PHA chief executive officer, said in a press release. “Thanks to the members of Team FNV, demand for fruits and vegetables is on the rise and this is only the beginning.”

Led by the Partnership for a Healthier America and a collaboration of companies, celebrities, athletes and foundations, FNV uses disruptive marketing, bold creative and a no-holds barred attitude to give fruits and veggies the attention they rightfully deserve. Since launching in Norfolk this past June, FNV has inundated a select number of local markets, spreading the word through television commercials, radio ads, billboards, bus-wraps, in-store advertising, community activations and more.

NatureSweet unveils limited-edition winter packaging

NatureSweet, a leading grower of branded premium tomatoes, has revealed its limited-edition seasonal packaging featuring a cheerful snowflake pattern and festive gold foil labels for Cherubs, Glorys and SunBursts

The San Antonio, TX-based company’s greenhouse-growing practices enable tomatoes to be cultivated and hand picked year-round, ensuring premium freshness and consistently superior taste even in the winter months.

All NatureSweet tomatoes start with using the best seeds. From there, they are brought to the perfect climate in the company’s greenhouses. Associates coax vines from seed, graft them onto strong rootstock and cultivate vine-ripened tomatoes until they are ready to be hand picked.

Prior to being placed in NatureSweet’s iconic packaging, all tomatoes are Brix-tested for sweetness and are shipped in temperature-controlled trucks. This constant attention to detail at every stage of the growing process helps NatureSweet control quality so consumers can enjoy delicious tomatoes in December just as easily as they can in July.

“The secret to our growing success is simple,” Mike Joergensen, vice president of marketing, said in a press release. “We take great care of our tomatoes from seed to shelf. This is how we’re able to consistently offer the best-tasting tomatoes in the world, every day all year round. We hope that our consumers revel in the spirit of the season with our tomatoes gracing their tables, whether it’s set for a special family gathering or a simple meal on a cold winter night.”

The winter packaging promotion runs through Dec. 18. Colorful three-case shipper displays and mini pallet wraps sporting a festive, seasonal look will be sent to retailers ordering these tomatoes. POS cards and recipe tear pads will also be included to catch the eye and encourage shoppers to add NatureSweet tomatoes to their seasonal menus.

Stemilt takes the Windy City by storm at BlogHer Food 2015

Family-owned-and-operated Stemilt Growers hosted a special breakfast event Nov. 6 at the BlogHer Food annual food blogging conference. Stemilt’s breakfast event was attended by 25 top food bloggers who often feature fresh fruit on their blogs through recipe creation.2015-9-25-Miky-Marina-and-Pope

During the private breakfast event, Merchandising Manager Jocelyn Gerard educated bloggers on Stemilt’s history, the company’s ongoing mission to grow world famous fruit and its four proprietary products: Fresh Blenders, Lil Snappers, Skylar Rae Cherries and Piñata Apples.

Gerard conducted a comprehensive apple taste test, which showcased varieties such as Gala, Honeycrisp, Piñata, Pink Lady and SweeTango. Following the taste test, she prepared Stemilt’s signature Simple ABC Smoothie, featuring Tart Fresh Blenders for guests to enjoy.

“This was our first time at BlogHer Food, and we were very impressed by the caliber of media who traveled from all over the country to come to the event, all for the love of great food,” Roger Pepperl, Stemilt’s director of marketing, said in a press release. “We love that we were able to show the attendees a bit of our Pacific Northwest apple traditions. Our Piñata apples were the biggest hit with the bloggers, who admired the profile of the apple for its culinary distinctiveness. We are looking forward to growing relationships with some of the top bloggers in the food industry who attended our event.”

Among the national food bloggers at Stemilt’s BlogHer Food event were Lauren Allen of Tastes Better from Scratch, Jen Rattie of My Crafty Life, Echo Blickenstff of Favorite Family Recipes and many more. Following the event, a number of the bloggers expressed interest in working with Stemilt’s apples and pears for their upcoming holiday recipes, showcasing Stemilt as a go-to resource for culinary and quality fruit this season.

BlogHer Food also gave Stemilt the opportunity to tout Lil Snappers, Stemilt’s kid-sized fruit, and Fresh Blenders, Stemilt’s packaged apples, which are great for juicing and blending. Bloggers were enthusiastic to learn more about Lil Snappers and Fresh Blenders and were excited to hear about its convenience factors. Many of the parenting and mom bloggers were quick to inquire about the products, proving a demand for Stemilt’s proprietary products that will only increase across the country as Fresh Blenders and Lil Snappers grow in popularity.

Brookshire ends potential $1B sale

brookehiLast month Brookshire Grocery Co., a Texas-based retailer that operates 152 stores, confirmed that it was looking into a potential sale. The Dallas Morning News said a deal could have been worth more than $1 billion, but on Monday, Nov. 23, the company announced that it was terminating the process of exploring a potential sale.

"The company will continue to provide a great food and shopping experience for its customers and will have no further comment on this matter,” the company said in a press release.

Brookshire Grocery operates in three states — Texas, Louisiana and Arkansas — with three distribution centers and five manufacturing facilities. The company has been in operation since 1928.