QPMA convention unites members around ‘A Healthy Industry, a Shared Responsibility’

QUEBEC CITY — With the theme “A Healthy Industry, a Shared Responsibility,” the Quebec Produce Marketing Association held its 68th annual convention Aug. 20-22 at the Fairmont Le Château Frontenac, here.

Convention delegates found a unique and enriching convention waiting for them, starting with a warm personal welcome from 2014-15 QPMA board president Sammy Cacciatore of Sun Grape Marketing and convention chairman Patrice Alain of Metro, followed by three days of networking, conferences, meetings and special themed evenings.

A new year — and new faces

The annual general meeting of the QPMA membership included election of a new board of directors and appointment of officers. Roland Lafont of Vergers Saint-Paul is now QPMA second vice president, while Pascal Guérin of JAG - Les Jardins A. Guérin et fils was elected to the board, representing the Growers-Packers-Processors-Shippers sector. Marie Gosselin of Mûr conseil joined the ranks of QPMA governors.

The event was also an opportunity for outgoing board president Sammy Cacciatore to thank his fellow board members for their active support during the past year.

“Each of you, each of us, shares the responsibility of fulfilling the QPMA mission, each according to our abilities and talents,” Cacciatore said. “And ours is certainly a healthy association, when you think of all the terrific projects the QPMA continues to deliver.”

The annual QPMA activities report was presented by Gosselin, one of the association’s acting directors while CEO Sophie Perreault is on maternity leave.

Guest speakers deliver the goods

Among the opportunities for convention-goers this year was a stimulating conference on the issues involving e-commerce in the produce industry led by Jacques Nantel, head of the marketing education department and director of programs at HEC Montréal. Nantel’s talk provided a major overview of new trends in e-commerce and their impact on consumer behavior patterns.

A session entitled “Stress on the Job,” was presented by Sonia Lupien, who explained to her audience what stress really is and how to better understand and cope with their own stress-related reactions. Lupien also offered some practical, down-to-earth tools to help control our responses to stress in real life.

Later, at the industry brunch, Julie DesGroseilliers, nutritionist, consultant and official spokesperson for the QPMA “I love 5 to 10 Servings a Day” campaign since day one, announced the campaign’s latest and greatest spinoffs – plus names of the participants and winners in the 10th annual “I Love” contest. 

Last, but by no means least, Senegal-born humorist Boucar Diouf led the audience on a cross-culture food odyssey, “The Migration of Fruits and Vegetables.” Diouf, a former peanut farmer, charmed QPMA attendees with a presentation that featured tales from his own fascinating life.

A fun-filled convention for all

On Friday morning, participants had three activities from which to choose. Sports-minded convention-goers ignored overcast skies to take part in the morning’s “Quebec Fit & Fun” program, starting with a group warm-up and followed by a fitness-focused tour around Quebec City. QPMA epicures opted for “Workshops & Flavours,” a wine-tasting adventure featuring advice from professional sommeliers, a tapas buffet and a chance to create their own original cocktails. Food lovers, meanwhile, went on an excursion to the Île d’Orleans, where they savored the island’s unique charms, including a guided tour of local food delights.

On Thursday night, the Muse de l’Amérique Francophone chapel, which was deconsecrated in 1992, opened its doors wide to help guests celebrate the grand opening night of the convention. The chapel’s otherworldly atmosphere, enhanced by a capella vocal music and original arrangements by the group Qw4rtz, was the perfect setting to get convention goers in the groove.

On Friday evening, guests donned black and white for a James Bond-themed “007 Night” of elegance, action, martinis, gadgets and romance “from Quebec City with love.” During the evening, guests gave their best in tackling a series of mysteries posed by the emcee, or played secret agent in the video booth. Later on, they lit up the dance floor to music delivered by DJ Yo-C with backup by the talented Valérie Daure.

At the Saturday night banquet, guest of honor was Sebastian Proulx, MLA (Jean-Talon), appearing on behalf of the Quebec minister of agriculture, fisheries and food, Pierre Paradis. It was a memorable evening, led with spirit and flair by moderator Alexandra Diaz.

On this occasion, Alain Paré of Metro was honored as the 2015 Pillar of the Industry in Quebec for his distinguished professional career and personal qualities that have contributed to the advancement of the produce industry.

Next, Stephan Schmekel of Fresh Del Monte Produce (Canada) proudly accepted the QPMA board presidency for 2015-16, with “Building the Future” as his special theme in the year ahead. In his acceptance speech, Schmekel made a special appeal to young people in the produce industry.

“I’m proud to see that our association is positioned for renewal, thanks to the contributions of young men and women who are just as enthusiastically committed as all the rest of us,” Schmekel said in his address. “Those who know me personally are well aware of the importance I place on the next generation. So I’d like to take this opportunity to put out a message: If you’re young, please, get involved, because you are our industry’s future. Show how much you care, show how much better you can do it all. The more involved you get in this industry, the more you’ll get back in return.”

The evening concluded on a different note, ranging from humorous to hilarious, in a show by comedian Rachid Badoury.

Members in the spotlight

For a fourth consecutive year, the QPMA carried on its commitment to young produce industry talent in the “Cultivating the Next Generation” program, with the selection of a new intern who will have the opportunity to work for a full year inside the association.

In a frank and sincere speech, the third intern, Pierre Jr. Landry of Sobeys Québec, shared an account of his experience working with the QPMA over the past 12 months, before passing the torch to his successor.  The recruit chosen by the selection committee, Julie Lefort of Serres Lefort, is the first woman to take part in the internship program.

This year the 10th annual “I Love” contest broke all previous records with 278 participants. This year’s lucky winners, chosen in a random draw, are:

  • Email Signature category: Nick Pitsikoulis of Canadawide
  • Websites and Social Media category: Les Producteurs de pommes du Québec (Quebec Apple Growers)
  • Projects with Major Impact category: Pommes Ma-gic Apples

To mark the 10th anniversary of the contest, a special “10 Years” category was created, open to any and all companies that had taken part in the contest over the last 10 years. The winning company drawn at random was Sun Grape Marketing.

At this year’s convention the QPMA once again gave members an opportunity to spotlight their latest developments in the fourth annual New Products Showcase. This year, 22 companies took advantage of the unique opportunity.

A&P requests $5 million for execs, key management

Days after sending WARN layoff notices to more than 22,000 employees, The Great Atlantic & Pacific Tea Co. filed paperwork in hopes of using $5 million to retain 495 executives and key management employees — less than 2 percent of the overall workforce. Nearly $1 million of the funds would be divided between just 11 employees. The request was filed with the U.S. Bankruptcy Court, Southern District of New York.AP

Averaging losses of $4.5 million a month, A&P said its "wind down and ultimate closure is not a secret, and the longterm employment uncertainty has understandably caused much concern and consternation among [its] employees." Since it filed bankruptcy in mid-July, 54 "valuable employees" have been lost due to voluntary resignations. 

The company went on to say "employees are resigning at an escalating rate," including its chief operating officer, the vice president of human resources and labor relations, the director of deli and bakery, and numerous store managers and district managers.

Of the $5 million, the average payment for corporate-level employees would be $25,000, with field-level employees averaging $7,000. Eleven employees would receive more than $50,000, including two unnamed individuals who would get $125,000 each. The retention payments range from 4 percent to 63 percent of each employee's annual base salary.

Currently, A&P and unions are at odds over the reduction and possible elimination of severance payments and job payments, and Christopher W. McGarry, A&P's chief restructuring officer, said it was not feasible to include union employees in the retention plan. He noted that they are "incentivized to remain with [A&P] and perform well to increase their chances of continued employment" if another company purchases the store.

Initially upon filing for bankruptcy protection the company said it would only sell about 120 stores and close an additional 25; however, since that time A&P has started to look for bidders for its remaining 153 stores. In its request, A&P said the loss of key employees was a distraction that could undermine the sale of its assets and its ability to maximize value and preserve jobs to the detriment of all stakeholders.

Mission Produce sends first-ever shipment of Peruvian avocados to China


Mission Produce Inc. in Oxnard, CA, has exported the first-ever container of fresh avocados from Peru to China. The load was grown on Mission-owned ranches in Peru, and packed at Mission’s Avocado Packing facility in Chao, Peru.

This first shipment left the port of Paita, Peru, and will arrive at the Chinese port of Shanghai, China, by mid-September. According to Peru’s Ministry of Agriculture & Irrigation, known as MINAGRI, significant export volumes are planned to China’s market of 1.4 billion potential consumers.

“China represents an important market for Peruvian avocados, so we welcome the fact that the MINAGRI, through the National Service of Agrarian Health (SENASA), has made efforts necessary to gain entrance for Peruvian fruit,” Simon Gonzalez, general manager of Mission’s Avocado Packing Co., said in a press release.  

Peru has large areas dedicated to avocado production along the coast in the region of La Libertad. Mission’s ranches include Arato, near Chao, and Beggie, near Viru, which are part of the total production of approximately 10,000 hectares, 8,000 of which are certified by SENASA.

“We are very pleased with the efforts of everyone involved in Peru to make this happen -- from our growers, to packing and logistics, to the Peruvian governmental agencies that helped make this a reality,” Steve Barnard, chief executive officer of Mission, said in the press release.

According to Tommy Padilla, Mission’s Asia sales manager, “It is a big step for China to open the protocol for Peruvian fruit because this gives China a true, year-round supply to complement other avocado sources during the season. Mission is fortunate to have a trusted partner in China that matches our values and philosophy of doing business. They reach the various marketing channels in China including supermarkets, fruit stands, push carts, farmer’s markets and small wet markets in all regions in China, not just the big cities of Beijing and Shanghai.”

In order to meet the challenge of growing the avocado business in China, Mission turned to Lantao and its CEO, John Wang.

“The Lantao team is from mainland China, so we understand the consumer market in China better than anyone in the fruit import business,” Wang in the press release. “Our team came up with a comprehensive plan to reach the various marketing channels including using point-of-purchase materials and an e-commerce platform on WeChat to help educate the consumers on the uses of avocados. Because Lantao is distributing fruit from our seven regional offices, we are doing a great job covering the first tier, second tier and even third tier cities in China.”

Lantao is the largest importer and distributor of premium fresh fruit from around the world into China. Its distribution locations include Shanghai, Beijing, Guangzhou, Zhengzhou, Herbing, Shenyang and Qingdao.

Mission recently completed construction on new packing facilities in Oxnard, CA, and in Chao, Peru. In addition to California and Peru, the company has operations in Mexico, Chile, Canada and the Netherlands, as well as eight value-added ripe centers across North America. Over the past 30 years, Mission has grown to become a leader in the worldwide avocado industry.

United Fresh defends benefits of school nutrition policy in wake of latest study

WASHINGTON — One month before Congress must act to reauthorize school nutrition standards, the United Fresh Produce Association defended government policies to increase fresh fruits and vegetables after a new study raised questions about consumption and plate waste.

The University of Vermont study, which was released Aug. 25, used digital imaging to capture students’ lunch trays before and after they exited the lunch line, and compared results before and after the U.S. Department of Agriculture rules went into effect.

Researchers found school children consuming slightly less of fruits and vegetables, despite the new offerings.

But United Fresh said plenty of studies have shown the benefits of offering a wide variety of fruits and vegetables in schools and the role of fresh produce in battling rising obesity rates.

Last January, the Gretchen Swan Center of Nutrition evaluated the current salad bar program and found that 57 percent of schools reported an increase in student participation in school lunch where salad bars are available, said Robert Guenther, senior vice president of public policy for United Fresh.

Another study at the University of Arkansas found USDA’s Fresh Fruit & Vegetable Program has been an effective tool in reducing obesity rates in children compared to schools that do not have the FFVP program. 

“The bottom line is there are a number of factors that contribute to a student’s lunch experience and what can be associated to their eating patterns,” Guenther said. “More important, the fresh fruit and vegetable industry continues to be committed to working with their school nutrition partners across the country to provide students the best possible options for a healthy and delicious meal during school.”

The latest study comes as the Senate Agriculture Committee Chairman Pat Roberts (R-KS) has scheduled a Sept. 17 markup of bipartisan legislation reauthorizing the child nutrition programs. The current law, the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010, is due for reauthorization by Sept. 30, 2015, leaving Congress few legislative days to get the job done.

Dole execs' $148M fraud penalty 'conservative'

David H. Murdock, Dole Food Co. Inc.'s chief executive officer, and C. Michael Carter, former president and chief operating officer, have been ordered to pay shareholders more than $148 million for efforts to drive down the market price as well as fraud during the negotiations for Murdock's 2013 buyout of the company.

"Although facially large, the award is conservative relative to what the evidence could support," Vice Chancellor J. Travis Laster said in the decision.

In November 2013 Murdock paid $13.50 per share to acquire the 60 percent of the common stock of Dole that he did not already own; however, Laster said a fair value for the plaintiffs — former stockholders — was $16.24 per share, "significantly less than the maximum of $20.34 per share [the court] could have supported."

Murdock and Carter deprived the committee of the board of the ability to negotiate on a fully informed basis and potentially say no to the buyout. Likewise, the pair deprived the stockholders of their ability to consider the buyout on a fully informed basis and potentially vote it down.

"Murdock and Carter‘s conduct throughout the committee process, as well as their credibility problems at trial, demonstrated that their actions were not innocent or inadvertent, but rather intentional and in bad faith," Laster said.