Washington apple growers embrace varietal access to China

The Washington apple industry will begin shipping fresh apples to China this season following the earlier announcement that full varietal access had been granted. Todd Fryhover, president of the Washington Apple Commission, provided The Produce News with his comments and insights about the effects the announcement will have upon the state's apple exports during the 2015-16 season.

With this being the first season during which the United States will have full varietal access in China, Fryhover estimates 5 million cartons of apples will be shipped from Washington.ExportOVThis season, Washington apple growers are expected to export 5 million boxes of fruit to China. (Photo courtesy of the Washington Apple Commission) “It’s very difficult to predict since the market has been closed for two years, and the grey market channel is very difficult to assess,” he commented. “My best guess in the past has been 2.5 million. This would be 80 percent of Hong Kong shipments plus China.”

Although Red Delicious, Gala and Granny Smith are the three primary varieties for Chinese export, Fryhover said, “I do expect to see interest in many other varieties due to the purchasing power of the rising middle class.”

Chinese exports were expected to begin mid-August, coinciding with the Gala harvest. “I would expect Gala shipments to continue until Southern Hemisphere arrivals in late March/early April,” he commented. “Red Delicious could continue to arrive in China until August, like it is this year.”

He summarized the benefits of full varietal access this way. “The largest benefit is in duty. With direct legal access, the cost of business decreases since the grey market channel is taken out of the equation and fixed duties, at much lower rates, kick in,” Fryhover stated. “This should decrease the overall cost of Washington apples to China and increase consumption. Of course, providing Chinese consumers ‘all varieties’ will support prices in every other market.”

Because the agreement as negotiated provides for two-way access, the U.S. market will be open to Chinese apples. “We believe import protocols and requirements negotiated will be followed, supported and monitored by the proper U.S. authorities and expect no health or pest issues,” Fryhover said.

A&P sends layoff notice to 22,000 in NY and NJ

More than 22,000 A&P employees in New York and New Jersey have been given notice that they could be out of work by Thanksgiving. AP

The Great Atlantic & Pacific Tea Co., which filed for chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in mid-July, alerted the state departments of labor of through its Worker Adjustment & Retraining Notification filings. The WARN Act requires businesses to provide all employees with notice 90 days prior to a plant closing, mass layoff, relocation or other covered reduction in work hours.

According to the New York filings, more than 13,000 A&P employees in the New York City area could lose their jobs: 3,174 in the Hudson Valley; 4,732 in Long Island; and 5,191 in New York City. 

Additionally, New Jersey filings show that roughly 9,400 A&P employees in that state could be out of work by Thanksgiving, according to NJ.com

Initially upon filing for bankruptcy protection the company said it would only sell about 120 stores and close an additional 25; however, last week the company said it was looking for bidders for its remaining 153 stores. 

While the deals aren’t final, there are three bidders for the initial 118 stores: Ahold's Stop & Shop division, ACME Markets and Key Food Stores Co-operative Inc. The deadline to submit a bid for one or more of the chain’s stores is Sept. 11 at 5 p.m.

Fresh Express launches new Chopped and Gourmet Cafe Kits

Fresh Express announced the addition of new and updated salad kits to meet continued growing demand for delicious healthier eating options. Both of brand's two new Gourmet Café Kits include Greek yogurt, as does one of its two new Chopped Kits. freshexp

"Today's consumers demand great-tasting and nutritious meals, often ones that can be made quickly on a busy weeknight," Robert Stallman, vice president of marketing and innovation at Fresh Express, said in a press release. "Capitalizing on the trend in which one in three people are eating Greek yogurt, three of the new Fresh Express products have dressings made with Greek yogurt [according to NPD Group, National Eating Trends, 2013]. By pairing a great-tasting lettuce base with Greek yogurt salad dressings, Fresh Express is able to provide consumers what they want — delicious and healthy eating options."

The new Bacon and Bleu with Greek Yogurt Dressing Chopped Kit comprises green cabbage, Romaine, red cabbage, carrots, green onion, bacon pieces, Greek yogurt and blue cheese dressing. The Sweet Kale Chopped Kit contains Kale, green cabbage, shredded broccoli, shredded Brussels sprouts, pumpkin seeds, dried cranberries and poppy seed dressing.

Fresh Express' new Santa Fe Greek with Greek Yogurt Jalapeño Ranch Dressing Gourmet Café Kit contains Romaine, double-grilled chicken, mild Cheddar cheese, Santa Fe Tortilla Strips, Greek yogurt and Jalapeño ranch dressing. The Mediterranean Greek with Greek Yogurt Kalamata Feta Dressing Café Kit contains an Italian lettuce blend, flatbread strips, crumbled Feta cheese, sundried tomatoes, Greek yogurt and Kalamata Feta dressing.


Veteran retailer Alain Paré honored at QPMA convention

QUEBEC CITY — Retail veteran Alain Paré was honored with a Pillar of the Industry in Quebec Award Aug. 22 during the closing banquet of the Quebec Produce Marketing Association’s 68th annual convention, held here in this historic city along the banks of the majestic St. Lawrence River.

Paré, with more than 40 years as a produce retailer in Canada, said he was not much of a student in school and in fact “barely squeaked through with a high school diploma,” but developed a passion for produce that made up for any academic shortfalls.6474Alain Paré (left) of Metro was presented the 2015 Pillar of the Industry Award by outgoing QPMA Chairman Sammy Cacciatore of Sun Grape Marketing during the 68th annual QPMA convention in Quebec City. (Photos by John Groh)

He began is produce career at age 15, working in Dominion as a way to help pay for his studies. At age 19, he decided to quit school and work full time at AVA, a Provigo banner.

“My father was very disappointed when I quit school -- so much for every parent’s fond dream of seeing their boy become a doctor or lawyer,” he said. “But I made a promise to my dad that I would work as hard as I possibly could, and make a real success of my career.”

With 21 AVA stores in the province of Quebec, “and mine right at the bottom in terms of performance,” Paré said he worked hard for eight months to bring the store to the level of top earner of the chain.

He said his dream of becoming a produce buyer was realized in 1987 when Provigo transferred him to Montreal and named him a senior buyer and right-hand man for Christian Bourbonniére, then director of purchasing.

“We had an all-star team: Christian as director, Pierre Dolbec, Fernand Grenier, Alain Gravel, Lucien Brayer and myself,” said Paré. “We made up a team of buyers steered by our vice-president, Jean-Claude Desrochers, my first mentor. I learned a huge amount working with him.”6502Bernadette Hamel congratulates longtime friend and Metro colleague Alain Paré on his receiving the 2015 Pillar of the Industry Award during the 68th annual QPMA convention in Quebec City.

After 16 years with Provigo, Paré received an offer to join Metro as director of purchasing. “Even though the idea of leaving my friends was anything but easy, the challenge was just too exciting to pass up,” he said.

Paré worked under Robert Sawyer, whom he cited as his second mentor, and joined a team of seasoned professionals, including Bernadette Hamel, Normand Legault, Chris Kyriopoulos, Damiano Stéfanutti, Ady Martino and Maria Stelutti.

“And I was lucky enough to add Pascal Primiano and Patrice Alain later on,” he added.

Among his early challenges at Metro was creating a computerized purchase management system. In 2005, he was given the task of creating a new central negotiation team. “This was an amazing adventure, though it demanded a great deal of energy and traveling on my part, as I was working three days a week in Ontario,” he said.

Following a three-year hiatus from retailing, which featured a stint with the Connexion Group, where he worked in production with Vegkiss and transportation with DFS Transport, he returned to senior management with Metro and created a new quality control team.

Reflecting on his career, Paré said that even after more than 40 years in the business, “I still have the same passion I had when I first started. I’ve succeeded in creating outstanding business relationships throughout those years, as well as deep-seated friendships, which I feel really go to prove the family side of the produce industry.”

Among his accomplishments in the industry, Paré helped establish the Fruit & Vegetable Dispute Resolution Corp. in 1997 and remained on the board for 10 years. He also was instrumental in establishing the strategic plan for QPMA in 2004 as its president and launched the association’s I Love 5 to 10 Servings a Day campaign.

In closing, Paré thanked his wife, Carole, for her support. “Her contribution to my success has been absolutely crucial and I am deeply grateful to her.” He also harkened back to the pledge he made to his father upon quitting school to work hard and have a successful career.

“Dad, I think I’ve kept my promise,” he said.

Summer transportation rates lower than usual

The supply-and-demand curve for transportation tilted in the direction of supply this summer and truck rates have been significantly lower than those of a year ago.

“In June, business was strong but in July it took a tumble,” said Lance Dichter, president of LD Logistics, a New York-based truck broker with its headquarters on the Hunts Point Terminal Market. “We are seeing lots of equipment, and volume has fallen off, so the rates are down.”trucks-on-the-roadsTrucks on the road. Lower gas prices have been a contributing factor to lower truck rates this summer. (Photo by Ryan G. Beckman)

In mid-July, Dichter took out his books and compared the summer of 2014 with 2015 for this reporter. He said a typical cross-country haul is about $1,500 lower this July. And he predicted that more of the same would be the story for the rest of the summer as well. “We anticipate no shortage moving forward,” he noted.

Dichter said California’s summer melon deal is down and so are supplies of several other items, including tomatoes from the same region.

Paul Kazan, president of Target Interstate Systems Inc., which is also located on the Hunts Point Terminal Market in the Bronx, noted the same situation. “Supplies [of trucks] are adequate. Rates never got crazy this summer as they usually do,” he said.

In fact, he noted the top rate was in the $8,000 range for a coast-to-coast haul. That is about 20 percent lower than the peak rate a year ago. Kazan believes it is lack of demand that is causing the softer rates. “I don’t think there are a lot of trucks out there, but we are seeing more shipments on piggyback [trailers on flatcars], so that has decreased the demand.”

In late July, Kazan predicted that August would also bring similar rates as July. Homegrown deals tend to proliferate as the summer heats up decreasing demand for West Coast product. “The next time we might see a shortage situation could be around Labor Day when demand [for produce] picks up as kids head back to school,” he said.

Robert Goldstein, president of GenPro Inc., which is headquartered in Rutherford, NJ, agreed that there have been adequate supplies of trucks for most of the summer with tight supplies only occurring around the holiday periods of Memorial Day and Fourth of July. He said rail transportation used by some perishable shippers has alleviated the demand side a bit, and a typical drop in produce supplies in mid to late summer was a factor as well.

While this transportation veteran is not predicting a short supply situation at a specific time in the future, he said lack of qualified drivers is a systemic problem that could rear its head at any time. Goldstein expects that periods of big supply in the produce industry — often around holiday periods — will continue to result transportation shortages, and he suspects the problem will be more acute in the future. He noted that there does not appear to be a lot of young people entering the transportation arena as drivers. “It’s a hard life and not a lot of people want to do,” he said.

Besides the taxing hours of being a long-haul driver, he said rate fluctuation makes it very unattractive to many who might otherwise consider it. Independent owner-operators, who have been the backbone of the fresh produce hauling business for decades, can only expect good rates when truck supplies are short. When produce supplies are short, truck rates drop and it’s hard to make a living. Goldstein doesn’t see an easy solution to this problem, but he said the lack of driver situation has been continuous — but sometimes it’s hidden under the surface.