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IFCO’s Femal is first female chairperson of RPA

Hillary Femal, vice president of global marketing at IFCO Systems, is the Reusable Packaging Association’s first female chairperson in its 16-year history. She is joined by representatives of 20 additional companies, including four new members.

The group will focus on creating added benefits for members and strengthening the RPA’s position as the industry resource for the adoption of reusables.

In addition to Femal, members of the Executive Committee are Vice Chairman Norm Kukuk, vice president of marketing and new product development at ORBIS Corp.; Secretary-Treasurer Jack Fillmore, director of engineering and new product development at Buckhorn; Immediate Past Chairman Robert Engle, president and chief executive officer of Otto Environmental Systems North America; and Jerry Welcome, president and CEO of RPA.

“This year promises to be exciting and productive for our association as we work to expand reusable packaging's role in supply chains across the country,” Femal said in a statement. “Over the past decade, the use of reusables has grown tremendously, and our membership along with it. Now, the association is poised to support our innovative industry with the launch of our Reusable Packaging Forum, increased end-user engagement, and expanded partnerships with trade groups and academic institutions.”

The RPA board of directors has four new members in 2015. They are Michael Chiado, executive vice president and general manager of Georg Utz Inc.; Chris Bomgaars, director of sales and marketing at CHEP Pallecon Solutions North America; Nathan Franck, CEO of CABKA North America; and Luis Ruiz, director of customer solutions at CHEP North America.

Seedless watermelon and hard squash usher in 2015 for Central American Produce

Longtime melon grower Central American Produce announced the arrival of its first shipments of seedless watermelons and hard squash from Guatemala.DSC 0086

“The first shipments from our company farm have been outstanding, with both excellent flavor and flesh color in our watermelons,” Michael Warren, president of the Pompano Beach, FL-based company, said in a press release. “Last year, we had a terrific season, both for product quality and fill rate of customer orders. We expect to see the same again this season.”

The hard squash shipments include butternut and spaghetti squash. Butternut squash is considered by many as a super-food due to its nutritional density. Now in the fifth season of production, Central American Produce’s squash is also known for its rich flavor profile and striking appearance.

“Our farm is located in a remote area of Guatemala, at the base of a dormant volcano,” Warren added in the press release. “The slightly higher altitude gives us consistently cool nights. The end result is a product that has deep flesh color, and flavor that is second to none.”

Both the melons and squash are arriving in a full range of sizes, packed in boxes in the “Mayan Pride” label. Product can be packed in bins upon request.

Central American Produce has been growing melons in Guatemala since 1976.

Produce industry outlines legislative wish list for GOP-controlled Congress

WASHINGTON — Immigration reform and child nutrition legislation top the congressional agenda for the produce industry, but it’s far from clear how the newly minted Congress will handle these issues in 2015.

Congress returned to Capitol Hill Jan. 6, re-elected Rep. John Boehner (R-OH) as speaker of the House of Representatives, and began discussing legislative priorities. Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-KY), the new Senate majority leader, took the reins and announced legislation authorizing the construction of the Keystone XL oil pipeline will be the first bill to reach the floor for a vote this month.

Dennis Nuxoll, vice president of federal government affairs for Western Growers Association, said that there is a raft of issues before Congress and the federal agencies that will affect produce companies.

Immigration reform will come back up in response to President Obama’s announcement to make changes through executive order, but it’s a little unclear how Congress will react, sources said.

“Something will happen,” Nuxoll said, referring to the need for Congress to revisit the Department of Homeland Security budget by March. Congress could press for individual bills that range from shutting the border down, overturning the executive order to advocating for AgJobs-like legislation.

“First, the Republican caucus needs to decide what they will do,” Nuxoll added.

Reauthorization of the Child Nutrition Act is another priority, and last year’s compromise on the school lunch program means Congress needs to “move on” and pass the legislation by the end of September, said Robert Guenther,  senior vice president of public policy for the United Fresh Produce Association. It’s still unclear how the new GOP-controlled Congress will tackle child nutrition, however.

Other nutrition issues United Fresh will be monitoring are the implementation of the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, the farm bill’s specialty crop block grant, insurance and research programs and a pilot under the Fruit & Vegetable Snack Program.  

For WGA, water issues remain prominent due to the three-year drought in California, and there’s hope the new Congress will revisit an emergency drought relief bill, which did not pass the Senate last year.

“Our number one issue is labor and we’re always looking for water opportunities,” Nuxoll said, adding that other upcoming issues include corporate tax reform, highway reform legislation, health care fixes and trade bills.

Both groups view the Food & Drug Administration’s interpretation of the Food Safety Modernization Act as a top priority off Capitol Hill.

The FDA is under a court order to roll out final FSMA rules later this year, and although FDA changed some of the proposed rules last fall and collected more comment, the industry is looking for much more flexibility in the final versions. FDA must publish final preventive controls for human and animal food by August and final import and produce rules by October.

“We welcome opportunities to improve the rules to enhance public health” and make the rules more workable for the produce industry, Guenther said. He suggested the agency could issue interim final rules to meet the court deadlines and allow more time to get the rules right.

Another regulatory issue is at the U.S. Department of Agriculture, where Guenther says there is frustration within the industry that the administration is focusing more attention on changing fruit and vegetable import regulations and less on helping exporters.

WGA is also hoping Congress gets involved in the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s regulation defining the waters protected under the Clean Water Act.

“That’s a major interest for us,” said Nuxoll.

WGA has asked the federal government to withdraw the proposed rules and start the process over. “Can Congress get the administration to reconsider?” he wondered.

Executive changes at Bi-Lo

Randall Onstead will step down as Bi-Lo’s president and chief executive officer, effective March 1. Additionally, Mark Prestidge, executive vice president and chief operating officer, resigned on Dec. 31. Associates were notified of Onstead's departure last week.

According to Brian Wright, vice president of communications and government relations, a new president and CEO has been identified, but at this point Bi-Lo is not naming Onstead's successor. 

"We are pleased to have Randall stay through much of the first quarter of 2015 to help with the transition process," said Wright.

The company employs more than 72,000 associates who serve customers in approximately 804 grocery stores under the Bi-Lo, Winn-Dixie and Harveys banners throughout eight Southeastern states: Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina and Tennessee.

Chiquita acquisition complete, leadership changes

Cutrale-Safra has completed its acquisition of Chiquita. Additionally, there has been a leadership change: Brian Kocher, chief operating officer of Chiquita, has assumed the position of interim chief executive officer, succeeding Ed Lonergan. Rick Frier, executive vice president and chief financial officer, will be exiting the company as well.

"We are proud of the success of Chiquita's 'return to the core' strategic plan, thank Cutrale-Safra for their support in this transition, and wish them long term success with this great company and team," Lonergan said in a press release.

Cutrale-Safra, through Cavendish Acquisition Corp., acquired more than 90 percent of the outstanding shares of common stock of Chiquita. All remaining shares of Chiquita common stock not tendered into the offer were cancelled and converted into the right to receive $14.50 per share, to the seller in cash, without interest and subject to any required withholding of taxes.  Shares of Chiquita common stock will no longer be listed on the New York Stock Exchange.

"We look forward to working with Chiquita to build the premier and most sustainable fresh produce platform in the industry," Cutrale-Safra said in a press release. "The expertise of the Cutrale Group, one of the world's most highly regarded agribusiness and juice companies, and the extensive global relationships of the Safra Group will be important strategic differentiators for Chiquita. We are confident this combination will benefit customers and consumers of the 'Chiquita' and 'Fresh Express' brands around the world."

Cutrale-Safra plans to focus with Chiquita on strengthening its businesses and brands, including Chiquita bananas and Fresh Express salads and snacks, and enabling further success in this very competitive environment through investments in the brands and operations. "We bring to Chiquita a history of successful investment in the agribusiness sector, a commitment to providing customers the highest quality products and best service levels, and a focus on delivering healthy products to consumers around the world," the release stated.