WASHINGTON — The Food & Drug Administration has released the 483 inspection report on the Bidart Bros. apple packing plant, where inspectors found Listeria monocytogenes on food contact surfaces, linking the facility to a Listeria outbreak tied to its caramel apples
Health officials believe the company’s apples caused at least 35 people to become infected with the pathogen that resulted in 34 hospitalizations and seven deaths.
In January, Bakersfield, CA-based Bidart Bros. recalled Granny Smith and Gala apples after environmental testing revealed the Listeria contamination at the apple-packing facility. FDA linked the environmental Listeria isolates to the outbreak strains.
Three other companies that carried the caramel apples issued recalls as well, and the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention announced that the outbreak, which started in October 2014, was over on Feb. 12.
On May 27, FDA released the 483 inspection report with details on the findings from the 110 environmental swabs collected on Dec. 23, 2014, during a four-day inspection of the Shafter, CA, packing facility. The samples were taken from food and non-food contact surfaces in the packaging area, common cold storage and bins stored outside.
FDA’s report said seven subsamples confirmed positive for Listeria were collected from the following areas: black polishing brush, red drying blushes, auto line machinery, main packing line drain between the north and sound flumes and the inside area of a non-painted Bidart wooden bin.
Six of the sites were direct food-contact surfaces, FDA said.
FDA investigators also “observed direct food-contact areas of packaging equipment, used during the 2014 apple season, constructed and/or maintained in a manner so that they cannot be properly cleaned and sanitized.”
In a Jan. 9 statement, Bidart Bros. said it had “met the USDA criteria for good agricultural practices and good handling practices in its apple plant. Yet, as a result of these latest findings, Bidart Bros. is reviewing all of their procedures to ensure that the product that leaves the facilities is safe.”
Naturipe Farms partner Munger Farms has announced the signing of a joint venture agreement with Golden Eagle Farm Group, owned by the Aquilini family in Vancouver, BC. The Aquilini family has several diverse farming operations and is a significant grower of blueberries in British Columbia and Washington state.
“This addition will complement our current production from Naturipe Farms partner MBG Marketing’s, premier grower base in British Columbia, Washington and Oregon,” Brian Bocock, vice president of product management for Naturipe Farms, said in a press release.
Headquartered in Salinas CA, Naturipe Farms is grower-owned by Munger Farms, MBG Marketing, Hortifrut and Naturipe Berry Growers.
“This significantly boosts our market share in the Pacific Northwest and British Columbia, allowing us to provide domestic and international customers a consistent supply of premium blueberries from this region,” Bocock added.
“The joint venture with the Aquilini family will increase our acreage by 4,000,” David Munger, co-chief executive officer of Munger Farms, added in the press release. “The Canadian blueberry fields are in full production and the Washington operations will start limited production in 2016. The decision to expand in this region reflects our confidence in the unique Naturipe Farms grower-owned business model, our market leadership, and the synergies amongst the Naturipe grower-owners which enable us to fulfill the growing consumer demand for premium blueberries.”
The National Mango Board announced that mangos are the official superfruit of the National Women’s Soccer League. All season long the NMB is partnering with premier teams and athletes to showcase the nutritious fruit at sampling events with player appearances, giveaways, social media engagement and much more.
The NMB’s consumer PR and marketing program is designed to increase mango awareness amongst consumers in the United States by using education initiatives such as how to choose, cut and use mangos. Sampling events at key matches allow the NMB to reach a targeted audience of families and kids with fresh fruit samples to show how tasty, versatile and easy to use mangos are.
The NWSL sponsorship also includes mango signage in all team stadiums to be seen by more than 5 million fans on national broadcast stations, YouTube and live in-stadium. In addition, the NMB will share mango messaging and information about exciting giveaways of match tickets, soccer balls and jerseys on NWSL and individual teams’ social media channels. Furthermore, fans will enjoy special player appearances as we continue to build excitement around mangos.
Retailers also have the opportunity participate in the action. Stores may utilize soccer-themed header cards with “how to cut a mango” for their mango displays, customized social media content and graphics, and may receive match tickets for in-store giveaways.
“As the soccer culture grows in the U.S., we see a huge opportunity to engage and educate our consumers and retailers about mangos, utilizing a medium that is already getting a big buzz across the country,” Rachel Muñoz, director of marketing of the NMB, said in a press release. “This sponsorship will allow us to reach key audiences and celebrate summer by bringing the world’s love of mangos and soccer to the U.S.”
More information about the campaign is available at mango.org/soccer.
Cherry professionals in the Pacific Northwest talked with The Produce News about category management insights that can translate to increased fruit sales at retail.
James Michael, vice president of marketing-North America for Washington State Fruit Commission/Northwest Cherry Growers, said he hopes to see steady momentum as cherries hit retail shelves. “That’s the key in atypical seasons like this. It requires a change-up to the year-over-year weekly program,” he told The Produce News.“But the important part for everyone to recognize is that they get one shot each year at the dollars that Northwest cherries can bring to their departments. If they don’t push for back-to-back promotions, the season will be over and their opportunity for increased and repeat purchases will be lost.”
He said cherries remain the top dollar-per-square-foot item in July, and are the number two item in June. “According to Nielsen, a cherry buyer spends an average of 28 percent more on cherries than when they buy grapes,” he said. “That’s typically where cherry buyers migrate from during the Northwest cherry season.”
According to Michael, Nielsen studies also show “that what spurs late-season consumers more than a price drop is a call out of the ‘last chance to buy.’”
Michael said placement of secondary displays outside the produce department, especially at cash registers and meal-to-go sections, can boost sales.
Steve Lutz, vice president of marketing for Columbia Marketing International, fleshed out the importance of this strategy. “Consumer research has shown that cherries are one of the highest impulse purchase items in the produce department,” he commented. “Cherries tend to not be on consumers’ minds when they get to the store. But purchases are triggered when they see the product displays in the supermarket. This is exactly why secondary displays are so powerful for driving cherry performance. Retail studies conducted by the Northwest Cherry Growers found that secondary displays can drive as much as a 30 percent increase in sales, simply because more displays mean more opportunities for consumers to encounter cherries in the store, even on a quick trip to just pick up a few items.”
According to Lutz, CMI has had strong success with its Nature’s Candy Orchard View 3D cherry shipper. “It ships with fruit and can be placed anywhere in the store where a retailer has high traffic and wants to drive incremental sales,” he explained. “It’s really been a terrific addition.”
Roger Pepperl, director of marketing for Stemilt Growers LLC, provided additional reinforcement for this strategy. “Stemilt also supports retailers with a number of merchandising materials, including signage and high-graphic display bins that can be used to promote Rainier or dark-sweet cherries during the key cherry weeks in a secondary location or grand display,” he said. “Cherries are an impulse item and an important one to the produce department in the summer. Featuring them front-and-center and in a big way and promoting size and flavor is the best way to ensure shoppers pick them up.”
Howard Nager, vice president/marketing for Domex Superfresh Growers, said the snapshot of data for cherry sales and impact shows how strong the category is. Citing data compiled by IRI/FreshLook Marketing, Nager said the total U.S. cherry category sales for 2014 were nearly $766 million. Of this total, dark sweet sales represented 92 percent of the dollar share of the category at $702 million. Rainiers contributed 8 percent or $64 million of cherry category dollars.
From June through August, he said, cherries contributed nearly 8 percent of fruit category dollars.
Data reveal that organic cherries continue to show strong growth trends. The data provided by Nager state that organics contributed $11.3 million and 2.2 million pounds to the cherry category in 2014, representing a 64 percent increase in dollars and a 70 percent increase in volume when compared to 2013.
In early April, The Produce News reported that the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Animal & Plant Health Inspection Service authorized the importation of Mexican figs into the United States, effective March 30, 2015. The final requirement for importing to the United States was to certify the irradiation facility, which was done in late April.
The first Mexican figs to be imported into the U.S. for many decades landed in Madera, CA, on Monday, May 11. Stellar Distributing received the shipment from Catania Worldwide’s facilities in Mexico.
Catania Worldwide owns Stellar Distributing Inc., which is based in Madera, CA, and is a major grower, packer and shipper of California figs. Paul Catania, president of Catania Worldwide in Toronto, said the addition of Mexican figs as completely complementary and a great way to increase the promotion and consumption of fresh figs.
This places Catania and Stellar in the unique position to be fully vertically integrated to supply fresh figs to U.S. markets throughout the year.
Catania has been working with Mexican fig growers for four years, but shipped the first Mexican figs into the United States from his own 150 acres in the state of Sonora. May is the end of the growing season for the region, which will start again in late October, when Stellar Distributing will be wrapping up its California fig season.