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River Point Farms breaks ground on state-of-the-art onion facility

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River Point Farms, a leading onion producer, announced it has broken ground on a new 70,000-square-foot whole onion packaging facility featuring state-of-the-art equipment. When complete, River Point Farms will operate over 95,000 square feet of whole onion packaging and shipping facilities at the company's headquarters in Hermiston, OR.

With a capital expansion plan valued at $17.5 million for 2014 to 2015, River Point Farms' new facility underscores the company's commitment to provide a high-quality product with an unparalleled level of service to its contract clients. The new facility will feature best-in-class equipment that the company has strategically vetted over the last two years in preparation for its doubling of production and shipping capacity in the next 12 months.

"As we nurture our current customers and prepare for growth, seamless execution in packaging and shipping facilities is paramount to our success," Bob Hale, chief executive officer of River Point Farms, said in a press release. "The new packaging facility provides us with an opportunity to fully automate our whole onion sorting and packaging process with a high level of accuracy and efficiency and also allows us to convert our current packing facility into a state-of-the-art shipping facility."

River Point Farms' long history of providing outstanding product quality, service and volume capabilities have strengthened the company and its ability to invest in this project. The new facility allows for amplification of capabilities and improvements in partnerships with customers as a single-source, year-round supplier of farm fresh onions.

During construction, River Point Farms will continue to operate out of its current facility until the day of the transition. The company will continue its guarantee to deliver top-quality onions at contract price and volume. The project is estimated to be completed by end of July 2015.

C.H. Robinson to acquire Freightquote in $365 million deal

C.H. Robinson has reached an agreement to acquire Freightquote.com Inc. for $365 million in cash. The agreement is subject to certain customary closing conditions, including regulatory approval, but the closing is expected to occur in the first quarter of 2015.

Freightquote is a privately held freight broker providing services throughout North America. Its calendar 2014 gross revenues are projected to be approximately $623 million, net revenues are projected to be approximately $124 million and adjusted EBITDA is projected to be approximately $34 million.

Founded in 1999 by Tim Barton, Freightquote is one of the larger Internet-based freight brokers in the United States. Headquartered in Kansas City, MO, with approximately 1,000 employees, Freightquote provides truckload, less-than-truckload and intermodal services to approximately 80,000 customers. Barton will serve as a consultant to Freightquote following the closing of the acquisition.

“Freightquote is a high-quality, innovative, growth company that brings a proven model serving smaller businesses," John Wiehoff, C.H. Robinson chairman and chief executive officer, said in a press release. "Its proprietary e-commerce technology allows shippers to easily access competitive rates and automated load acceptance and payment functionality. E-commerce is going to be a bigger part of future supply chain services and Freightquote brings us a leading solution in our industry. Along with their track record of success, Freightquote has an established brand, a talented management team, excellent people, and a performance-based company culture.

“Freightquote brings synergies to our less-than-truckload and truckload businesses as well as a talented technology team with expertise developing a great e-commerce store front experience," Wiehoff said. "We look for quality companies and Tim has built a great model and team at Freightquote.”

“With the addition of Freightquote, we will increase our market share with small businesses and significantly expand our presence in the Kansas City market,” Scott Satterlee, C.H. Robinson senior vice president of North America Surface Transportation, said in the release. “We have built our business over decades by providing unparalleled service to all types of customers and we are honored to add this strong organization dedicated to that same strategy. Freightquote will operate as one of our flagship operations in Kansas City and we plan to continue to aggressively grow the operations there."

“We spent a long time looking for the right strategic partner and are pleased to join the C.H. Robinson organization,” Barton said in the release. “The two companies complement each other and together we are well positioned for success into the future.”

Awe Sum Organics begins second season with organic Peruvian grapes

Awe Sum Organics, a leading importer of organic apples and organic kiwifruit in North America, kicked off the second season of its exclusive organic Peruvian grape program.

The first organic green seedless Sugraones arrived in mid-November, and quality is said to be outstanding, according to a company press release. These grapes have been in development since early 2007 when David Posner, founder and chief executive officer of Awe Sum Organics, sought to create an organic grape program in the winter months to complement the domestic grape season.AweSum Sugraones David PosnDavid Posner

"The bunches of our organic Sugraones have a nice shape with large berries and are incredibly sweet, crisp and flavorful," Posner said in a press release.

With the vines in their second year of production, Awe Sum Organics expects to see a larger crop this season.

Nick Moless, program manager for Awe Sum Organics, said in the press release, "The greater supply will be welcomed, and allow us to reach more customers with this amazing product. However, demand is still projected to well outpace supply."

Awe Sum Organics plans to start shipping organic Red Crimson seedless grapes by mid-December. The harvest was underway in Peru in mid-November when Posner traveled to the vineyard to see the fruit in the field, the current harvest, and the fruit being packed in the new state-of-the art packing facility.

"Our Crimson Seedless have a beautiful color and also great flavor, with a smaller berry size than our Sugraones," Posner said in the press release, adding that the total volume of the Crimsons will be much more limited than the Sugraones, and the crop will have a shorter window.

The organic grape program will finish with organic seeded Red Globes, which start after the seedless varieties end around the first of the year. The Red Globes will boast the largest berry size of all three varieties, as well as exceptional color and eating quality. The organic Red Globes will be available in larger volumes than the organic Seedless Crimsons.

"Some customers expressed concern about their ability to sell organic seeded grapes," Moless said in the press release. "Many started by trying out a small volume. What they found was their customers bought them in similar volumes as the seedless varieties."

One of the aspects of the program that Awe Sum Organics is most proud of is the fact that it is Fair for Life-certified by IMO Switzerland, as is 100 percent of its organic grape production. Fair for Life certification guarantees fair wages, good working conditions and social responsibility at each and every stage of production and throughout the distribution chain.

Each Awe Sum Organics grape carton is an 18-pound minimum, containing 12 zipper bags.

Sun Pacific's Cuties now available in McDonald's Happy Meals

Sweet, easy-to-peel Cuties from Sun Pacific, a family-owned fruit grower, are back in stores and this December, rolling into McDonald’s Happy Meals, Mighty Kids Meals and as an a la carte menu item. This marks the first time that McDonald’s will offer a fresh, whole fruit side option in kids' meals.cuties

"Cuties are a bit of West Coast sunshine for McDonald’s customers to enjoy, and parents can feel good knowing that they offer an excellent source of vitamin C and about one-quarter cup of fruit," Sun Pacific said in a press release. "Kids love them because they are sweet and easy to peel without the help of a grown-up."

McDonald’s and Sun Pacific have partnered to make Cuties available while in season, from December through March 2015.

 “Our partnership with McDonald’s allows us to share our sweet, easy-to-peel Cuties with even more people across the nation,” Victoria Nuevo-Celeste, vice president of marketing at Sun Pacific, said in the press release. “We’re eager to increase access to wholesome foods kids love and make history with McDonald’s by providing unpackaged, whole fresh fruit.”

The introduction of Cuties is the latest example of Sun Pacific and McDonald’s USA’s ongoing dedication to children’s nutrition and well-being. Cuties are a low-calorie snack and an excellent source of potassium, fiber and folate. They are also rich in antioxidants and packed with a number of vitamins.

In addition to the excitement with McDonald’s, Cuties are making their way back to stores with a new brand campaign, Unwrap Sweetness, which reminds everyone that the benefits of this fruit go beyond just nutrition and convenience. Cuties is activating a campaign that engages moms and kids with recipes, activities and content that fits a healthy, on-the-go lifestyle. The recently launched Unwrap Sweetness campaign includes terrestrial and Pandora radio, blogger partnerships and highly targeted, engaging social and digital media.

In addition to McDonald’s, Cuties can be found at most major grocery retailers in two-, three- and five-pound bags, as well as five-pound boxes at wholesale retailers. Cuties Juice and smoothies, which are 100 percent fruit and available in a variety of flavors, are available year-round.

Ruiz Sales in wait-and-see mode for lime market

Cool, wet weather in lime-growing regions in Mexico combined with a weather-related drop in export volume from Brazil has the current lime market in a state of flux.

Richard Ruiz, president of Ruiz Sales in Edinburg, TX, a leading importer and distributor of Mexican limes, said Nov. 20 that the current market is $22-24 for a carton, which is several dollars higher than this time last year. The 2014 lime market eventually soared to record levels, far eclipsing the $100 mark at periods during the spring.

"The first half of December will be crucial to see how the lime volumes will be affected," he said. "Last year we had a lot of cold and wet weather, and we lost a lot of blooms as a result. We have to wait and see what will happen this year."

Ruiz said some of his customers are now looking for prices for the next two to three months, and it is difficult to lock in prices now with the uncertainty of the market.

"Part of the problem is Brazil," said Ruiz. "They keep 80 percent of their production for domestic consumption and export 20 percent to Europe. Brazil had weather problems this year, too, so the European market is relying on Mexican limes more at this time, which is taking away some volume that normally goes to the U.S."

While a high market would be good news for some shippers, Ruiz is cognizant of the need to keep product affordable for consumers.

"The key is to provide consumers with the best-quality product at an affordable price," he said. "We need to remember that the best quality is affordable because consumers will have a good experience and come back for more. Poor quality is expensive, because half the product will be lost to shrink and waste, and we risk losing repeat business."

Ruiz also sees the need to continue educating consumers about the quality and value of fruits and vegetables in order to sustain a healthy industry.

"Consumers are hungry for information, and as an industry, we need to be the ones to give it to them," said Ruiz. "If we don't, they will get the information from less reliable sources, and we risk losing them to snack foods and other unhealthy foods."