Mexico’s grape industry foresees a bright future

The future of Mexico’s grape industry “is very strong,” in the view of Jerry Havel, the director of sales and marketing for Fresh Farms, in his office in Rio Rico, AZ.  

Mexico consistently produces grapes that are “very sweet and large in size year in and year out.  The grape quality is outstanding.”

Specifically of the coming season, he said, “I am looking forward to another great year.”

The industry indicates that green Mexican grape shipping will begin about May 5. The deal will last until about July 4.  

Carlos Bon, Jr, a partner in Grupo Alta, based in Hermosillo, Sonora, and its marketing arm, Divine Flavor, LLC, indicated, “It’s a normal Mexican season.  There is a lot of Chilean fruit still around,” he said April 2.  

“It is in the interest of our company and the Mexican industry’s interest to promote grapes from the get-go and invite our customers and consumers to switch from old grape varieties in a different hemisphere to fresh grapes grown nearby.”  

According to a December 2014 USDA Foreign Agriculture Service report, Mexico is the Western Hemisphere’s fourth-largest grape exporter. Chile, the United States and Peru, respectively, lead Mexican grape export volume.  

Including 2014-15 estimates, Chile has averaged exporting 810,000 metric tons of grapes since the 2009-10 season.  The United States has averaged exporting 358,000 metric tons in the same time period.  

Chile, the United States and Mexico have both shown seasonal ups and downs but not a great change in annual export volumes in the six-season period.

Peru, on the other hand, has steadily increased from 75,000 metric tons of exports in 2009-10 to an estimated 290,000 metric tons for the 2014-15 season.

Mexico has averaged 151,000 metric tons of grape exports in the six year period.  

Indications from the trade to The Produce News are that new varieties and plantings will bring a fast growth in production and exports in coming years.

These and other related matters will be discussed April 22-24 in Hermosillo, Sonora, at the annual grape marketing meeting presented by Asociación Agricola Local de Productores Uva de Mesa Frutas y Hortalizas, (A.A.L.P.U.M.), which is the Sonoran Spring Grape Association. The Produce News will be providing the latest news from this event.

Publix continues to expand in N.C.

Publix Super Markets Inc. and Lowes Foods LLC have announced the companies have entered into an agreement under which Publix is expected to purchase two closed and vacant Lowes Foods stores in North Carolina. The transaction is projected to close later in April.

“We’ve opened eight stores in North Carolina within the past year, solidifying our commitment to growth within the state," Ed Crenshaw, chief executive officer of Publix, said in a press release. “Our associates continue to provide customers with premier service, quality products and an enjoyable shopping experience. As the largest employee-owned supermarket in the nation, our associates are passionate about serving customers, and meeting and exceeding their expectations. Our service-oriented culture is continuing to foster a loyal customer following in North Carolina and across all our market areas.”

"As a homegrown grocer serving our guests in the Carolinas since 1954, we continue to be excited about the future of Lowes Foods," Lowes Foods President Tim Lowe said in the release. "The sale of these closed and vacant store locations is part of our comprehensive growth strategy that includes accelerating investment in rebranding existing stores, building new stores and evaluating strategic marketplace opportunities."

Frieda’s Angelcot season set for mid-June

Frieda’s Specialty Produce’s exclusive Angelcots, which it describes as “heavenly white apricots,” are only available for three weeks starting in mid-June.angelcot This specialty hybrid of Moroccan and Iranian apricot varieties is grown in Northern California and packed in 16/one-pound clamshells.

Angelcots’ pale-yellow skin — with a pale-peach blush — is covered with a fine, velvety fuzz. According to the company, the fruit has the right balance of acid and sugar, along with a buttery, perfume-like sweetness. Angelcots have the juiciness of the ripest nectarine and the delicate texture and aroma of an apricot, with floral and tropical notes. Angelcots are also rich in vitamins A and C, as well as being a good source of fiber.

Interested retailers, wholesalers, and foodservice distributors can contact Frieda’s for promotional ideas, marketing tools, product information and high-resolution images to assist with any marketing needs.

Vision Produce's Phoenix facility goes solar

This April, Vision Produce Co. is installing a solar power generation system at its produce distribution center in Phoenix, which also includes offices for its Arizona sales and operational staff. It is expected to supply 59 percent of the electricity Vision Produce consumes in Phoenix every year.

The new system will include 1,930 solar panels and use a roof-friendly mounting structure that doesn't penetrate the roof,Bill-VogelBill Vogel and by summer it will generate 377,580 kilowatt-hours per year, which will mitigate annual emissions of 260 metric tons of carbon dioxide, equivalent to 55 passenger vehicles, 620,000 driven miles or 29,200 gallons of gasoline every year.

During the summer months, the solar system will even produce a surplus of energy, which will be sold back to the Salt River Project, one of Arizona's larger utility companies.

"Because of having so many sun days during the calendar year in Phoenix, it just seems like the logical thing to do," Bill Vogel, president of Vision Produce Co., said in a press release.

Vision is funding the cost of this $536,000 enterprise with support from JP Morgan Chase, as a commitment to sustainability, preservation of the environment and expected cost savings in power usage over the long term.

The company said it was attractive financially despite Salt River's recent action to end its net metering policy for commercial solar projects. Salt River is also due to contribute an incentive of $9,960. For the execution of this program Vision partnered with Wilson Electric, which has installed over 60 megawatts of solar power in Arizona and New Mexico.  

The First Solar Cadmium Telluride solar modules being installed in this project are well fit to work in the Arizona desert, as the nature of its thin film technology enables it to produce more energy per rate watt due to its superior performance above rated temperatures.

Retail View: Haggen continues Vons, Albertsons conversions

Since February Haggen has converted about one-third of the Safeway and Albertsons stores it acquired in December to the Haggen brand.

There have been 22 conversions in California — including the first one in Carlsbad in San Diego County — 19 in Washington and 22 in Oregon. The company recently announced that it was slowing down its conversion schedule a bit to comply with local licensing and permitting regulations. Initially, the Northwest-based retailer had anticipated that it would complete the 146 conversions by June. The unprecedented 900 percent growth — going from 18 stores in Oregon and Washington to 164 and adding California, Arizona and Nevada to the mix — has seemingly gone quite well and is getting good reviews from industry members. The company has not reissued a revised conversion but it has around 85 more stores to convert. It spends about 40 hours on each conversion.Haggen-La-Costa-citrus-shopperHaggen has developed a large network of local farmers to supply its stores with a fresh selection of seasonal produce.

Recently a couple of Haggen executives from the Southwest division, which is headquartered in Irvine, CA, answered some questions about the chain’s effort via an email exchange with The Produce News. Director of Communications Moran Golan said that with each conversion it is excited about the changes it is making to enhance each store, though she acknowledged that not everything can get done in such a short time. “There’s only so much we can accomplish in the 40 hours we’re closed,” she said. “We make certain immediate changes with our grand opening — branding and décor changes, as well as enhanced offerings in our fresh departments such as produce and meat/seafood. We also enhance the layout in the produce department, moving toward a more farmers’ market appeal. It will take time to completely infuse the store with the full Haggen experience. It’s a journey, as we like to say. Guests can expect to see continued improvements over the upcoming weeks, months and year.”

As the company converts stores, it is focusing on traditional local advertising to spread the word to the community. “This includes a weekly flier and direct mailers to ZIP codes near the store address,” she said. “As we gain a decent mass within a given county/geography, we will expand to channels such as radio and television. We do also have a presence in the social space with a Pacific Southwest-specific Facebook page and Instagram account.”

Golan explained Haggen’s execution and philosophy as being a full-line grocery store that caters to its “guests” and strives to provide one-stop shopping. “Our goal is to provide a unique, hassle-free shopping experience. We offer essential items our guests need, specialty items they want and local items that reflect the community — all at fair, competitive prices,” she said. “We like to think of ourselves as a full-line grocery store with a bias toward fresh, quality, organic, local and healthy-for-you options, so that guests can do all their shopping with us instead of traveling to multiple stores.”

The company is marketing itself as somewhere between conventional supermarkets and specialty stores. “Think of the conventional players — Albertsons, Ralphs, Vons, Stater Bros. — which do many things well, including providing national brands and essential items most all customers need or want,” said Golan. “Then think of the specialty players — Whole Foods, Sprouts, Bristol Farms, Gelsons — which provide more options like enhanced offerings, fresh, healthier choices, gluten-free, organic, local, etc. There’s a gap in between those bands or layers, if you will. That’s where Haggen is.”

Speaking specifically of produce, the communications director said, ”Produce is critically important to Haggen. We have developed and will continue to develop a large network of local farmers to supply our stores with the most abundant, fresh, nutrient-rich selection of seasonal produce. Farm-fresh produce is just one more way Haggen is committed to supporting our local communities.”

She added that the company works hard to source locally whenever possible. “That means stocking our produce department with the fruits and vegetables grown close to each of our neighborhood stores. We believe the stories of our local producers are an integral part of our brand.”

Chris Jacoby, director of produce for the Southwest division, said Haggen is using a two-tiered model to supply its stores with produce. “Our main produce partner is Charlie’s Produce, which recently expanded from the Northwest opening a new facility in Irwindale, CA. We also empower stores to purchase directly from local growers in their communities and are dedicating space in each produce section to highlight local growers and their farm-to-shelf fresh offerings.”

He said the “merchandising philosophy is to let our enhanced selection of farmer’s market fresh produce speak for itself, with an emphasis on offering more organic, premium and local produce options competitively priced across all categories.”

He added that Haggen is “expanding our offering of leafy, wet organic produce and adding big, center-section tables filled both front and back with organic fruits and vegetables.”

As far as considering online retailing or other sales concepts, Golan said, “We’re currently laser focused on converting stores and ensuring as smooth a transition as possible for our guests and store teams. In the future, we might explore different retail models but not in the immediate future.”