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California avocado on-fruit branding exceeds expectations

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California avocados are now available at retail with new "California" brand labels. The California Avocado Commission's labeling initiative is backed by a significant level of marketing support to make sure consumers know to look for them. Consumer communication includes print, radio and online, including a new video series, "A Look Behind the Label," which takes the viewer into the grove and brings to life the points of differentiation and competitive advantages of California avocados.

California-Avocado-Label-InThe idea of developing a strong connection between CAC's consumer advertising campaign and the California brand at point-of-sale is a concept the California Avocado Commission has embraced for more than two decades. CAC considered it when PLU stickers were first implemented and again when it launched the 'California Avocado Grower' campaign in 2008.

"Our goal is to have California avocados with a prominent label designating that point of origin in an artful way that mirrors the messaging CAC presents to consumers and retailers in its marketing campaign," CAC President Tom Bellamore said in a press release.

Bellamore explained that although some packers use labels that tout California, the origin is often in fine print and most consumers pass right over it when selecting avocados.

"We needed to make "California" more prominent and graphically compatible with the designs we use in our marketing campaign," he said. "Convincing packers to make a change was not without difficulty. For a variety of legitimate business reasons, many avocado packers had previously not made California-branded labeling a priority. In the first place, most packers source from several different points of origin, and creating a seamless supply of avocados for their customers is important to them. There are also logistical issues involved in adding a sticker to the fruit in the packingline or redesigning a label, especially at start up."

To persuade packers to embrace CAC's label initiative, the commission conducted consumer testing, first through focus groups and then in-store research.

"We know, based on research, that shoppers already prefer premium California-grown avocados," Bellamore said. "So it was no real surprise that the consumer response was very positive when 'California' was clearly visible on labeled fruit."

In the end, it may well be the California avocado growers themselves that made the difference. Avocado packers not only compete for market share, they also compete for growers' fruit, and California avocado growers have long made it clear to the commission that having a prominent California label on each avocado is something they want.

For the 2014 season, CAC hoped to convince one or two packers to take a small step and launch a pilot program, but once a couple of packers said they were willing to try, the majority came aboard. To date, 10 of the California avocado industry's 13 largest packers are presently using or have plans to use "California" brand labels on the fruit by the start of the 2015 season.

There is a two-sticker option that involves adding a prominent "California" brand label with CAC-designed artwork to the fruit alongside the packer's label bearing the PLU barcode. CAC also has designed a California-branded label that includes a barcode, and there is a California branded PLU label. Some packers are working with the basic CAC design and adding their name or brand.

Bellamore sees CAC's branded label initiative as a no-lose proposition. He said if the label can be added to the fruit without substantial incremental cost, there is no downside. "Consumers want it. Retailers want it. Growers want it. It's just the right thing to do," said Bellamore.

CAC's consumer messaging emphasizes the California avocado label with a call to action to look for them. 

Duda brings convenience to celery category

At the PMA Foodservice Expo this year, the Duda Farm Fresh Foods team will share how the company is reinventing celery with convenience.

“Let’s talk stalk,” Susan Noritake, director of fresh cut sales, said in a press release. school-foodservice-single-s
 
With nearly 90 years of growing experience, Duda Farm Fresh Foods is one of the larger growers and processors of celery in the United States and around the world. Duda’s fresh-cut celery products are marketed under the "Dandy" brand and sold and served in retail and foodservice establishments throughout North America year-round.

Through years of extensive breeding, consumer and marketplace research, Duda has the capability to grow celery in different regions of the country, without compromising the sweet taste consumers enjoy. Because of the company’s continual investment in breeding superior celery seed varieties along with innovative processing technologies, Duda delivers flavorful, disease-resistant fresh-cut celery to the marketplace.

The school foodservice segment especially loves "Dandy" celery, Noritake said, because the single-serve celery stick packs make it easy for school lunch programs to incorporate more vegetables into menus. The "Dandy" 1.6-ounce, 2.5-ounce and three-ounce single-serving celery stick packs are perfect for any school’s healthy meal or snack program.

Fresh citrus is another staple ingredient in restaurant kitchens everywhere. Duda Farm Fresh Foods has a large variety of citrus items available, including lemons, oranges, grapefruit, Meyer lemons and clementines; all products will be on display at the Expo in Duda’s booth (No. 137).

On Saturday, July 26, sponsor chefs will demonstrate a dish in small groups at the buffets. Afterward, attendees will be encouraged to create a version from a deconstructed buffet. Chef Todd Fisher will be making Lemon Grass Steamed Chicken Bahn Mi Bun with "Dandy" Radish and Celery “Quickles.”

As part of the supply chain, Dandy delivers with in-house freight experts and a logistics team.  In addition to its own small trucking fleet, the company has direct relationships with various trucking companies that have dedicated specific trucks to Duda for delivery.

“Our consistent truck supply means on-time deliveries and excellent customer service,” Jeff Goodale, business development manager, said in the release. “From across town to across the world, let our team take care of your logistics.”

For more information about Duda Farm Fresh Foods, visit dudafresh.com and Booth No. 137 at the PMA Foodservice Expo in Monterey, CA.

Potential West Coast dock strike looms

The six-year contract that West Coast dock workers have been operating under expired today, July 1, without a new contract, and although negotiations are continuing the possibility of a strike looms large.

Ken Gilliland, transportation expert for Western Growers Association in Irvine, CA, said that as of the latest information no strike or lockout has been called for, but it is always a possibility in labor negotiations. He said many importers and exporters remember the dock strike of 12 years ago, in 2002, which lasted 10 days and greatly disrupted movement of fresh produce. “It’s a big gamble to send product to the docks and then have a strike occur,” he said.

One Central Coast vegetable shipper, who asked not to be identified, is not planning to load product on the usual Thursday schedule this week. He typically ships broccoli and the product has to be fumigated for his overseas destination. “If I fumigate it and they go on strike and it can’t be shipped, I’ll have to destroy it. We are not willing to take that risk.”

This shipper said he is in constant contact with port officials and others, “but nobody really knows what’s going on, except the people in the negotiating room.”

Though he said reports about the negotiations have been positive, that won’t help if there is a strike and product has to be destroyed. “Our customers are still placing orders but they are not the ones taking the gamble if we can’t load.”

Gilliland said exporters are looking for alternatives if a strike occurs, but all 13 U.S. West Coast ports will be affected. There might be opportunities to load out of Mexico or Canada, but he said that will add shipping costs.

Currently vegetable exports is the sector experiencing the biggest effect, but if a strike occurs grapes, tree fruit and other items would be affected. On the import side, the summer months would typically have fewer shipments headed to the United States but there could be some effects with an item such as Peruvian avocados, though most of those shipments go into the East Coast.

Field tours to kick off 2014 PMA Foodservice Conference

PMA Foodservice Conference attendees will get a fresh look at leading crops on an exclusive visit to some of Salinas Valley’s fields and facilities on the Behind the Scenes: Field & Plant Tour. In addition to facility tours, registrants will get a field-to-fork perspective of these crops as they learn growing, picking, packing and culinary preparation tips.

“This will be our ninth year hosting the PMA Foodservice tour groups,” Kori Tuggle, director of marketing and business development at Ocean Mist Farms, said in a press release. “The event is right in our backyard, and we appreciate the opportunity to showcase our program and educate attendees about the commodities we grow.”

The Ocean Mist Farms stop of the tour will highlight its full line of premium fresh vegetables with a special focus on its heirloom artichokes and brussels sprouts.

Braga Fresh Family Farms will share insights about how it produces organic and conventional leafy greens, broccoli, beets and a growing line of herbs. “Everyone who visits Braga Ranch gains appreciation for the complexity of agriculture and the bond of a generational family farm,” Rod Braga, president and chief executive officer of Braga Fresh Family Farms, said in the release. “We’re excited about the opportunity to welcome PMA members and students to our home ranch and give them a unique education about what it takes to grow and distribute fresh, healthy vegetables around the world.”

At Naturipe Farms guests will tour strawberry, blackberry and raspberry fields, as well as a sustainability-driven packing facility. “The most valuable asset to us is showing rather than explaining how we do things," Kyla Oberman, Naturipe’s marketing manager, said in the release. "To see the harvesting and experience the various processes that happen between the field and the cooler are things that all of our customers should see to truly understand everything involved in berry production.”

PMA’s Foodservice Conference & Expo, now in its 33rd year, is a networking opportunity for members of the global, fresh produce supply chain to come together and build business connections. The three-day event will bring more than 1,700 leaders in foodservice and the produce industry, looking to forge new relationships in order to add healthy, fresh and tasty choices to their menus. The conference will also feature educational sessions and forums to discuss ways to increase the role of fresh produce in foodservice, and will end with a five-hour expo.

For more information, registration and full program of the Foodservice Conference & Expo, visit the Foodservice website and the Field & Plant Tour website.

Obama pledges to bypass Congress on immigration reform

WASHINGTON — With the House unlikely to vote on immigration reform, President Obama announced Monday he’s exploring executive actions to fixing immigration problems.

In the White House Rose Garden, Obama said yesterday that Republicans in the House have refused an up-or-down vote on immigration reform, and House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) informed him last week there would be no vote on the issue this year.

As a result, he said he’s beginning a new effort “to fix as much of our immigration system as I can on my own, without Congress.” He’s asked the Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson and Attorney General  Eric Holder to come back with recommendations that don’t require congressional approval by the end of the summer.

Obama plans to continue reaching out to House Republicans “in the hope they will deliver a more permanent solution with a comprehensive bill. Maybe it will be after midterms, when they’re less worried about politics. Maybe it will be next year,” he said. “I have been consistent in saying that I am prepared to work with them even on a bill that I don’t consider perfect.”

The United Fresh Produce Association praised Obama’s “commitment” for moving the issue ahead but again urged the House to take up immigration reform and save fruit and vegetable production from being driven out of the United States.

“We appreciate President Obama’s commitment to try to address our broken immigration policy through executive action, but urge the House of Representatives not to abandon their responsibility to address this serious issue,” Tom Stenzel, United Fresh president and chief executive officer, said in a statement Monday.

“If the House continues to disregard its responsibility to address this issue, the produce industry has no choice but to work with the Administration on short-term administrative patches that will be appreciated, but are ultimately unsatisfactory,” Stenzel said.

“Congressional inaction on immigration reform is driving fruit and vegetable production out of the United State, costing U.S. consumers and farmers millions of dollars, and eliminating jobs across the produce supply chain,” he said.