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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.

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.

AFM to advertise during Super Bowl

Avocados From Mexico will join the ranks of top advertisers during the Super Bowl and, according to AFM, reign as the first fresh produce brand to broadcast an ad during the biggest American professional sporting event of the year. The Super Bowl will air on Sunday, Feb. 1 on NBC.

The 30-second television spot will remain under wraps until it debuts at the end of the first quarter. This is the first time produce will share the screen with some of the biggest brands in the United States. afmlo

Havas Media secured the Big Game spot, along with supporting NBC properties to surround the debut of the ad, including pregame, "The Today Show" and NBCSN. Along with the ad’s debut, Avocados From Mexico will launch an exciting social media engagement program that will get game watchers in the Mexico spirit, and will increase awareness that avocados from Mexico are always in season and pair perfectly with their football celebrations.

Whether served atop a hearty chili, spread on a sandwich or tossed into a salad, fresh avocados and guacamole are sure to be the star of many game-day events. In fact, in January 2014, 70 million pounds of avocados were consumed in the U.S., most of which were imported from Mexico, according to the Hass Avocado Board Volume Data & Estimated Volume Projections. In foodservice, fresh avocados are one of the most popular ingredients on the menus today. According to the Technomic Inc. 2014 Volumetric Assessment for Avocados from Mexico, there were 421 million lbs. sold in 2014 alone. Moreover, the fresh avocado marketplace is slated to grow 8.1 percent through 2019, according to the assessment.

Alvaro Luque, president of Avocados From Mexico, said the Big Game is the perfect event to showcase the nutritional value and snacking options provided by Mexican-grown avocados, which are available year-round. He noted that in January and February 2015, the amount of avocados imported to the U.S. is expected to be more than 285 million pounds — continuing the significant rise over the last 10 years, according to the HAB projections. Also, by showcasing avocados on the highest-rated commercial-viewing event of the year, Avocados From Mexico will continue the purchase momentum of avocados well in to the new year.

“Avocados From Mexico is proud to be the first produce supplier to have an advertisement featured during the most popular event of the year,” Luque said in a press release. “We are excited to be advertising during the ‘Big Game’, but more importantly, we’re committed to giving consumers a nutritious way to enjoy game-time and anytime snacking. This ad continues the trend toward good-for-you choices advertised in a big way, and we’re thrilled to be a part of that important shift.”

In addition to the TV spot, Avocados From Mexico will be launching the following marketing campaigns designed to further showcase the taste, nutritional benefits, recipe versatility and year-round availability of Mexican-grown avocados.

No Guac, No Game: Host of the Emmy-award-winning TV show "EXTRA," actor and best-selling author Mario Lopez and his wife, Courtney, will be the spokespersons for No Guac, No Game, a January 2015 public relations campaign that will illustrate how great guacamole can be the only thing that brings a divided house of passionate sports fans together during the ultra-competitive playoffs. Lopez and his wife will share recipe ideas during national and local media interviews, social media chats and on Avocados From Mexico online properties.

“We may be cheering for different teams, but there’s one thing we agree on — fresh guacamole makes game day better,” Lopez said in the press release. “It’s the centerpiece for our family get-togethers, a crowd-pleasing snack that’s perfect to share with the ones you love.”

Fanwich: To keep avocado velocity and consumption strong at the supermarkets following the Big Game, Avocados From Mexico will conduct an in-store promotion geared toward the use of fresh avocado in sandwiches and wraps with the launch of Fanwich. The First Annual “Now, That’s a Fanwich” national display contest will feature Avocados From Mexico and offer unique display materials, IRC coupons and over $100,000 in display prizes. Jeff Mauro, “The Sandwich King” and co -host of “The Kitchen,” will launch the consumer program and help drive online entries for the Fanwich contest. Fanwich challenges consumers to create the ultimate sandwich or wrap made with fresh avocados for weekly chances to win $500 grocery gift cards and entry to win an exciting grand prize. The promotion will run from Feb. 2 to March 13 with a pre-contest beginning Jan 19.

To learn more about these and other marketing and promotional activities, visit the Avocados From Mexico Facebook page, www.facebook.com/AvocadosFromMexico, or website, www.AvocadosFromMexico.com.

Kingston Fresh excited for Peruvian mango shipments to begin

Kingston Fresh, based in Idaho Falls, ID, announced that its first shipments of fresh Peruvian mangos are scheduled to arrive into South Florida ports during the week of Jan. 12.

“In general, mango supplies in the U.S. are extremely light at the moment and, as a result, demand is very strong,” Kingston Fresh President Ken Nabal said in a press release. “We expect the volume from Peru to be reduced as much as 40 percent, which is very similar to Ecuador’s crop shortfall experienced this past season.

“Although the volume is delayed, our customers get excited when the Peru Kent variety enters the market each season,” Nabal continued. “The overall quality of Kingston’s first arrivals is expected to be very good and the eating quality of the fruit will be outstanding. We are excited and ready to go.”

Kingston Fresh has been steadily building its imports division and continues its aggressive growth plans.

“We remain steadfast in our expansion plans and are rapidly growing our footprint in Central America and South America,” David O. Kingston, chief executive officer if Kingston Fresh, added in the press release. “With this steady increase of imports into South Florida, it also means additional cold storage opportunities for our distribution business, Kingston Cross Dock and Cold Storage. We have been making significant capital improvements to the KCDS facility over the past several months and are excited for the business growth that lies ahead in 2015.”

Pear volume down slightly, 'now is the time to promote'

Stemilt-O-Graphic PearsAccording to Stemilt’s FruitTracker program, pear category volume and dollars were down slightly year-over-year when the company looked at category performance over a four-week period in November 2014.Stemilt-O-Graphic Pears Nov14 Total-US

The reduction in category volume and dollars is to be expected given the fact the crop is down considerably over last year, according to Roger Pepperl, Stemilt marketing director.

The findings were published as a Stemilt-O-Graphic, a one-page report that delivers national category insights in an easy-to-read infographic format. The data comes from Nielsen Perishables Group.

“Pears are alternate-bearing fruits and this is the 'off' crop year in the Northwest so it’s not surprising to see a dip in both category volume and dollars," Pepperl said in a press release. "However, it also tells retailers that now is the time to promote the pear category in order to reverse this trend and capitalize on the great quality of fruit available during the remainder of the season.”

Promotions centered on the many nutritional benefits of pears are great in the new year with all the focus on healthy resolutions. Stemilt also encourages retailers to tell the story of where their pears come from because it’s the story that consumers want to hear more and more.

“People want to know where their food came from and who grew it," he said. "Our Rushing Rivers pears come straight from the best pear locales in the world and have a great story to tell. From cartons and signage to videos, photography and more, we have all the tools to help tell that story to their shoppers this winter and early spring."

Bartlett, d’Anjou and Bosc were the top three varieties, accounting for a combined 87 percent of category sales during the four-week period.