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PMA Tech Talks grapples with technology

CHARLOTTE, NC — About 75 industry professionals from various stops along the supply chain gathered here Feb. 4 for a one-day Tech Talks sponsored by the Produce Marketing Association to embrace change and banish fear of failure, and to learn about emerging technology, as the moderator put it, “that can change the face of the industry.”

“Food production needs to go up 70 percent in the next 10 years, and change is already upon us,” said Cathy Burns, PMA president,PMA-TECH22315-WHITAKER--BURNBob Whitaker, PMA chief science and technology officer, and Cathy Burns, PMA president. introducing a video that showed indoor farming operations in Singapore and Japan, the latter producing 10,000 heads of lettuce a day. In England and Scotland, she said, there are automated fruit and vegetable vending machines. In the United States, she said, Amazon.com has spent seven years testing a system where customers order fresh produce on a mobile system and it is delivered to their door the next day.

Julie A. Busha, president of Nicole Foods of Cramerton, NC, supplier of Slawsa, the new slaw and salsa condiment, outlined how she introduced a new food product to grocery shelves. “People shop with their eyes,” she asserted, describing the redesign of the packaging to attract nature-minded millennials and hot-dog-chomping baseball fans. She now understands that the best place for Slawsa in the grocery store is not the relish section, where it started out, but the meat department, she said, where people can pick it up to go with their hog dog and bratwurst purchases.

Today, Slawsa is on the shelves at Harris Teeter, H-E-B, Albertson’s, Lowe’s, Walmart and Ahold’s, she said, and poised to enter Canada, Germany, Mexico and Switzerland. As Busha put it, the success of the new product has been “Slawesome!”

Other presentations included wearable sensors; 3-D printing; drones; supply-chain visibility to reduce loss, theft, spoilage ($35 billion a year in produce wasted worldwide) and contamination (76,000 illnesses a year); fertilizer that uses less water but increases yields; and a tractor-on-tracks system called Farmbot that robotically handles tilling, irrigation and fertilizing.

Along the way, the high-tech conference developed a number of technological glitches in its audio-visuals, prompting Bob Whitaker, PMA chief officer for science and technology and a moderator for the conference, to observe, “You are seeing the exciting side of technology and the frustrating side of technology.”

Ernesto Mier of Performance Produce in Salisbury, NC, said he had a number of ideas to take home from the one-day workshop, including the idea of supply-chain visibility, “So we can know where a particular batch of produce has been, when it was picked and how it has been treated.”

Kevin Hardison, a marketing specialist with the North Carolina Department of Agriculture, liked “the wide variety of topics covered, the great resources.” He found the 3-D printer a practical tool. “If a farmer is harvesting and a small part on his tractor breaks, he can print a temporary ‘smart part’ and finish the harvest,” he said.

The closing session was a creative modeling of the change process, with participants using modeling clay to create monsters, changing places and monsters on command.

Whitaker said the next event in the PMA technology offerings is a Tech Knowledge Symposium later this spring in Monterey, CA, May 11-13.

Peapod by Giant launches in more than 60 Pa. communities

Giant Food Stores — in partnership with its sister company Peapod, a leading internet grocer — launched online shopping and grocery delivery service to more than 60 communities in Pennsylvania. A new fulfillment facility in Camp Hill services Peapod by Giant’s home and workplace grocery delivery to these communities.

“It’s all about making it easy for our customers to shop for their groceries,” Tom Lenkevich, president of Giant, said in a press release. “With the launch of Peapod by Giant, our customers now have a full range of shopping options. Whether it is shopping in our stores, ordering online and picking up, or having their groceries delivered to their home or office, Giant customers truly can shop when, where and how they want.

“Customers will have a wide selection of well-priced, top-quality and fresh products that they have come to expect from Giant and not only will they continue to save money, but customers can save both time and travel by using Peapod by Giant,” Lenkevich added in the release.

Residents and businesses in more than 60 area ZIP codes can visit peapod.com to shop for fresh fruits and vegetable, seafood, meat and dairy as well as best-selling national brands and Giant private label products, all of which can now be delivered to their home or workplace.  Shoppers can shop from their laptop, tablet or smartphone with Peapod’s mobile app. They can also create personal lists, read nutrition information online, and sort products rapidly by price or by nutrition criteria. 

Giant Bonus Card users can jumpstart their first shop online from a list of items they have bought at their local Giant simply by entering their card number online. Customers also earn Giant Gas Rewards and A+ School Rewards for their online purchases. Groceries can be delivered as soon as the next day after the order is placed.

In addition to providing home and workplace delivery, the new fulfillment facility in Camp Hill, which is located within the Camp Hill Giant, also serves Pick-up locations located in the Camp Hill and Linglestown Road Giant stores. This service offers consumers the option to shop online at peapod.com and choose to pick up their groceries at one of those two Giant stores.

Peapod’s state-of-the-art order-fulfillment technology and proprietary transportation routing system help achieve accuracy and efficiency in picking, packing and delivering grocery orders. 

“We have delivered more than 30 million orders and recently celebrated our 25th anniversary,” said Andrea Eldridge, senior vice president, commercial, Peapod East Markets, Peapod, “and we are delighted to extend our service to consumers in this new market.”

Approximately 50 new jobs have been created, which include personal shoppers and delivery drivers, to provide customers with this new shopping opportunity.

RPE launches ‘Small Potatoes. Big Opportunities.’ campaign

Tasteful Selections is educating current and future customers alike about the benefits of the product line with the “Small potatoes. Big opportunities.” campaign, which reinforces Tasteful Selections’ position as a leader in the potato category.

Tasteful Selections’ recent “Small potatoes. Distinct advantages.” messaging builds on the brand’s proven track record for success. Data released by Tasteful Selections is now brought to life by candid feedback from its retail customers.

The campaign continues through March, and ties in with the official opening of the new Tasteful Selections packaging facility near Bakersfield, CA. The 200,000-square-foot, state-of-the-art facility is completely dedicated to storing, grading and packaging Tasteful Selections specialty potatoes. With the opening of this new facility, both customers and consumers alike can look forward to more additions to the line in the coming year.

“Tasteful Selections is beginning a new era in specialty and petite potatoes,” Russell Wysocki, president and chief executive officer of RPE, said in a Feb. 5 press release. “We look forward to sharing our excitement at the grand opening events next month.”

RPE will host a day for trade media on March 18 and another for food bloggers to follow, with private tours for retailers throughout the spring and summer.

Tasteful Selections LLC, a joint venture of RPE, CSS Farms and Plover River Farms Alliance Inc., is a vertically integrated grower, shipper and marketer of premium specialty potatoes with unique attributes for size and flavor.

RPE, a second-generation family farm, is a category leader and key grower-shipper of year-round potatoes and onions that prides itself on maintaining a high level of business integrity that includes commitments to environmental sustainability, as well as category innovation and retail solutions.

USDA announces $30 million awarded to help growers battle citrus greening

WASHINGTON — Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack announced Monday that $30 million is being rolled out in research grants to respond to citrus greening, which continues to threaten the $9 billion citrus industry in Florida.

Huanglongbing, also known as citrus greening disease because fruit tends to turn green after ripening, poses the most serious threat that the Florida citrus industry.citrus-greening-on-orange-tSigns of citrus greening on an orange tree.

Vilsack announced two parallel research efforts, some of which are financed by the latest farm bill. “I think we’ve got the right structure and setup,” Vilsack told reporters during a morning teleconference.

USDA is funding projects that match up with the four top priorities identified by its HLB Multi-Agency Coordination Group: early detection, sustainability, infected tree treatment and vector management. The HLB MAC Group, created to manage policy decisions and set research priorities, is made up of representatives from USDA agencies, state agriculture departments and industry groups.

"Our HLB Multi-Agency Coordination Group has worked closely with the citrus industry to select and fund projects that we think will make a real difference for growers against HLB," Vilsack said Monday. "Funding these projects through cooperative agreements puts us one step closer to putting real tools to fight this disease into the hands of citrus growers."

During Monday’s announcement, Vilsack said the combination of funding projects would yield short-term and long-term solutions for growers.

First, USDA is allocating $7 million for 15 projects that are designed to offer near-term tools. These projects support thermotherapy, best management practices, early detection and pest control efforts.

For example, researchers will explore lowering the pH of the irrigation water and soil to strengthen root systems, experiment with different integrated management approaches and test strategies for preventing tree death due to HLB infection.

One project involves training dogs to detect HLB-infected trees, as dogs have proven useful in detecting citrus canker. Other projects focus on eliminating the Asian citrus psyllid, the vector of HLB.

On a separate track, USDA is directing $23 million of farm bill funds to universities in multiple states to focus on developing resistant cultivars; better earlier identification techniques; using heat, a treatment for prolonging productivity in infected trees; and creating a new antimicrobial treatment.

“Through the [Citrus Disease Research & Education] research we are announcing today, we are also investing in long-term solutions to diseases that threaten the long-term survival of the citrus industry,” he said.

Vilsack said USDA is concerned infected orchards are being abandoned and is working to remove the diseased trees and replace them with healthy ones.

He also credited his administration with “elevating” the need for research funding to Congress. When asked when USDA will not have to ask for funding to combat citrus greening, Vilsack said he hopes “the sooner, the better.”

Dayka & Hackett named exclusive marketer for Slayman pomegranates

Dayka & Hackett LLC, based in Reedley, CA, will exclusively market all Slayman pomegranates for the 2015 season. Slayman previously marketed its pomegranates in-house, but selected Dayka & Hackett as its marketing representative after Sales Manager Jim Peirone retired from Slayman Marketing Inc. this winter.

Slayman, which has farmed pomegranates in California since the 1920s, prides itself on its brand recognition as well as an estimated 90 percent market share from late July through early September.

Slayman farms more than 600 acres of Granada and Early Foothill pomegranates, and historically provides the U.S. market with the first California pomegranates.

“We believe Dayka & Hackett will be an excellent marketing partner for our special fruit,” Lisa Slayman, an owner of Slayman Marketing, said in a press release. “Their marketing expertise and market penetration with many of the nation’s leading supermarkets, club stores and fruit receivers matches our goal in providing this special fruit to customers who wish to merchandise quality summer pomegranates.”

According to Dayka & Hackett Manager Mike Weaver, Dayka & Hackett intends to support loyal Slayman pomegranate customers while expanding the brand and fruit to additional customers and markets.

“This is truly a special opportunity,” Weaver added in the press release. “The ‘Slayman’ brand, the exponential increased demand for pomegranates along with the health benefits they provide and the ability to satisfy customer volume needs are the basis for an exciting program. We are looking forward to the upcoming season.”