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Heat wave may put chill on Northwest potato crop

Potato growers in Oregon and Washington are in wait-and-see mode following a heat wave that hit the Pacific Northwest in July.

“Spring and early summer were excellent,” said Bill Brewer, executive director of the Oregon Potato Commission, in late July. “The last two weeks’ hot spell across Oregon may reduce potential fall harvest yield.”

“The weather conditions were absolutely perfect for the first half of the growing season, warm sunny days and cool nights,” said Chris Voigt, executive director of the Washington State Potato Commission. “Then the heat hit. During the first couple weeks of July, we experienced temperatures as high as 108 degrees. The plants just shut down during the day and stop growing.  It’s still too early to tell how this heat will impact the fall crop.”

Bill-BrewerBill BrewerLooking at the Northwest potato industry on a state-by-state basis, Oregon has a total of 38,000 acres planted to potatoes. Of this total, Brewer said 17 percent is planted to fresh potatoes, and he expects 2014 fresh volume to be comparable to last year’s production levels.

“The Klamath area may be down slightly,” Brewer stated.

Growers in the Klamath Basin slightly reduced acreage this season as a result of concern about water availability. “They should make it to harvest with adequate water,” he went on to say. “But it will be close at the end of season. Far eastern Oregon/Malheur County is extremely short on water. Acres were reduced and moved to locations closer to irrigation water sources. Most of the region will be out or extremely reduced of water by July 31.”

While onion production continues in the area, Brewer said there will be no fresh potatoes moving into the pipeline. “Some land was left idle this spring to lengthen season,” he commented.

Eighty percent of Oregon’s potatoes are marketed outside the Beaver State. “We estimate 50 percent are exported internationally,” Brewer said about key markets in Canada, Mexico and Korea. “We are continuing to conduct promotions in Vietnam and the Philippines.”

Turning to Washington, Ryan Holterhoff, director of marketing and industry affairs for WSPC, said, “The National Agricultural Statistics Service has given their 2014 acreage report and is estimating 165,000 acres planted throughout Washington State this year. We would anticipate that approximately 13-15 percent of that would go to the fresh market.”

Holterhoff went on to say, “Consistency is one of the greatest things about the crop in Washington state. Washington state potato growers have the highest yields in the world and historically have averaged around 60,000 pounds per acre. We would anticipate similar results this year as well.”

Generally speaking, Voigt said water problems have not affected Washington’s potato producers to date. “The majority of our potato crop is irrigated with surface water from the Columbia River,” he told The Produce News. “A lot of that water originates in British Columbia, and they experienced a good winter snow pack.  Late spring snows in Washington state helped other growing regions in the state. Water supplies haven’t been too much of an issue this growing season. But we do continue to see declining water levels in the Odessa aquifer area that is concerning to the Columbia Basin.”

Exports are extremely important to Washington’s potato producers. “With the favorable location of our fields to Wassington State’s international transportation ports in the Puget Sound, exports are critical to the yearly success of our state’s potato industry,” Holterhoff commented. “Over 90 percent of the crop will leave the state with a significant amount of that going internationally.  

“Canada represents a very established market, and many of the countries through the Pacific Rim continue to offer great opportunities within that region.”

Peruvian asparagus crop on target

Shipments of Peruvian asparagus to the U.S. market are expected to follow the normal pattern of increasing in September with the peak shipping weeks occurring in the October-November time frame.

It was the middle of winter when most importers were asked to discuss the crop by The Produce News, so many used the same caveat as Tracy Wood of Keystone Fruit Marketing’s Southeast Division in Vero Beach, FL, when he said, “It’s just too early to tell.”

But like everyone else, Wood said it is shaping up to be a normal season. The asparagus crop in Peru is grown in several different regions allowing for year-round shipments to the United States. The peak does occur during the October-through-January timeframe. Next in terms of volume would be the next four months, stretching from February through May. June and July are usually light, with August and September serving as swing months. When South America is having a warm winter, or an early spring, late August and the beginning of September can serve as the start of the heavy shipping period.

But typically, and this year appears to be fairly typical, it is not until September that supplies significantly ramp up.

Chris Ramirez, president of Altar Produce Inc. in Calexico, CA, said in late July that the industry numbers on import volume so far were almost exactly the same as the year before. Consequently, he expects 2014 and 2013 to be very similar in terms of weekly volume.

Fabian Zarate of Tambo Sur LLC in Pompano Beach, FL, also made a comment echoed by most in saying, “The Peruvians say [volume] is down, but it looks the same to me.”

Zarate and many others indicated that the discussion about volume is always a suspect one as it behooves the growers to talk about less volume which should mean higher prices.

Over the last several years growers have talked about removing acreage and switching into other crops such as avocados, berries and citrus. And while some of that has occurred, apparently there has also been some investment in new fields keeping asparagus volume fairly steady.

Peter Warren, business development for Ayco Farms Inc. in Miami, FL, talked about the volume in terms of market price, which was still another topic discussed by most importers. He argues that the best way to move asparagus in the United States is with a retail price at $2.99 per pound. He said consumers will buy 10 times the volume at that price compared to what they will purchase at $5.99 per pound.

In fact, he says the best way to kill the market and reduce sales is to have a retail price that is just too high.

The retail price is a reflection of the f.o.b. price, and most importers said the Miami f.o.b. price has to be in the low $20s for retailers to commit to promotions. Virtually all the shippers were predicting promotable price levels by mid-September but many would like to see those prices earlier so that there are no movement gaps in the supply chain, and they can all operate with an orderly marketing price structure.

However, Peruvian asparagus tends to be an f.o.b. Peru commodity, as the growers have several potential markets, not just the United States.

In fact, mid- to late July was one of those periods when the f.o.b. market in Peru spiked, causing the U.S. retail price to rise and U.S. asparagus sales to fall.

Warren said the market rose to an f.o.b. Miami price of $28-$32. That caused high retail prices, no ads and about a $12 drop in the market the following week.

Rodolfo Liau Kang, sourcing manager for Crystal Valley Foods in Miami, FL, said that was an unfortunate situation but expressed optimism that the situation would level off and as volume increases later in the summer, the f.o.b. price will allow for promotions and very good movement. He said growers were reluctant to give out program pricing in August, but he believed that would change when the calendar flipped to September.

Jeff Friedman, sales manager of Carb/America Inc., based in Pompano Beach, FL, agreed that ad pricing is the best way to move Peruvian asparagus. He said a good retail price can move product rapidly and reiterated that the United States is really the only market for Peruvian asparagus that can move volume quickly with a promotion price.

RedLine Cooler provides operational efficiencies at Deardorff Family Farms

RedLine Solutions, a leader in produce traceability and inventory solutions, announced that Deardorff Family Farms has deployed RedLine Cooler in its new, state-of-the art facility to manage inventory, improve operations and increase customer satisfaction.

Deardorff’s new facility essentially doubled its operations and it quickly realized the need for more efficient tracking of product lines and inventory management.

“Fulfilling orders with handheld devices instead of pick tickets created invaluable operational efficiencies,” Scott Deardorff, vice president of Deardorff Farms, said in a press release. “Not only did it cut down on paperwork but increased accuracy for loading essentially eliminating misloads.”

Deardorff selected RedLine Cooler for its advanced produce traceability and inventory control. RedLine’s unique integration with Famous, the grower accounting system already in place, made training and implementation of the Cooler system fast and easy. RedLine Cooler’s inventory control features also provide better location tracking at a granular level so that knowing exactly where product is in their dense environment was seamless.

“Our users in the warehouse are able to load orders more efficiently and accurately than ever before, with improved product quality for our customers,” said Deardorff. “We now operate at a whole new level of efficiency that saves time and money.”

Additionally, RedLine Cooler enabled Deardorff to experience food-safety tracking capabilities giving complete visibility into the data for the entire process from QA to precooling, staging to storage.

“Deardorff has been an industry leader for decades and we’re very excited to have Deardorff as a member of our customer family,” Todd Baggett, chief executive officer of RedLine Solutions, said in the press release.  “We’re happy that they selected RedLine Cooler to maximize efficiency in their new Oxnard facilities.”

RedLine Cooler is a leading solution for managing cooler operations. This includes product location, movement, validated order picking and real-time shipping transactions. The net result is improved product rotation, fewer errors, increased workforce efficiency and faster loading of trucks.

More in-depth information about how Deardorff benefited from RedLine Solutions is available in a case study.

SuperValu's inaugural national sales expo

SuperValu Inc., one of the nation’s leading grocery distributors, will welcome more than 3,900 grocery industry professionals to St. Paul, MN, this week for the company’s first-ever national sales expo, a three-day trade event. The expo will feature more than 20 educational sessions and over 330 expo booths, providing independent grocery retailers from over 1,250 stores the opportunity to gain valuable insights, innovative merchandising ideas and best-in-class grocery retail solutions from industry experts.

The expo, themed Sales 4 All Seasons, began Aug. 12 and runs through Aug. 14. The event will be held at the RiverCentre convention center in downtown St. Paul.

“We are thrilled to invite many of the grocery retail industry’s finest to our inaugural national sales expo,” Janel Haugarth, SuperValu's executive vice president and president of independent business and supply chain services, said in a press release. “The Sales 4 All Seasons event was created specifically for our independent grocery retailers. Along with unprecedented opportunities to network and share best practices with their peers, the expo will offer our retailers a one-stop resource to drive sales, build loyalty and grow their businesses.”

Sales 4 All Seasons will be the company’s largest, most comprehensive selling expo to date and will feature 330-plus vendor booths staffed by category experts on everything from fresh produce, meat and seafood to center store, frozen, bakery and deli. Seasonal merchandise offerings, consumer packaged goods suppliers and service providers from across the country will offer diverse solutions for SuperValu’s expansive independent retailer base. Expo guests will also have exclusive access to new products and SuperValu’s innovative private brand lines, as well as limited-time promotional buying opportunities.

In addition to a chance to join their peers to discuss the state of grocery retail and what lies ahead for the industry, expo visitors had the opportunity to attend some of the more than 20 educational sessions during the Sales 4 All Seasons “Education Day” on Aug. 12. Sessions explored a range of diverse, on-trend topics — such as how to drive sales through gluten-free products and smarter snacking options, and the effects of new technologies on the retail industry.

Headlining the expo’s Education Day was keynote speaker and best-selling author Jason Dorsey. Known as The Gen Y Guy, Dorsey wrote his first best-selling book at 18 and has been featured on a variety of shows, including "60 Minutes," "20/20," "The Today Show," "The View" and "The Early Show." Dorsey will deliver unique insights and research on millennial shoppers, an increasingly important and unique demographic in grocery retailing.

Adding to the Sales 4 All Seasons experience, SuperValu has also launched a mobile app to assist attendees as they navigate the convention hall. The SuperValu Expo app, which is available for all iOS and Android-compatible devices, will provide an easy-to-use event map, a schedule of educational sessions and activities, articles related to topics discussed throughout the event and more.

Additionally, SuperValu will announce the winners of its 2014 Master Marketer Competition on Aug. 13 at 7 p.m. The competition recognizes and celebrates the top marketing campaigns led by the company’s independent retailers across the country.

“The Sales 4 All Season expo is not only an excellent opportunity to come together and  share the latest innovations in grocery retailing, it is also a chance to acknowledge and commend the industry’s best work from the past year,” said Haugarth. “The Master Marketer Competition is a way to acknowledge the exemplary work of our independent retailers, who go above and beyond each day to grow their business.”

A full agenda and details for SuperValu’s Sales 4 All Season expo can be found by visiting www.Sales4AllSeasons.com.

Pink Lady finishes record domestic season

As volume for 2013-14 nears an end, the growers of "Pink Lady" brand apples in Washington state can look back on a second season in a row with record production thanks to months of outstanding movement and the increasing influence of a ‘new’ apple variety.

According to numbers reported by the Yakima Valley Growers-Shippers Association, this year’s crop — as listed by the variety name of Cripps Pink — is on target to be over 3.89 million cartons as compared to last season’s record of over 3.4 million.

Early-Pink-LadyEarly Pink Lady apples got the season off to a great start.“What we’re seeing in the Pink Lady industry is something not always seen in the farming business,” John Reeves, general manager of Pink Lady America LLC in Yakima, WA, said in a press release. “This apple is on a roll in a number of respects, starting with marketing success reaching into a string of seasons and now showing an upward trend in production.”

One of the elements Reeves is referring to is the overall picture of this season’s Pink Lady movement. It spent nearly every week seeing movement over the association’s target shipment analysis numbers.

“It’s always interesting to see how this apple performs every week when it comes to movement, but this season it was also important to see how well it did in comparison to the other apples — and it did very well,” Reeves said. “We also saw what looked to be a difference this year with the season getting off to a faster start when it came to the ‘shipments to date' numbers and we think we know why.”

Reeves referred to the first season where the new Maslin variety, an early sport of the "Pink Lady" brand, became available in significant volume. One of a number of sports meeting the brand promise with regards to the Pink Lady trademark, the Maslin variety is in harvest in early October as compared to late October and early November for standard Cripps.

“It appears that this early apple is adding a new dynamic to the market, which shouldn’t be a surprise,” Reeves said in the release. “Having a variety ready to eat right off the tree around three weeks early brings new energy to the marketplace.”

The availability of the earlier Pink Lady also has the potential of reducing the possibility of freeze damage later in the season and also may be expanding the size of the area where it can be grown.