Good Foods Group celebrates expansion of Wisconsin facility

Good Foods Group, a producer and marketer of guacamole and cold-pressed juices based in Pleasant Prairie, WI, celebrated the expansion of its plant in Pleasant Prairie, WI, with a ribbon-cutting ceremony July 22.

The expansion adds 40,000 square feet to its facility in the LakeView Corporate Park.

Wisconsin Lt. Gov. Rebecca Kleefisch, who was on hand to participate in the celebration, said, “I congratulate Good Foods on their recent success and expansion. We are excited that they selected the state of Wisconsin in 2013 for their future growth plans and are excited to see those plans come to fruition.”

Kurt Penn, chief executive officer and founder of Good Foods Group, expressed his appreciation to Kenosha County and Pleasant Prairie.

“They have continued to be helpful throughout our expansion and have been great partners in developing quality jobs, quality facilities and quality companies,” Penn said.

E. Miedema thriving with summertime vegetable deal

BYRON CENTER, MI — Sweet corn shipping is in full swing for E. Miedema & Sons Inc., based here. The firm is growing, packing and shipping 1,600 acres of vegetables this summer. Sweet corn acreage for the firm will be between 600 and 700 acres, according to Dave Miedema, the third-generation head of the family farm.  

E. Miedema, which ships “Buck Creek” brand, produces about half as much cabbage and fall squash acreage as sweet corn. Cabbage shipping began June 20 and will run until Nov. 1. Fall squash shipping began Aug. 5 and is expected to end at Thanksgiving.

Miedema said he also ships about 30 acres of summer squash. The firm is “dabbling” in organic cabbage and squash this year.  

It has been an excellent growing season, Miedema said. The last week of July became hot and dry, so the firm was irrigating and needed rain.

Miedema is 65 years old and in the process of turning the business over to his sons Jeremy, Tim and Joel Miedema, as well as two of his nephews, Ryan and Jeff Miedema.  

Ryan and Jeff’s father, Ken Miedema, was Dave Miedema’s brother and lifelong business partner. Ken died in April 2014, six weeks after he was diagnosed with cancer.   

Steve Haaksma is E. Miedema’s sales manager.

HLB Specialties first to market with organic large papayas

HLB Specialties, a leading specialty produce grower-packer-shipper with an emphasis on papayas, now has the ability to offer organic large papayas in commercial volumes.

According to Homero Levy de Barros, president of the Pompano Beach, FL-based company, it is the first time organic large papayas are available for retail programs. The key, he said, is an affiliation with an experienced grower who produces them in an arid environment in Mexico.papayaHLB Specialties, based in Pompano Beach, FL, is now marketing organic large papayas, a first in the industry, following an extensive four-year study of growing the fruit in an arid environment in Mexico.

“The normal environment for growing papayas is 80 percent humidity, but that is also ideal conditions for growing fungus,” said Levy de Barros. “By growing them in the desert, we eliminate those conditions that cause fungus. But you really need a grower with the proper knowledge and expertise to do this right.”

Levy de Barros said HLB has been working with its grower in Mexico for the past five years to refine the process of growing organic papayas. In addition to his growing expertise, the grower also has a business that supplies organic fertilizers and nutrients for other crops, so he is well equipped to provide a consistent supply of organic product.

“After looking at the data about the strong growth of organics, we decided we wanted to explore if it was possible to produce commercial volumes with our grower,” said Levy de Barros. “I told our grower I wanted to do it for a year before we start marketing the papayas as organic. Once we completed the year and everything was working well, we decided to make the investment of getting the certifications and converting the packinghouse to be in compliance with organic standards.”

Levy de Barros said HLB now has organic certifications for both the United States and Europe so it can sell to both continents. He said in the United States, the organic papayas should fetch a 25 percent premium over conventional fruit, which is not very much considering the time, effort and expense that goes into raising an organic papaya crop.

“Papayas are an extremely challenging crop to grow,” he said. “What you do in the morning Mother Nature destroys at night. You can lose an entire crop if the papaya plants’ roots are in water for 36 hours, so a hurricane or heavy rains can cause a complete loss. And it will happen at some point — it’s inevitable.

“As a papaya grower, you have to be stable enough to have a reserve in order to recover from losses,” Levy de Barros continued. “With the average value of a hectare of papayas at $25,000, a 100-hectare farm could suffer a $2.5 million loss. It’s an experienced and stable grower that can recover from that loss — it’s really what separates the professionals from the amateurs.”

While Levy de Barros acknowledges that not everyone will pay the premium for an organic papaya, he believes there is a market for it among the organic enthusiasts, and the key to driving sales is education.

“We have been selling more conventional papayas year after year,” he said, “so I truly believe that we can grow organic sales once we start educating people about how good the fruit is. Our large papayas, which are the Tainung variety originally from Taiwan, are different than the other large papaya variety, the Maradol. While the Maradol has a very strong aroma that turns some people off, the Tainung does not have that aroma and is a much sweeter piece of fruit. So it is part of our investment to make consumers aware of the differences and the advantages of our papayas.

“Also, we need to educate both the consumer and retailers about when the Tainung variety is ready to eat,” Levy de Barros added. “Unlike the Maradols, which need to be completely yellow before they are ripe, the Tainung is ready at 50 percent color. Actually, anything beyond 50 percent and the sugars start to ferment and become bitter.”

HLB has designed an organic papaya project that has the ability to supply several retail programs simultaneously. But depending on demand, Levy de Barros said volume can be increased relatively quickly.

“Papaya is a fairly fast crop to produce,” he said. “We can start cropping new areas in a period of eight months. If the demand is there, we can adjust plantings to meet demand in a relatively short time.”

He also said that like all of their conventional papayas, no GMOs or irradiation are used in the organic fruit. And everything is completely traceable back to the field.

“You have to offer full traceability these days if you want to be in business,” said Levy de Barros. “What’s more, we have a social responsibility program in place to verify that we treat the workers well and pay them a fair wage. Many of the retailers require that now before they will buy from you. Also, papayas require a fair amount of expertise by the harvest crew, because the fruit is picked according to the color, so we want to pay them fairly to retain them, otherwise they might go to harvest another crop.”

Mike Pirrone Produce offering abundant cucumber supply

CAPAC, MI — Hot sunshine fueled vegetable maturity in the vegetable fields scattered around this quaint southeast Michigan farm town in the last week of July. Varied crops, including zucchini, yellow squash and Bell peppers, which had been slow to mature thus far under much damper, cooler conditions, were suddenly moving toward a nice maturity.

Henry DeBlouw V, president of Mike Pirrone Produce, was pleased as he drove from field to field on July 27. DeBlouw expects a particularly abundant cucumber crop, which runs until mid-August.  

Pumpkins from Michigan, Ohio and Indiana are a Pirrone specialty, but those supplies are expected to be down 30 percent. Pumpkin shipments usually begin around Labor Day, but the earliest shipping date this year will be around Sept. 15, with pumpkins running until Halloween.  

Otherwise on vegetables this summer, “the pipeline is empty. It’s been a struggle,” said DeBlouw. While weather has been the primary problem, vegetable production around Capac is down as growers “retired or went to corn and soybeans so they don’t have to babysit” the large number of farm workers needed for vegetables.

Beyond the aforementioned items, Mike Pirrone is a large-volume grower-packer-shipper of cranberries, ornamental and mini-pumpkins, heirloom pumpkins, gourds, mini-corn, hard squash, cello carrots, eggplant, celery, Romaine, red and green leaf lettuce, other leaf lettuces and green cabbage.  

Mike Pirrone produces 1,000 acres of vegetables and packs and/or ships another 6,000 acres for other midwestern growers. Some of these products also come from growers in nearby southern Ontario.

Nickelodeon expanding produce cross-merchandising opportunities

Two sectors of the produce industry have an opportunity to enter a joint promotion with a major national consumer brand, Nickelodeon.

The man behind this opportunity is Nickelodeon’s Rex Weiss, senior director of retail business development. Weiss’ office is in Rogers, AR, which is by no coincidence located near Walmart headquarters in Bentonville.Sponge-Bob

Early this year Nickelodeon and Walmart enjoyed a highly successful pineapple tie-in promotion in conjunction with the February movie release of “The SpongeBob Movie: Sponge Out Of Water.”

Nickelodeon is also focused on coming promotions with other grocers and other produce commodities. Nickelodeon has a corporate goal to influence healthy lifestyles through fresh produce promotions. Thus, Nickelodeon is inviting participation from commodity groups for similar promotions.

Weiss said that Nickelodeon is currently aligning two other produce commodities to create events around the “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles 2” theatrical release in June 2016. This will begin with a spring promotion starting around Easter to publicize the movie followed by a June promotion when the movie is released. A third promotion will boost sales of the “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles 2” DVD release in September. Nickelodeon produce partners have another chance for a holiday promotion beginning in November 2016.

A green commodity would be a particularly appropriate tie-in for the green-turtle-based movie, Weiss noted.

Pineapples were a similarly logical tie-in for the Walmart promotion with tropical-themed “The SpongeBob Movie: Sponge Out Of Water.” The pineapple event involved a hangtag program that on one side featured the movie and on the backside was an offer via Walmart’s Vudu service to pre-buy the upcoming DVD release at a discount.

There were 2 million pineapples with hangtags distributed with this offer. Weiss said that for competitive reasons he couldn’t detail the data describing the success, but “I will say that Walmart would like to replicate it at some point in the future.”

Another phase of the cross-merchandising at Walmart was Nickelodeon’s partnership with the app Blippar to unlock other promotional activations.

“Of the six partners involved in the Blippar program, over 50 percent of the actual activations came from the pineapple tag,” Weiss said. “This performance in the produce section was unanticipated but highly instructive in that Blippar (and the other partners) saw how impactful produce-area events can be.”

“Our intellectual property is of great value” to tie-in partners, said Weiss, who added that many food manufacturers, such as General Mills, Kraft and Campbell’s have long tied into cross merchandising with Nickelodeon and other non-food companies.  This is an opportunity for produce “to leverage for increased lift and exposure.”   

Weiss noted that “Sponge Bob Square Pants” will pass its 200th television episode next year. This means the television show, which was launched in 1999, has had more shows than either “I Love Lucy” or “Seinfeld.”

Nickelodeon joined the Produce for Better Health Foundation two years ago. In 2014, Nickelodeon received a Role Model Award from PBH. In March, Weiss spoke at the PBH annual conference in Scottsdale, AZ, about the success of the Walmart pineapple promotion.

Being active in PBH is an indication of Nickelodeon’s interest in enhancing the fruit and vegetable category.