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Mushroom Council announces new direction for 2015 marketing plan

Mushroom Council board members met in Kennett Square, PA, to finalize a new marketing plan to focus on the enormous market potential of mushroom blendability, which will be the primary focus of the its marketing efforts. The new targeted approach will develop mushroom blendability pilots, promotions and events in retail and foodservice. This is a shift away from the nutrition communication and influencer platform previously performed by the council to a focused market activation strategy.

“The board feels very optimistic about the new direction and plan we have developed over the past several months for 2015," Council Chairman Anthony D’Amico, president of To-Jo Mushrooms, said in a press release. "We believe 2015 will go down in history as a pivotal year for the Mushroom Council and the evolution of mushroom blendability. The industry believes strongly in the potential of the mushroom blend. We are willing to position our marketing strategy to fully support this growth.”

Mushroom blendability, the culinary technique of blending fresh, chopped mushrooms with ground meat entrees, has taken off largely in the non-commercial foodservice segment, including school nutrition, university dining, health care and corporate dining. Several commercial foodservice outlets — such as Seasons 52, Macaroni Grill and Cheesecake Factory — have also started featuring the mushroom blend on their menus. The natural progression of the blend will be deeper infiltration into foodservice and introduction to retail.

The council will develop mushroom blend pilots and promotions with retailers across the United States. Mushroom blendability opens up an entire new market for the industry by expanding the consumer experience opportunity of fresh mushrooms past the fresh produce section and into the deli, meat case and more.

“The mushroom blend is the solution to the changing consumer landscape, focusing on the transitional meat consumer which makes up one-third of the U.S. population,” Bart Minor, council president, said in the release. “The council’s new focus on the blend will allow the program to fully develop the existing tremendous blend momentum.”

HAB invests millions of dollars to promote health benefits of Hass avocados

The conversation about healthy food choices is “pervasive among most Americans” who generally recognize that “fruits and vegetables are building blocks for a healthy diet,” said Emiliano Escobedo, executive director of the Hass Avocado Board in Irvine, CA. Yet “despite what we all know,” studies show that most Americans are still not yet consuming as many fruits and vegetables as suggested by dietary guidelines and continue over-consuming sodium, sugar and saturated fat.

“Unfortunately, today in the United States, one-third of adults in our society are categorized as obese and another one-third as overweight,” Escobedo told The Produce News.05-MexAvos-HAB-Emiliano-EscEmiliano Escobedo “That is a serious issue because obesity is related to conditions like stroke and heart disease, type II diabetes and cancer, some of the leading causes of preventable death.”

Because of the exceptional health benefits of Hass avocados, “we see this as an opportunity,” he said.

There is “clearly a need to educate Americans on the link between diet and disease,” he said. “There is room for growth in the consumption of fruits and vegetables,” including avocados, and “we think that avocados have nutritional properties that can help Americans live a better life, so we want to leverage that.”

Avocado consumption in the United States has been rising dramatically in the last few years, but there is still much room for growth.

HAB studies have shown that consumers buy avocados for two principal reasons: they like the taste and they recognize the health benefits. “Those are the two main drivers,” Escobedo said.

HAB focuses most of its efforts and most of its funding on  additional scientific research into the health benefits of avocados and on promotional programs to increase consumer awareness of those benefits.

“We have invested nearly $5 million in nutrition research in the areas of heart health, weight management, diabetes and healthy living” and developed a promotional program called Love One Today, backed by a multi-million dollar budget, to promote the research findings and increase consumer awareness of the benefits of including Hass avocados in the diet on a regular basis can bring.

Recently published clinical trials by University of California at Los Angeles and Loma Linda University found that adding avocados to a meal helps reduce inflation markers and that adding avocados to lunch “reduces hunger for a longer period of time,” leading to less snacking and, therefore, reduced total calorie intake, he said.

The most recently published study, by Ohio State University, “found that avocados boost the absorption of nutrients and antioxidants that are found in products that are consumed with avocados.” Eating avocados with tomatoes, for example, boosts the body’s consumption of the antioxidants in tomatoes by a factor of 10. “So avocados are definitely a nutrient booster,” Escobedo said.

Current studies, one at Penn State and one at Tufts University, are looking at such things as the potential of avocados in the diet to reduce bad cholesterol levels in the body and to improve cognitive function among older population, he said.

The research “is generating a lot of media attention,” both consumer media and publications targeted to dieticians and other health professionals. Through the efforts of HAB, “we have obtained hundreds of millions of impressions” in various health and fitness publications in the United States as well as on radio and television, Escobedo said, emphasizing that this is editorial coverage, not paid advertisement. Studies to track the influence of those impressions on consumer attitudes demonstrates that “they are becoming more aware of the benefits of avocados, and as a result, we are seeing demand increase.”

It is not HAB alone that is leveraging the health message for Hass avocados, he said. Other stakeholders are doing so as well, including Avocados from Mexico and other industry organizations representing all other major sources of Hass avocados marketed in the United States.

Acquisition gives Mack Farms additional acreage in Florida

Mack Farms Inc. is increasing its Florida potato and watermelon acreage and expanding into other fresh produce items with the purchase of a south Florida produce operation.

The Lake Wales, FL-based Mack Farms recently acquired Eagle Island Farms in Okeechobee, FL. Eagle Island grows and ships cabbage, potatoes, sweet corn and sweet onions from about 2,000 irrigated acres. The company is also experimenting with broccoli and plans to harvest new acreage of Napa and Bok Choy in February and March.Arnold-Mack-2014Arnold Mack

Mack grows and ships Florida potatoes from early February through June, and watermelon from April through early June. Watermelons are marketed through its subsidiary, McMelon Inc. Mack Farms.

"This move allows us to increase our irrigated acreage with good cropland, and will help with crop rotation," Arnold Mack, president of Mack Farms, said in a press release. "We will continue to grow and ship fresh cabbage and sweet corn from the 40,000-square-foot Eagle Island packing facility, which has pre- cooling and refrigerated storage. It also gives us a second packinghouse for our spring watermelons."

Arnold Mack entered the produce industry by growing watermelons in South Alabama in 1976. He was a pioneer of growing seedless watermelons, and during the 1980s started his Florida growing operations.

Special events are focus of California date industry promotions

The California date industry in its promotional efforts focuses on a series of special events at various times of the year, beginning with participation at the Produce Marketing Association’s Fresh Summit expo, which was held in Anaheim, CA, this year.

The Produce News talked to Lori Cooper, manager of the California Date Administrative Committee and the California Date Commission in Indio, CA, on Oct. 10, just days prior to PMA, about that event and others upcoming in which California Dates would be participating. “We’ve got a new chef” representing California dates at the show, she said.04-HoliDateNut-CalDate-LorrLorrie Cooper

Eric Theiss is executive chef of the Renaissance Indian Wells Resort & Spa near Palm Springs, managing the resort’s six restaurants. “He is very excited about attending the event, and he’s got quite a menu planned” for recipes using dates that show attendees will have the opportunity to sample,” Cooper said.

In early February, California Dates will be participating in a one-evening event called Dates & Wine at the J.W. Marriott Desert Springs Resort & Spa, in conjunction with the American Heart Association. The event is “a prelude to the Go Red for Women Luncheon” held  a week later, also in the Palm Springs area, she said.

For the Dates & Wine event, AHA issues invitations to its top donors, “and we give them the opportunity to have tastings” of recipes with dates in them, she said. California Dates have been participating in the event for several years, and “it is really a beautiful evening.”

California Dates will also attend the AHA’s Go Red for Women Luncheon. “We have a small exhibit there, and we  provide date tastings for the ladies and gentlemen who attend the luncheon event and the seminars” which are put on by AHA.

That is followed in mid-February by the National Date Festival held in conjunction with the Riverside County Fair in Indio, CA, which attracts nearly 300,000 visitors. At that 10-day event, “we present daily cooking demonstrations with professional chefs throughout the [Coachella] Valley. The audience has the opportunity to enjoy the cooking demonstrations” and sample the results, Cooper said.

In April, California Dates will again work with the California Dietetic Association at its annual conference in Riverside, CA. “We will be exhibiting there and giving out samples, educating dieticians and nutritionists about the nutritional benefits of eating dates on a daily basis,” she said.

The California Date Administrative Committee is a federal marketing order covering date growers in Riverside County, encompassing the date-growing regions of the Coachella Valley. The California Date Commission is a California state marketing order also embracing the date industry in Riverside County.

While there are about 30 varieties of dates grown in the valley, the two largest commercially grown varieties are Medjool and Deglet Noor.

When The Produce News talked to Cooper, the 2014 Medjool harvest was nearing completion and was expected to be finished by about Nov. 1. The Deglet Noor harvest, which started late September, was in full swing and expected to continue through December and “maybe into January,” she said.

“Handlers and growers are telling me that the fruit is looking really good this year — some of the best fruit they have seen in a while,” Cooper said. Yields are a bit lower than in the last few years, “but nothing to be concerned about. They are probably going to end up with a total harvest of somewhere around 40 million to 45 million pounds.” Because of the quality of the crop, the volume of whole dates available for the fresh market is expected to be higher than last year.

Food Lion president resigns, successor named

Food Lion announced that Meg Ham has been named president of Food Lion effective Nov. 1. She succeeds Beth Newlands Campbell, who is leaving the company for personal and professional reasons.

"We are extremely pleased to tap into internal talent to ensure a seamless transition of Food Lion operations to Meg Ham," Kevin Holt, chief executive officer of Delhaize America, said in a press release. "I have full confidence in Meg to continue to lead Food Lion's transformation and to deliver on the company's Easy, Fresh and Affordable...You Can Count on Food Lion Every Day strategy to enhance the customer shopping experience. Meg has an extensive retail operations and merchandising background with a strong focus on the customer experience and associate engagement."

Ham will lead all Food Lion banner operations, including strategic direction, financial performance, product assortment, pricing, customer service and marketing. She will continue to report to Holt.

"I'm honored to take on this new role at Food Lion, a company that I have been passionate about for many years," Ham said in the press release. "I look forward to maintaining our positive momentum at Food Lion by continuing to deploy our new strategy, serving our customers well and caring for our communities through Food Lion Feeds."

Previously, Ham served as president of Bottom Dollar Food. She joined Delhaize America in 1988 and has held a wide range of leadership roles at both Food Lion and Hannaford.

"I want to thank Beth for her 27 years of service at both Food Lion and Hannaford," Holt added in the release. "She has led significant improvements at Food Lion during the past two years, with a strong focus on enhancing the customer shopping experience and ensuring that Food Lion's communities can count on us through our Food Lion Feeds hunger relief efforts. I know our associates join me in wishing Beth and her family all the best in the future."

Newlands Campbell joined Hannaford, Food Lion's sister banner based in Maine, as a retail management trainee. During her tenure, she held a variety of leadership positions, from store manager to company president.

In other Delhaize America news, Gene Faller, vice president of operations for Bottom Dollar Food, will assume leadership responsibilities for the banner. JJ Fleeman, currently senior vice president of Food Lion Strategy, has been promoted to Delhaize America's chief strategy and development officer. Faller and Fleeman will report to Holt.