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Labor strife threatens West Coast ports

With tense negotiations continuing between dockworkers and West Coast ports, drivers from a handful of Southern California drayage companies set up picket lines at those firms causing some disruptions at the twin ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach.

The dockworker negotiations have been ongoing since the last contract expired between the Pacific Maritime Association, which represents employers operating shipping lines and port terminals, and the International Longshore and Warehouse Union. The negotiation process has involved accusations from each side, including the employers claiming that there has been an orchestrated slowdown at four West Coast ports. Though the dockworkers union denies this, there are fears that looming on the horizon is a dock strike, which could hamper activities in as many 29 ports with more than 20,000 workers.  

In 2002, a perceived worker slowdown during negotiations led to a 10-day lockout that shut down importing and exporting from the West Coast for about two weeks.

Noting the increased rhetoric, the National Retail Federation recently sent a letter to President Obama urging that a federal mediator be utilized to achieve a new contract.

In the meantime, truck drivers working for drayage companies have long disagreed with their classification as independent contractors rather than employees of these trucking companies. As independent contractors, the truckers are not compensated in the same manner as an employee for long wait times at the ports as they pick up loads. The mayor of Los Angeles has gotten involved in the truck driver negotiations, and truck drivers agreed last week not to picket two companies involved in those negotiations. But on Monday, Nov. 17, the truck drivers from three more firms did set up picket lines.  

Ken Gilliland, director of international trade and transportation for Irvine, CA-based Western Growers Association, said members have noted the slowdown at several ports. “What was taking a couple of hours (putting a container on a chassis and readying it for trucking from the port to another destination) is now taking a half a day or even a full day.”

He said in some ports ships are lining up at sea waiting their turn to get in as it is taking longer to unload the cargo of each ship while it is in port. Gilliland said it does appear to be a difficult situation “that could be ready to explode.”

He added that the big question is what will happen if the truck drivers set up picket lines at the ports.  “Union workers (ILWU) tend to honor those picket lines so it could become a very messy situation,” he told The Produce News on Tuesday morning, Nov. 18.

Pretty Lady and Pink Lady get together for holiday party recipe

What happens when two great things get together? Something extraordinary — and in this case, also delicious.

Pretty Lady grapes and Pink Lady apples are partnering in a special seasonal promotion featuring a new holiday recipe.

“I’ll never forget the day I saw a story in the produce press featuring Pretty Lady grapes,”  Alan Taylor, marketing director for Pink Lady America LLC, in Yakima, WA, said in a press release. “I knew instantly these two great products with similar names would someday find a way to work together, and it would be tasty.”pie

It’s also timely, as the standard Pink Lady season in Washington is in full swing by late November-early December, the same time as Pretty Lady for the Holidays hits grocery store aisles featuring premium California table grapes grown by Dulcich & Sons.

“Timing is perfect,” Taylor added in the press release. “The Pink Lady season is just starting to ramp up and Pretty Lady for the Holidays with its eye-catching packaging is holding a major position in supermarket produce departments.”

Combining these two fresh, tasty and healthy products together actually turned out to be the easy part. The new recipe is called Dulcich Baby Grape-Apple Mini Skillets, which is based on a Dutch Baby concept for breakfast. It’s a great way to put the two together and a perfect fit for the season.

Nick Dulcich, president of Sunlight International, the marketing arm for Dulcich & Sons, is also pleased about the pairing of the two Lady brands, especially since they both represent quality and naturally blend well as consumer favorites.

“We couldn’t be more excited to bring these two premium products together and in such a delicious way,” Dulcich said in the press release. “The consumer and retailer feedback on our Pretty Lady for the Holidays program has been fantastic the last two years, and now combined with Pink Lady apples, there’ll even be more to love.”

The Dulcich Baby Grape-Apple Mini Skillets is the first such outing for Pretty Lady grapes and the Pink Lady brand apple, but plans are already in the works for next year.

Talks are currently under way regarding the two products combined in a retail display program, which Sunlight International has extensive experience in developing. Its past merchandising programs have been recognized industry wide for their innovation and success, leading the way in produce promotion.

“It all started with our Harvest Hobgoblin point-of-sale materials created over five years ago,” Dulcich said in the press release. “Today, our family of programs also includes Pretty Lady for the Summer, the Incredible Grape Patch, Pretty Lady for the Holidays, and the latest introduction of Pretty Lady Green Emerald, based on our patented grape variety just introduced this fall. And we look forward to a fresh program with the Pink Lady brand next year.”

Eat Smart innovates with pre-cooked vegetables in Superfood Salad Kits

Eat Smart is bringing something new to the salad kit category in North America. Apio Inc., a wholly owned subsidiary of Landec Corp. and a leading national producer of fresh-cut vegetable products, has launched two new Eat Smart Gourmet Vegetable Salad Kits as part of its superfood product line.10oz-EatSmart-Beets-and-Gre

The Beets & Greens Salad and Roasted Yam Salad offer a gourmet taste with a complex and unique blend of nutrient-rich ingredients in a convenient format. All ingredients are pre-cut, pre-washed and pre-measured, so consumers just need to mix and serve.

“It’s no secret that consumers are interested in fresh and healthy eating, but they often don’t have the time to prepare gourmet dishes from scratch,” Anne Byerly, Apio’s vice president of marketing, said in a press release. “The Beets & Greens and the Roasted Yam salad kits include everything required to prepare and serve an appealing, restaurant-caliber salad that is highly nutritious. Both are gluten free, and both can be served either warm or cold. To serve warm, consumers simply snip the corner of the packet to vent the bag, heat the beets or yams briefly in the microwave and add to the salad."

Containing six superfoods, the Beets & Greens Vegetable Salad Kit is a blend of kale, beet greens, red chard, red cabbage and broccoli, plus cooked beets, golden raisins and feta cheese, as well as a proprietary white wine vinaigrette.

To save beet lovers from having to cut and clean beets, Eat Smart has made it convenient for consumers to enjoy a beet salad in the comfort of their home with pre-cooked, pre-cut beets that are packaged for freshness.

The Roasted Yam Salad contains eight superfoods, combining Apio’s special roasted yam recipe with bright dried currants and cranberries, kale, red and green cabbage, brussels sprouts and a crunchy blend of dried sunflower seeds and pumpkin seeds. All the ingredients are accented with a preservative free, classic vinaigrette developed exclusively for Eat Smart.

Available now, each salad innovation delivers a unique taste experience for consumers. Leading-edge packaging technology plays a role too. In the respective kits, the cooked beets and yams are packed with no preservatives and sealed in individual pouches to preserve their freshness and natural flavor.

“Preparing beets and yams from scratch takes 30 to 45 minutes for washing, peeling, cutting and cooking so these salads — featuring ingredients that are ready to eat right out of the pouch — are real time-savers,” said Byerly.

“The Beets & Greens and Roasted Yam vegetable salad kits bring even more variety and on trend ingredients to our Gourmet Selections line,” said Byerly. “Their nutrient-dense appeal and rich flavors provide delicious and distinctive salads that complement lunch or dinner. Add their convenience and value, and they’re sure to spur consumers to come back for more.”

Both salads are available in 10- and 21-ounce bags at selected retailers in the United States and Canada.

Retail View: Bins offer merchandising opportunities

When Sunkist’s director of retail merchandising, Julie DeWolf, came from a consumer product group company to the nation’s largest citrus marketer, she was surprised that retail display bins weren’t in the firm’s marketing arsenal.

On the consumer products side, it was a well-developed and well-used strategy. “They offer an excellent opportunity to get a display in a secondary location,” she said.

As such, DeWolf began developing a display bin program for Sunkist.Sunkist Meyer-lemonsSunkist uses display bins for a number of its product lines as a way to reinforce its marketing message at retail and to have a presence in a secondary location in a store. Today the marketing cooperative has a number of different bins in various sizes with various marketing messages. There is one touting lemons as a “S’alternative,” another pushing the large pomelo fruit and still others for Navels, Valencias, Cara Cara Navels, Meyer lemons and multi-variety marketing. Several of the bins come with interchangeable header cards allowing for multiple product uses at retail.

DeWolf said that depending upon the size of the bin, the display can be set up in the produce department or any other department.

“As compared to other produce, citrus is very compatible with a number of departments,” she said. “Seafood is a perfect example and so is the beer and liquor department. Citrus is used for making many different cocktails so we get a lot of requests for smaller units in the liquor department.”

DeWolf said there are more challenges that must be overcome when dealing with produce as compared to CPG products, but the rewards are plentiful for both the retailer and the supplier.

“There is a big difference logistically,” said DeWolf. “CPG display bins are typically pre-packed. You just ship the bin to the store and they put it up.”

When she first started developing the Sunkist bin program, “we had to crack the code logistically.” While Sunkist does offer a pallet-type bin with 800 pounds of fruit that is delivered and dropped typically in the produce department, most of its offerings in this category are smaller display bins designed to carry one or two cartons of fruit and be set up in a secondary location within the store.

The transportation cost for fresh produce is relatively expensive compared to CPG products, so the product needs to be shipped in a standard carton to best utilize the cube of a truck. Bins are shipped flat to also defray shipping costs.

DeWolf said that once this logistical challenge was solved, display bin utilization started to grow and it has continued to gain favor. While it is difficult to measure sales gains, she said a secondary display does add sales and also allows for consumer education.

For example, she said the pomelo bin allows for graphics and verbiage that give utilization ideas to the consumer. The same with the “S’alternative” bin, which graphically tells the consumer that lemons are a great and healthy alternative to salt. The bins for Cara Cara Navels and Meyer lemons can serve as educational material for the consumer.

The National Mango Board uses bins in much the same way. Wendy McManus, retail program manager for the board, said that NMB first added bins to its merchandising program in 2013.

“In 2013, we distributed more than 7,000 bins,” she said. “In 2014, we jumped to more than 9,000 bins. Retailers give us high marks for the construction, durability and graphics on our bin design.”

NMB works with retailers on bin orders and bin placement, according to McManus, who said, “The NMB gives our partner retailers lots of options for how they can use their promotional funds to move more mangos. For retailers that choose bins as their promotion strategy, we provide them directly to the retailer.”

This past year, NMB also distributed bins through its shippers, offering about 1,000 bins on a first-come, first-served basis, and asked the shippers to distribute those bins to smaller retailers. NMB designs and ships the bin free of charge.

“I worked closely with our bin vendor to design a corrugated plastic bottom tray with sliding casters to ensure that the bins could be moved easily and would not be damaged by spills or wet mops,” McManus said.

The bins come in two sizes holding either six or 13 cartons of fruit, designed to work in both small- and larger-format stores.

McManus said that for an item such as mangos “the major benefit is display space. We ask the retailers to use the bins as a secondary display, in addition to their regular mango display. We’ve seen mango bins placed at the front of the department, the front of the store, or even the seafood department with a recipe suggestion.”

She said the bins provide a high-graphic education opportunity. “Our mango bins use colorful images to teach shoppers how to select, ripen and cut a mango.”

Seth Pemsler, vice president of retail and international at the Idaho Potato Commission, said that the potato industry has been using large shipping bins for many years. The concept is the same as for citrus and mangos, but the execution is a bit different.

The bins still are used as a secondary display to increase sales of potatoes, but while Sunkist bins are often small and tucked into secondary departments, potato bins are huge and used typically to facilitate large displays and great pricing in or near the produce department.

Pemsler said the two bins most often used with potatoes hold either 1,000 or 2,000 pounds of products.

“It’s a great selling tool for a retailer,” said Pemsler.

He said the bins are always used with bagged potatoes and almost certainly include a promotional price. He said it is of great help to a retailer during a blowout sale, for example, because a bin with 200 bags needs much less attention than a typical potato display table that might only hold a couple of dozen bags of product. Once the product is sold, the bin can be collapsed and recycled with the rest of the cartons.

The IPC executive said the bin is typically in the produce department or near it in a value-oriented part of the store. But he said the secondary placement remains the key point which helps increase visibility and thus sales.

“I have been in stores where eight or nine people out of 10 will pick up a bag from one of these bins,” said Pemsler.

He, like the others, said it is very difficult to gauge the sales lift as one would need to create a controlled experiment to accurately gauge how much the bin contributed to the increased sales and how much was generated by the value price.

“But the sales lift is huge — I’d say at least 50 to 100 percent,” said Pemsler.

Delbert Bland, president of Bland Farms in Vidalia, GA, agreed with Pemsler that for hardware items such as onions, bin marketing is a well-worn concept.

“We’ve been doing it for 15 years,” he said. “With the high graphics on the bin, it serves as a billboard letting the customer know about our product. It is a tremendous sales tool.”

Bland Farms has a bin for its popular Vidalia onions and also has a combo bin that holds both onions and sweet potatoes. He said that bin has proven to be quite popular and it has received front-of-the-store treatment in some retail outlets.

Bland said most retailers are well equipped to deal with large bin shipments at their distribution centers. His bins hold about 600 pounds of product. While bin sales are often involved in a promotional situation, Bland said the high cost of creating and printing the graphics make the packaging cost very similar to an equal poundage of onions or sweet potatoes in 40-pound cartons.

“For retailers, the big savings is in labor,” said Bland. “They just have to get it out on the floor and that’s it.”

From a retail perspective, Don Murphy, director of produce and floral operations for Grocery Outlet, a Berkeley, CA-based chain, agreed with all of the supply-side representatives that bins “are a great tool to promote additional sales.”

He sees bins as a “satellite display that create another opportunity to sell the product.”

Talking about the huge bins that hold hundreds of pounds of product and the smaller display bins, Murphy said, “it’s all about the high graphics,” which draw the attention of the consumer and produces the additional sale.

He said the larger bins offer a labor savings as they fall into the “drop, sign and sell” category, meaning retailers don’t have to work them like a typical table or wet rack display.

The Grocery Outlet chain operates in the discount supermarket sector, so Murphy said the promotional price that typically accompanies large bin displays is attractive to his customers.

While space is often at a premium in the 175 owner-operator stores that he services, Murphy said, “if it’s a good deal, I can usually find a home for the bin.”

Produce groups urge the FDA to change off-farm packinghouse rules under FSMA

WASHINGTON — Different standards for packinghouses under the Food Safety Modernization Act based on their location will cause confusion within the industry and are not science-based, produce industry groups told officials at the Food & Drug Administration during a Thursday public meeting on FSMA changes.

Under the FDA's current interpretation of FSMA, on-farm packinghouses would need to meet produce safety standards, but off-farm operations, which must register with the FDA, would have to meet more extensive and costly preventive control requirements.

Registered facilities that only handle raw agriculture commodities and don't conduct further processing should be covered under the produce safety rule, Reggie Brown, executive vice president of the Florida Tomato Exchange, argued during the meeting held in College Park, MD. Food safety and public heath benefits are likely to be best served by a single rule, he said.

"The current regulation as proposed will result in confusion in the produce industry by requiring those actually subject to registration to establish an independent food-safety program for raw agricultural commodities rather than those established by the produce rule," he said, adding that all the additional recordkeeping, staffing and testing requirements for off-farm operations based "only on the physical location of the operation is not practical."

David Gombas, senior vice president for food safety and technology at the United Fresh Produce Association, urged the FDA to add language to the FSMA rules that would allow off-farm facilities that meet produce safety requirements to automatically satisfy preventive controls.

FDA staff acknowledged the issue has not been put to rest by the latest fixes to its farm definition.

"We're considering [this issue] ourselves," Rebecca Buckner, the FDA's implementation manager, said during the day-long meeting.

But the issue is not easy to resolve because the statute requires facilities registered with the FDA to meet preventive controls, said Jenny Scott, senior adviser at the Office of Food Safety at the FDA. Only farms and retail operations are exempted from registering with the FDA as facilities.

"We are looking at all those definitions and what can and can't change," said Scott. "We certainly appreciate your thoughts of how a facility that has to register could be moved into the produce rule that applies to farms.

"I'm sure that's an area where you have your legal counsel looking at very carefully," she quipped.

Gombas also urged the FDA to back off product testing as a verification tool for raw agricultural commodities.

"You test one strawberry or apple, you've tested one strawberry or apple," he said. "The results tell you nothing about the rest."

He also proposed a simpler, modified approach to water testing and urged the FDA to move away from its complicated testing standard in the produce safety rule.

In other comments, consumer groups urged the FDA to scrap its current proposed small business definition of less than $1 million in annual food sales for the preventive controls rule, suggesting the large number of exempted processors and foreign suppliers will put consumers at risk.