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AMC Group forges partnership with Peru’s El Pedregal for exclusive grape line

Spain’s AMC Group and AMC North America announced a new joint venture with Peru’s El Pedregal S.A. for its proprietary grape varieties.

JV Pedregal-Muñoz Farming S.A.C will begin operations in 2016 with the first plantings from its Sheehan/SNFL exclusive stock in Ica, Peru. 

The relationship is not new. El Pedregal, the Peruvian grape export leader, has been a long-term investor in AMC Group’s breeding program, but the joint venture marks an unprecedented partnership between grower and breeder.Grape-Genesis-labThe Grape Genesis, a new state-of-the-art laboratory and field-testing facility in Spain, looks to stay ahead of demand and evolving consumer tastes.

Founded in 1931 as a small family business growing and packing lemons in Murcia, Spain, for the European market, AMC is now a fully integrated group of companies (still in family ownership) and a world leader in fruit, flowers and juice.

An essential and growing part of that business is the highly specialized Special New Fruit Licensing group, or SNFL, which is involved in the breeding, development and licensing of new varieties of table grapes, citrus and pomegranates.

“There was a time when consumers thought an orange was just an orange and a grape was just a grape,” Alvaro Muñoz, AMC Group chief executive officer, said in a press release. “But global production and distribution combined with better breeding programs have raised consumer awareness over time and ‘good’ isn’t good enough. Consumers today are constantly chasing the next big flavor and health sensation, and that’s where we knew we could make inroads and gain traction with stellar varieties of our own and a vibrant research program that’s always in pursuit of the next big thing.”

In the 1980s AMC realized that government and institutional funding for fruit breeding programs was rapidly disappearing and that the future of new and improved varietal development was migrating to the private sector.

It was clear that access to new varieties would soon become dependent on access to private breeding programs. AMC teamed up with renowned California grape breeder Tim Sheehan, funding his existing program in the San Joaquin Valley.

The main objectives of the Sheehan program were, and still remain, to excite increasingly discerning consumers with excellent eating table grapes — seedless, full of flavor, crisp and juicy — while providing AMC and its network of growers worldwide with varieties that are more productive and require less labor and lower overall inputs. Of course, these new varieties must be available in red, green and black, combined with early, mid- and late-season harvest times. No small task.

Just a few years into the partnership with Sheehan, AMC realized grape breeding was becoming a major part of its business, not just a small research and development offshoot.

SNFL was set up in 2004 to develop and license Sheehan’s new varieties worldwide through a select group of the world’s leading growers based in all the major table grape-producing countries and regions.

“Having a better product is only part of the equation,” Muñoz said in the press release. “We knew we had to have growers capable of bringing out the best in the fruit. Anything short of that would have been like building a high-performance race car and then letting just anyone drive it.” 

SNFL has since licensed about 25,000 acres of the main Sheehan varieties worldwide, including over 10,000 acres in the San Joaquin Valley alone.

To ensure year-round availability, SNFL has licensed some of the leading growers in Chile, Mexico, Brazil and Peru. Together, the four countries will produce some 1.5 million cartons of Sheehan grapes in the coming season.

The current catalogue of some 20 varieties includes successful products like the mid-season, seedless Magenta, with an electric pink color and refreshing cherry overtones, and the early-season green Ivory, which is crisp, juicy and sweet.

To stay ahead of demand and evolving consumer tastes, SNFL has another 100 or so Sheehan selections in the developmental pipeline, many of which will be introduced as new commercial varieties in the coming months.

At the heart of those efforts is a new, state-of-the-art laboratory and field-testing facility in Spain, The Grape Genesis. And while Sheehan died in 2009, the father-and-son team of Juan and Ivan Carreño continue his work as breeder and molecular biologist respectively.

The team utilizes a vast and deep range of parental stock, collected from the world’s great grape regions, to create unique varieties that not only provide new flavor sensations but also feature health benefits consumers are seeking, like higher levels of antioxidants, and traits growers covet, like better disease resistance.

The introduction of marker-assisted breeding to the process will cut development time from origin to commercial production to five to eight years from 12 to 15 years.

The Magenta is the first variety to arrive from Peru this season, and is available now. The Timpson will be in the United States after Christmas. To help market the new arrivals, AMC North America has forged revolutionary partnerships with U.S. retailers.

“We want consumers to come back to retailers and specifically ask for Magenta by name, that’s the goal for all our varieties,” Muñoz added in the press release. “If you improve the product, you increase overall consumption, delight the consumer and retailer alike and can change the way Americans eat grapes, and that’s exactly what we’re doing.” 

Giumarra adds former Roundy’s category buyer to marketing department

Giumarra has added Kristina Lorusso, Midwest region business manager, to its marketing team. Lorusso was previously employed by Roundy’s Supermarkets Inc., where she most recently served as a category buyer.

“Kristina’s expertise in the fresh category and how best to promote at retail will be an asset to this position,” Hillary Brick, senior vice president of strategic development for Giumarra, said in a press release. “Her in-depth regional market knowledge will help us better serve our Midwest customers. This is an increasingly important region for us.”kristina lorussoKristina Lorusso

Prior to Roundy’s, Lorusso worked in public relations for a government affairs firm for the healthcare lobby. She received a master's degree in history from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

At Giumarra, she takes over a position previously held by Ben Reilly, who relocated to his native Australia in early 2015.

Lorusso is based in Milwaukee and will work closely with regional customer accounts to grow business and develop targeted promotions, including those designed to market Giumarra’s line of Fair Trade Certified product grown in Mexico.

Additionally, she will represent Giumarra at industry and customer functions and events.

“As a retailer, I always admired the Giumarra Companies for their outstanding service, consistently great quality, and willingness to assist with innovative marketing strategies,” Lorusso said in the release. “Now that I'm part of the team, I am eager to forge and strengthen strategic partnerships with retailers and to help our partners expand their business.”

Allens Inc.'s $10 million PACA violation

The U.S. Department of Agriculture has cited Siloam Springs, AR-based Allens Inc., also known as Veg Liquidation Inc., for failure to pay $9.76 million to 40 produce sellers for 2,312 lots of produce.allen

As a result of this violation of the Perishable Agricultural Commodities Act, Allens Inc. cannot operate in the produce industry until Dec. 2, 2017, at which time it may apply for a PACA license. The company’s principals have challenged their responsibly connected status.

In 2013 Allens filed for chapter 11 bankruptcy protection. The company, which was founded in 1926, was acquired by Sager Creek Vegetable Co. in a bankruptcy proceeding in 2014. Del Monte Foods subsequently aquired Sager's assets for $75 million in March 2015.

In the past three years, the USDA resolved approximately 3,700 PACA claims involving more than $66 million. Its experts also assisted more than 7,100 callers with issues valued at approximately $100 million.

Ahold division closing stores in Virginia

Martin’s Food Markets, a division of Ahold USA, will close three stores within the greater Richmond, VA, area in the summer of 2016. The leases for all three locations are set to expire and the company said a business decision was made not to extend the leases for these stores.martin

“We have made the difficult decision to close these locations,” Tom Lenkevich, Martin’s president, said in a press release. “The Petersburg, Mechanicsville and Stony Point store teams have worked very hard and we greatly appreciate the dedicated service of our associates.”

A total of 357 associates will be affected. The company said full-time associates will have the opportunity to apply for open positions at nearby stores. In addition they will be offered separation benefits and transition support. Martin’s also said all part-time associates will be offered opportunities at nearby locations.

Western Growers opens Center for Innovation & Technology

Western Growers recently held a grand opening of its Center for Innovation & Technology, a technology incubator aimed at bringing innovative entrepreneurs together with farmers to facilitate creative solutions to the biggest challenges facing agriculture.westy

Bruce Taylor, chairman and chief executive officer of Taylor Farms, was instrumental in coalescing the Western Growers board of directors around his vision to help agriculture facilitate solutions to its resources challenges.

“The fresh produce industry is labor intensive and requires significant use of water and other inputs," he said in a press release. "If we are going to continue providing safe and healthy food to a growing population, we must collaborate more closely with the innovators and entrepreneurs who can help us revolutionize how we farm.”

Tom Nassif, president and chief executive officer of Western Growers, has been responsible for implementing the vision of the Western Growers board of directors.

“In an era of diminishing natural and human resources and growing regulatory and marketplace demands, the future of agriculture depends on technology," Nassif said in the release. "The center will serve as a hub for the accelerated development and rapid deployment of innovative solutions to help farmers feed more people with fewer inputs.”

The WGCIT will help identify and prioritize the major needs facing the agriculture industry, provide support to start-up companies as they develop and refine technologies to address these priorities, and communicate the most promising advancements to the industry and venture capitalists.

Rao Mandava, chairman and president of Inteligistics, a company that uses the Internet of Things and “Big Data” to offer innovative temperature sensor software for the supply chain, is pleased to be one of the inaugural tenants in the WGCIT. “Inteligistics is proud to be a partner with Western Growers and looks forward to working with the industry to develop cutting-edge technology for agriculture," Mandava said in the release. "We are excited by the opportunity to showcase our solutions and connect with like-minded entrepreneurs in a fast-paced environment.”

All WGCIT start-up companies will have access to hot desks or work stations, both with the amenities of a traditional office. Additionally, these tenants will have access to regular programming — classes, workshops and networking events — designed to provide them with the business knowledge and customer relationships they need to successfully bring their technologies to market.