Sizzling summer watermelon promotions kick into high gear

It’s pedal to the metal time now that the number four Chevy is hitting the NASCAR circuit for the National Watermelon Promotion Board. Stephanie Barlow, NWPB director of public relations and social media, said racecar driver Ross Chastain — who kicked off the NASCAR schedule in Richmond, VA, Talladega, AL and Dover, DE — now has his sights set on the Daytona 500 on July 4. Chastain’s action-packed schedule in the Chevy concludes at the Darlington Raceway in South Carolina on Labor Day.

“We’ve started a ‘Show Us Your W’ campaign for social media tagging and upping the response to watermelon giveaways at these events,” said Barlow. “We ask people to post a picture online showing us a W with the hashtag #WatermelonFTW [for the win]. We have Ross posting, the watermelon queens posting, and the Watermelon Board posting, driving traffic and excitement to watermelon.”

The board participates in the Marine Corps Marathon, helping to rehydrate, replenish and recover athletes. Barlow said people can learn more about watermelon’s health benefits to the active running community at related events, and fruit is frequently served at the finish line. “Not only do we give away a truckload of watermelon to thousands and thousands of runners and their supporters, but we are also educating about the health, value and versatility benefits of watermelon year-round,” she commented.

PromotionsOVThe National Watermelon Promotion Board will once again sponsor retail contests during the summer designed to increase watermelon sales. (Photo courtesy of the National Watermelon Promotion Board)It’s officially a record breaker: the board has received over 120 entries for the 2015 carving contest. “This year, we are splitting the contest in two, offering the same contest for experienced and beginner carvers,” Barlow said. “There is just so much talent and creativity out there. We award extra points for originality but also best use of other produce items and the staging of the entry photo.”

Last year, a Star Spangled Watermelon category was added, commemorating the 200th birthday of the country’s national anthem. This year, cash prizes will be awarded to first-, second- and third-place winners in the categories of Most Elegant, Best Fruit Basket, Best Animal, Funniest and Star Spangled.

“The first 25 entries get a watermelon cutting board entry prize as well,” Barlow continued. “Then we award a grand prize People’s Choice voted online through a gallery, and this year we are introducing a Judges’ Choice. Again, cash prizes. All together, we are giving away over $3,000 in cash.”

On the retail level, summertime promotions will focus on the watermelon queen program and the busy schedule of in-store watermelon sampling and giveaways, organized by each of the board’s state chapters. “Also, the big July Retail Display contest which has a heavy [Defense Commissary Agency] participation,” she added.

The board is in the inaugural year of its new foodservice program. Barlow said the goal is to better understand the opportunity and help the foodservice audience, and strong research initiatives are being developed. “The first research initiative is Datassential Menu Trends research to understand the current landscape for watermelon at foodservice,” she said.

The board also plans to invest in a cutting, yield and storage study to better arm the foodservice industry with the tools needed to balance the yield and time it takes to cut a watermelon as well as strategies to make the fruit last once it’s cut.

“The NWPB’s first big splash with foodservice media will be the International Foodservice Editorial Council’s Reception at the National Restaurant Show,” Barlow continued. “The board will network with foodservice media as they try the Watermelon Rind Slaw and Watermelon Bruschetta [recipes].”

NWPB is working to make contacts at the commercial and non-commercial foodservice level with chefs and operators to get more watermelon on menus. “Sponsoring events such as the National Association of College and University Food Services, PMA Foodservice and The Flavor Experience will help the board make the connections necessary and highlight the versatile watermelon and its many menu applications,” she went on to say.

The board is also looking for promotion partners within chains and universities in 2015. “Consumer awareness of having a watermelon menu item only helps to inspire consumers to buy a watermelon and try the recipe out at home,” Barlow said.

Kneeland leaving Kings for new position with Ahold

Veteran produce retailer Paul Kneeland is leaving Kings Food Markets, based in Parsippany, NJ, to lead fresh food merchandising for a new division of Ahold USA called Fresh Formats LLC.

Kneeland, whose last day at Kings is May 29, told The Produce News that he would become vice president of fresh merchandising for the division. He said the first store, which has yet to be named, is scheduled to open in Massachusetts at the end of the summer. He declined to provide further information about the store, other than to say it is “a new concept.”

kneelandKneelandKneeland began his retail career at Roche Bros., based in Wellesley, MA, and worked there for 26 years, rising to director of produce and floral operations. He joined Kings in 2007 to lead that chain’s produce and floral divisions. At the time of his departure, he held the title of vice president of produce, floral, seafood and meat, overseeing virtually all of King’s fresh food operations.

“It’s been a tremendous eight years at Kings,” he said. “It’s been an absolute pleasure working with the team here, and I am especially proud of how we advanced the merchandising strategy of the fresh foods.”

Kneeland was instrumental in bringing Kings’ 24 Hour Just Picked Promise Program to fruition. That popular program, now in its fourth year, endeavors to bring locally grown farm-fresh fruits, vegetables and herbs to retail shelves within 24 hours of being picked.

Kneeland said he wasn’t looking to leave Kings, but “a great opportunity came along and it was too good to pass up. It’s a start-up operation that presents a great challenge for me, and I love challenges. I am very much looking forward to it.”

The former Eastern Produce Council president said he would continue to reside in New Jersey and would try to remain involved with the council and attend meetings when he can, but “obviously my focus will be on the new position.”

Hugh Branch rebrands with new name and logo

The company formerly known as Hugh H. Branch, Inc. recently announced a new trade-facing name, Branch: A Family of Farms and its shortened version, Branch.

The South Bay, FL-based company makes this change in an effort to be more encompassing of its long-withstanding network of famers and tell their rich history. The company wishes to not just call out its founder, Hugh Branch, but also all the farmers that have made up this operation from the beginning.

Many of the Branch farmers have been growing quality produce for over 50 years, with most averaging 25 years of service. It is this family of farms that Branch Farms considers the core of its success.

“As we grow, we want to reposition our company and brand by putting our farmers at the center of everything we do,” said Brett Bergmann, president of Branch. “Our new logo says it all ‘Branch: A Family of Farms.’ We are much more than just one person, we are a family of farmers who all share the common purpose of providing customers with the highest quality vegetables possible.”

It is this rich tradition of family farms that allows Branch to live by their founding principles of integrity, quality, service and a commitment to the industry and the sustainability of the environment since 1957.


Arizona Leafy Greens’ Food Safety Training Program is a one-stop solution

The Arizona Food Safety Training Committee — otherwise known as the Arizona Leafy Greens Marketing Agreement — is introducing for sale a comprehensive food-safety training kit.

The Phoenix-based organization will make-available at the United Fresh convention this Arizona Leafy Greens Food Safety Training Kit, which was created with the Arizona State Department of Agriculture. The kit is also available for immediate download through a secure online portal from its new website The online store is the first time the Arizona Department of Agriculture has ventured into online commerce. The Arizona Department of Agriculture administers the Arizona Leafy Greens Marketing Agreement program but industry 100 percent pays for it.

“We began a process two years ago to make the Food Safety Training Kit (FSTK) available online, in our ongoing quest to make this universal program as flexible and accessible as possible,” said Vicki-Lynne Scott, technical subcommittee chairperson and board member of the Arizona Leafy Greens Food Safety Committee. “With anticipated FSMA standards, employing our practices now can give farmers and harvesters a head start when compliance deadlines come closer.”

FSTK-all The store offers the entire Food Safety Training Kit for the introductory price of $499, which includes all materials in both English and Spanish (workplace posters, tailgate flip charts, DVDs, training binders, etc.), as well as a la carte pricing for supplemental materials starting at just $5.

At United Fresh, attendees can purchase the entire kit, with all camera-ready materials, on a thumb drive. The FSTK can also be acquired electronically through a secure web link or via FedEx shipping. The site takes major credit cards. Traditional purchases can still be made with a purchase order or electronic check. Scott and Arizona Leafy Greens Program Administrator Teressa Lopez will be at United Fresh to demo the materials, alongside Arizona’s counterparts from California LGMA.

The organization’s comprehensive Food Safety Training Program is targeted for harvest supervisors and foremen, food-safety coordinators, production supervisors, quality control personnel, extension educators and/or industry consultants who conduct food-safety training at leafy greens farms, and is specifically targeted at those who handle leafy greens before, during or after harvest. The program was designed to ensure compliance with federal regulations for food safety, including anticipated Food Safety Modernization Act standards.

“Our training program has become a model in the industry, with the FDA even suggesting coordination with Arizona and our California counterpart on ensuring compliance with new FSMA rules for food safety,” said Vicki-Lynne Scott.

Earlier this year, Arizona Leafy Greens introduced Module 4 to its comprehensive program. Pre-Harvest and Daily Harvest Environmental Assessments addresses the industry’s need to train those responsible for monitoring potential environmental contaminants. The highly technical module is specifically designed for those in supervisory roles and personnel who conduct daily field assessments, providing templates to encourage uniformity in monitoring. The development of Module 4 coincided with the production and launch of a bilingual DVD series, a plug-and-play version of the entire FSTK. The six-chapter video series was shot on-site at farms throughout Arizona, and closely follows the format of the Arizona Leafy Greens’ Food Safety Training Kit. It features a general orientation, and chapters on foodborne outbreaks, leafy greens contaminants, personal hygiene, hand washing and cross-contamination in the field.

The videos are produced in both English and Spanish, and range in length from five to 12 minutes. The video series was made possible in part by a USDA specialty crop block grant awarded to fund various initiatives that strengthen and expand economic opportunities for local and regional producers. The Food Safety Training Kit is a comprehensive training tool that addresses safe food handling practices in the field. The bilingual program has been widely used by the leafy greens industry, and serves as a model for creating uniform standards and practices. Various components of the Food Safety Training Kit were named finalists for “best new food-safety solution” at United Fresh 2012 and 2014.

The Arizona Leafy Greens is a consortium of shippers of Arizona leafy greens produce that have put in place protective controls to ensure the integrity of leafy greens products grown and shipped from Arizona. Arizona's Leafy Greens industry provides 75 percent of the leafy greens produce consumed in the United States and Canada for the months of November through March. The $1 billion industry employs approximately 20,000 workers. Arizona Leafy Greens is comprised of 90 percent of the state's growers and shippers in a volunteer network that enables them to proactively diffuse potential issues through an intricate system of checks and balances. The program is administered by the Arizona Department of Agriculture and closely monitored by USDA-licensed inspectors. More information is at  

Early start for Oneonta Starr Ranch Growers WA stone fruit

It’s “game on!” for stone fruit in the Pacific Northwest, much to the delight of consumers, according to Oneonta Starr Ranch Growers.

Thanks to a mild winter and spring, fruit has come on a week to 10 days earlier than normal this year, and Oneonta Starr Ranch Growers, with both conventional and organic tree-ripened fruit in good supplies, will ship its first loads of organic apricots June 1.

The certified apricots will ship through July 15, and conventional cots will ship June 10 through July 20, said OSRG Marketing Director Scott Marboe.

He noted that as California is finishing its apricot season early, demand is anticipated to be excellent for Washington fruit

GourmetApricotpouchcarton Marboe said the small, sweet, snack-perfect apricots are of excellent quality, noting, “Volume and sizing of the conventional cots will be similar to last season, but our organic volume will be up slightly this season, mostly due to new acreage of Robadas coming on line.”

The entire OSRG stone fruit program was expanded in 2014, with organic apricots, peaches, nectarines and three varieties of pluots comprising nearly 30 percent of the total volume, Marboe said.

“For the past several seasons, we have been working to increase our organic volume in all categories,” said National Sales Representative Bruce Turner.  “Consumer demand in organic and natural continues to grow, and our customers demand it. We plan to continue adding more organics to our manifest every year.”

At the same time it increases its stone fruit volume, OSRG is also adding to its pack options, with the late-season Gourmet Apricots packed in the popular one-pound pouch.

Turner said the late-season fruit are varieties that originated in New Zealand, and their season starts July 25 and runs about six weeks.

Also notable in the apricot category is the laCrème variety, which  is white-fleshed rather than orange. It is packed in the 12/1-pound clamshell, and Turner said, “They’re just too good not to try.”

Consumers can expect to see Oneonta Starr Ranch Growers’ juicy and delectable organic peaches on shelves June 25, and they will be available through Sept. 1. Conventional peaches will start shipping Aug. 1, and they will run through Sept. 15, finishing somewhat earlier than normal as well. Marboe said the crop is excellent again in 2015.

“The volume and sizing on conventional peaches is similar to last season,” he said. “Our organics will be off just slightly as acreage is grafted to newer white-flesh varieties.”

Oneonta Starr Ranch Grower’s smooth-skinned, juicy nectarines are down somewhat in volume this year and will also start early. Organics will ship June 25 through Sept. 1, and conventionals will start Aug. 1 and ship through mid-September. Demand in both categories is expected to be very strong, Turner said.

Pluots, the “new kid” on the stone fruit block, will start with organics about Aug. 25 and finish three weeks later. The Robada, newest in the line-up, “just melts in your mouth,” according to grower Scott Kehl.