A&P said to be poised for sale

At one time the largest U.S. supermarket chain with more than 15,000 stores, the Great Atlantic & Pacific Tea Co. could be on its way out of the supermarket business.

The Montvale, NJ-based retailer is said to be positioning itself for sale, according to a joint statement issued by representatives of 11 food union locals, which said they are “well aware of the rumors circulating about the potential sale of the A&P company in whole or in part.”

A&P, which emerged from bankruptcy protection in 2012, told The Record newspaper on June 16 that the company continues to weigh its options and that it is exploring strategic alternatives.

In a statement, A&P said the review process “is ongoing and no decisions have been made,” and that there is no timetable for a decision.

The New York Post reported on June 17 that A&P is actively shopping 137 of its stores, including 10 Food Emporium locations in New York City.

A&P has been looking for a buyer for some time now. In 2013, the company hired Credit Suisse to help it explore strategic alternatives, including the possible sale of the company. At the time, Kroger and Ahold had been mentioned as possible buyers, as was C&S Wholesale Grocers.

A&P currently operates approximately 300 stores in six states under the A&P, Pathmark, Food Basics, Waldbaum’s, Superfresh and Food Emporium banners.

School officials advocate for Child Nutrition Bill at seminar

CHICAGO — The Urban School Food Alliance, a group of six of the nation’s largest school districts, advocated for the reauthorization of the federal Child Nutrition Bill during a United Fresh convention seminar, here, June 9.

The alliance represents the school districts of New York City, Los Angeles, Chicago, Miami, Dallas and Orlando. Combined, these six school districts serve 3 million kids daily, which equates to more than 500 million meals a year.

Five of the six districts were represented on the panel during the United Fresh event, including Laura Benavidez of Los Angeles Unified School District, Leslie Fowler of Chicago Public Schools, Penny Parham of Miami-Dade County Public Schools, Dennis Barrett of the New York City Department of Education, and Lenea Pollett of the Dallas Independent School District. As a group, they were very enthusiastic about the increased inclusion of fresh fruits and vegetables on school menus.

Barrett of New York said the group is advocating for an increase of 50 cents per meal in federal funding.

“We want and need additional money to help to sustain the free lunch program,” he said.

He noted that some fruits and vegetables that are perfect for kids — such as easy-to-peel citrus — are more expensive and difficult to purchase with the current budget. He asked the produce industry in attendance to lobby for the reauthorization bill.

Parham of Miami said not to buy into media reports that kids waste fruits and vegetables and so they shouldn’t be included in the program. She said kids are kids and they do waste food, but it cuts across all categories.

Benavidez said fruits and vegetables greatly elevate the school meal program and said with more funding her school districts could institute better specs and buy organic produce, as well.

Pollett said “kids are heavier than they have ever been” and mandating the consumption of produce at the school level is an excellent way to combat childhood obesity. She said exposing them to healthy eating at a young age can establish a life-long pattern of good eating habits.

When discussing what the produce industry can do for them product wise, the foodservice directors had lots of suggestions.

Fowler of Chicago repeatedly said that her district is looking for “opportunity” buys. If a produce distributor has a deal, she can utilize it. She worked to dispel the belief that menus are set in stone and a district can only purchase a product when there is enough for all schools. If Fowler can get an excellent deal on fresh produce but can put it in only 10 schools, that works for her.

Parham agreed that it is possible to capitalize on opportunities. Echoing what many said, she noted communications between the school district and the produce supplier is key. She also said that fresh-cut products that can be cooked as part of a hot meal would be an excellent product to develop for the school foodservice industry.

For example, Parham said that a pack of vegetables that can be dropped in with chicken as part of a fajita stir fry would help fill the fruit and vegetable requirement and cut down on the workload of the cooking staff.

Fowler said individually quick frozen products might also have utility in school foodservice programs. Again, they help the districts meet its fruit and vegetable goals in a convenient way.

Barrett called on produce suppliers to help develop foodservice recipes that include their products. He noted that kale salad has become popular.

“We are looking for recipes, we want to emulate a five-star restaurant,” he said, eschewing the notion that quality and trends aren’t important.

Parham agreed, saying, “Don’t be afraid to bring us something new,” noting that a supplier brought cranberry hibiscus juice that was a hit.

Benavidez reminded the audience that school districts serve a lot of breakfasts to underprivileged kids and so she is often looking for a way to incorporate fruits and vegetables into the first meal of the day.

Pollett said older kids are looking for grab-and-go items. She indicated there is need for more of these type options in the produce category.

The foodservice directors are interested in lots of information on availability, handling and cooling needs of fresh produce. Several members of the audience said they had the information on ready-to-use charts and the panel said that would be very much welcome.

Barrett said shelf life is important as he needs 10 days to get the product through the system. He also has to have compostable packaging.

The group also indicated that through their alliance they can make volume buys in an effort to bring down the price of fresh produce.

Computer hardware snafu locks out crucial harvest workers

A computer failure at the U.S. Department of State Bureau of Consular Affairs is resulting in the loss of up to $1 million each day for California’s agriculture industry, according to The Wall Street Journal.

WSJ reported that more than 1,000 workers who expected H-2A agricultural visas are unable to enter the United States from Mexico as a result of the June 9 hardware failure. Without those workers, fields are being left unpicked. The glitch is also affecting growers from Washington to Michigan and along the East Coast during the busy seasonal harvest for many fruit and vegetable items.

The ever-present issues of immigration and labor reform took center stage earlier this month when Broetje Orchards LLC had to pay a record $2.25 million civil penalty fine following a settlement agreement with U.S. Immigration & Customs Enforcement as a result of an immigration audit that said some of the company’s workers were not eligible to work in the United States.

Broetje described its case and settlement as highlighting "what is clearly a dysfunctional and broken immigration system. We urge our industry and our state’s congressional delegation to take the lead to support and pass immigration reform legislation. The agricultural labor shortage needs to be fixed, and now.”

Concern about such penalties has resulted in some turning to the seasonal worker H-2A program, which was described as expensive and bureaucratic before this visa issue arose.

The Bureau of Consular Affairs didn’t have a specific timeline for restoring its visa processing, but it said, “We expect the systems to be fully operational again soon.” However that isn't likely to mean much for growers who are unable to harvest their crops due to insufficient labor.

Organic Trade Association on point with research and reaching out across the nation

As the demand for organic produce aggressively jumps boundaries, and with no signs of slowing down, the Organic Trade Association is working hard to keep spreading the message and reporting about organic conditions across the nation.

On April 15, the OTA issued a press release stating that U.S. consumers devoured a record amount of organics in 2014. Households of all sizes and income levels, and individuals of all ages, ethnic backgrounds and political leanings are buying organic today.

Sales of organic food and non-food products in the United States broke through another record in 2014, totaling $39.1 billion, up 11.3 percent from the previous year, according to the OTA’s latest survey.MoreApples-2Organic apples ready for harvest. (Photos courtesy of the Organic Trade Association)

Despite the industry struggling with tight supplies of organic ingredients, organic food sales in 2014 are reported at $35.9 billion. The survey stated that the majority of American households in all regions of the country now make organic a part of their supermarket and retail purchases; from 68 to almost 80 percent of households in southern states, to nearly 90 percent on the West Coast and in New England.

“On the heels of organic sales now nearing a milestone five percent share of the total food market, organic stakeholders have gathered in Washington to educate lawmakers and policymakers,” said Laura Batcha, chief executive officer and executive director of OTA. “Our consumer survey has already found that organic doesn’t have any demographic boundaries. This additional new data proves [that organic produce] doesn’t have regional or partisan boundaries.”

On May 12, in a groundbreaking move for the nation’s organic sector, the OTA, in collaboration with the core committee of the Generic Research and Promotion Order for Organic, or “GRO Organic,” formally petitioned the U.S. Department of Agriculture to begin steps to conduct a vote on and implement a research and promotion check-off program for the organic industry.

“The organic industry in America is thriving and maturing, but it is at a critical juncture,” Batcha said in a press release. “Many consumers remain unaware of what that organic seal really means. Organic production in this country is not keeping pace with the robust demand. An organic check-off program would give organic stakeholders the opportunity to collectively invest in research, build domestic supply and communicate the value of the organic brand to advance the entire industry to a new level.”

More than 5,000 organic farms and businesses responded to OTA’s extensive surveys, weighing in support of establishing a dedicated organic check-off by a margin of 2 to 1, with little or no difference in the amount of support between the size and types of operations.

“As an industry we haven’t done a great job explaining to shoppers what it means to be organic and the benefits of organic,” said Nicole Dawes, founder and chief executive officer of Late July Organic Snacks. “As a result, consumers are still confused by the difference between certified organic, all natural and non-GMO products.”

Once the USDA completes its review of the application, an official proposal for an organic research and promotion check-off program will be published in the Federal Register, followed by a public comment period.

The final step will be a referendum on the proposed check-off, with all certified organic stakeholders eligible to vote. Approval by a majority of the organic stakeholders voting is required for implementation.

Also in May, the OTA participated for the first time in South Korea’s biggest food trade show of the year, Seoul Hotel and Food. The OTA showcased five American organic companies at its all-organic pavilion.

South Korea is an important market for the United States, and demand for organic from the country’s 50-million plus population is flourishing.

“Demand for American organic products in Korea is booming, and OTA is working hard to help the U.S. organic sector meet that growing appetite,” said Batcha. “OTA is thrilled to be helping organic companies explore new business opportunities at this very important trade show.”

The organic food market in Korea grew by an average rate of 50 percent from 2006 to 2011, and is expected to expand to $6 billion by 2020.

OTA is an official cooperator in the USDA’s Market Access Program to promote U.S. organic products abroad.

Lew Janowsky, well-known produce industry attorney, was 64

Longtime produce industry attorney Lewis P. Janowsky died June 13 of complications from pancreatic cancer. He was 64 years old.

Mr. Janowsky was one of the founding partners of Rynn & Janowsky, a Newport Beach, CA, law firm that specializes in PACA law and other business issues in the produce industry.

Born and raised in Newark, NJ, Mr. Janowsky graduated from SUNY at Buffalo with a bachelor’s degree in English before receiving his law degree from Chicago-Kent Law School in 1977. LewJanowskyLewis P. Janowsky

Mr. Janowsky began his law career prosecuting criminal cases in the Cook County State's Attorney's Office in Illinois. Eventually, he’d had enough of the cold weather and packed up all of his worldly possessions into a 1967 Plymouth Barracuda and U-Haul trailer, and relocated to Southern California.

Settling in Los Angeles, Mr. Janowsky passed the California Bar Exam in the summer of 1980, and shortly thereafter took a job as a staff attorney in Orange County for Western Growers Association, where he represented growers and shippers of fresh produce in labor and employment related matters. 

In 1986, Mr. Janowsky, along with fellow WGA attorney Patricia Rynn, established the law firm of Rynn & Janowsky. His co-workers said he “has been a tireless advocate for our clients with a brilliant legal mind, and an ever-present dry sense of humor. He could always be counted on to keep the attorneys and staff at the firm on their toes.”

As one of the two founding partners of Rynn & Janowsky, he was directly involved in many of the early federal court decisions that established and expanded shippers' PACA trust rights, which have become so vital to the produce industry. He also maintained and cultivated his expertise in labor and employment law, providing advice and guidance to employers across a wide range of industries.

Mr. Janowsky conducted numerous seminars on employment-related issues and successfully litigated a multitude of employment disputes. He represented employers and produce companies in labor and commercial litigation disputes, in both federal and state courts throughout the United States, arguing before the California Supreme Court on several occasions, as well as the California Courts of Appeal, and the U.S. Court of Appeal for the Ninth Circuit.

Mr. Janowsky enjoyed traveling, spending time with family and loved ones, and critiquing the latest movie releases. He was active in several professional and community organizations.

“We will never forget Lew, our loyal friend and mentor,” noted a statement from his legal partners. “His genuine love of the law, his work ethic and his notable advocacy skills set a high standard within the firm and he will be sorely missed.”

Patricia Rynn was traveling back from a family vacation to attend the services and was not immediately available for comment on her longtime law partner’s death.