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Mike Pirrone expects good pumpkin crop despite recent rains

Rains in late August followed a wonderful growing season for Michigan pumpkins, according to Henry DeBlouw V, president of Mike Pirrone Produce.

On Sept. 2, DeBlouw indicated that the crop continued to “look good,” despite “rain here and there.”

The firm is located in Capac, in southeast Michigan, where it grows pumpkins. Mike Pirrone also ships for independent growers of pumpkins and ornamental pumpkins. DeBlouw expects to ship 450 loads of pumpkin this fall.  

“We had a big rain yesterday and the rest of the week looks good,” he said. “It’s supposed to rain this weekend, but it will be cooler next week, which is good for the crop.”

Despite the damp challenges early in Michigan’s pumpkin harvest season, he expects a successful season for shipping Mike Pirrone pumpkins.

Port of Houston begins receiving South African summer citrus

South African summer citrus has expanded is arrival destinations with a pilot program to include the port of Houston. A shipment of seven containers has been successfully received there and will be followed by another four containers scheduled to arrive on or around Sept. 9. Both shipments contain Navel oranges.

“We are very excited about this expanded program to the U.S.,” Suhanra Conradie, chief executive officer of the Western Cape Citrus Producers Forum, said in a press release.Photo2South Africa’s Western Cape Citrus Producers Forum Director and citrus grower Piet Smit (second from left) receives a plaque commemorating the arrival of South Africa’s first shipment of Navel oranges to the port of Houston. Along with Smit were Bruce McEvoy, of South African Citrus Growers Association, and Roger Guenther and Ricky Kunz of Port of Houston Authority. “It has been our plan to better meet the need of importers as well as retail stores in the mid- and far west points of the U.S.” 

The WCCPF is a consortium of some 230 growers approved to export citrus from South Africa to the United States. South Africa is among the largest exporters of citrus in the world.

The port of Houston was selected for its location and state-of-the-art facilities used to inspect the fruit on arrival. “Houston is an excellent gateway and provides a central location enabling greater efficiencies of time and cost,” Conradie said in the release. “It offers us the capability to serve the market needs of the entire Midwest area from Houston to Chicago, and points west.”

Houston is one of the larger container ports on the Gulf Coast and the seventh-largest container port in the U.S.

“We are proud to welcome South African summer citrus to Texas,” Ricardo J. Arias, trade development manager for the port of Houston, said in the release. “Whenever we are able to bring new business to the port, it boosts employment and economic activity in our region, which ultimately is the mission of the Port of Houston Authority.”

On arrival, the citrus undergoes the standard rigorous inspection conducted by the USDA Animal Plant Health Inspection Service. Citrus from South Africa is inspected by USDA APHIS as well as South Africa’s Department of Agriculture, Forestry & Fisheries prior to leaving the port of Cape Town.

“The South Africa Summer Citrus program is unique in that it is inspected prior to departure and again on arrival in the U.S.,” said Conradie. “We are fortunate to work so closely with DAFF and the USDA APHIS. Both agencies are instrumental in the success of the citrus program and are to be lauded for their vigilance with us to assure citrus safety as well as support the program’s expansion in the U.S.”

“The expansion of the program to the port of Houston will enable us to better meet the needs of our retail customers,” Marc Solomon, senior vice president of Capespan North America, said in the release. “Having the fruit arrive in the Southwestern region of the U.S. allows us to service clients in the Southwest and Midwest, getting to the retailers and ultimately to consumers only that much more quickly. Improved efficiencies result in lower costs for the consumer at a time when nutrition and healthy food options are essential.”

Capespan North America and Seald Sweet are the two importers receiving the fruit from the shipments to Houston, with Capespan North America receiving the majority of it. Capespan North America, along with Bruce McEvoy, U.S. representative of the South African Citrus Growers Association, has been instrumental facilitating the Houston program.

“Seald Sweet has been an importer of South African summer citrus since the start in 1999 and has been a leader in growing the category here,” Mayda Sotomayor, CEO of Seald Sweet, said in the release. “This is a next logical step in the expansion of the import-export program from South Africa and helps us continue meeting the needs of our customers.”

South African summer citrus complements the domestic citrus industry from June through October when U.S.-grown citrus is less available. In its 15th year, South Africa exports roughly 42,000 tons of citrus each year to the U.S. in both containers and conventional refrigerated vessels to the port of Newark (containers) and the port of Philadelphia at Gloucester City, NJ. Varieties include clementines, Navels, Midknight Valencias and Star Ruby grapefruit.

“With the success of the pilot program to Houston, we expect to export more fruit there in 2015,” said Conradie. “While our export volumes have remained steady in recent years, we envision the potential for greater volumes to the U.S. as demand for our high-quality fruit continues to grow.”

The WCCPF facilitates logistical, marketing and sales support coordination of products for its members.  Its mission is to maintain and expand its role as the preferred and reliable supplier of fresh and safe summer citrus for the U.S.

Fresh Farms increases fall veg volumes and adds Bell peppers

The fall 2014 vegetable program of Rio Rico, AZ-based distributor Fresh Farms will add green Bell peppers to the mix.

Jerry Havel, director of sales and marketing, indicated the volume on most other Mexican vegetable commodities will be up this fall. But Fresh Farms' overall product mix will otherwise be the same.

Havel said Fresh Farms' fall program will kick off Sept. 15 with cucumbers. The cucumber volume this fall will be up about 30 percent.

"Squash and watermelon will begin in the first week of October and hard squash about Oct. 25," he said. "We will have green beans and eggplant in November.

"Squash will be up slightly and hard squash will be up 25 percent," Havel added. "Green beans will be up 30 percent. So, we have the same items, just more of existing items."

The Bell pepper line will start shipping in mid- to late November.

All of the firm's products are branded "Fresh Farms."

"There is great demand for our label by our retail and wholesale accounts," Havel noted, adding the increased volumes this fall will help meet that demand.

Meijer planning to hire more than 10,000 team members

Midwestern retailer Meijer is preparing to hire thousands of new team members for its stores as the growing company prepares for the fall and holiday selling seasons, announced Janet Emerson, executive vice president of operations for the Grand Rapids, MI-based retailer.

“Meijer is always looking for good people,” Emerson said in a press release. “Our continued growth provides a great opportunity to find new team members who will help deliver on the Meijer promise of providing exceptional customer service.”

Meijer stores are open 24 hours and only close on Christmas Day. While staffing needs vary from store to store, positions are available at all Meijer stores. The retailer is planning to hire more than 10,000 new team members throughout the Midwest: 4,800 in Michigan; 1,800 in Indiana; 1,700 in Ohio; 1,500 in Illinois; and 1,000 in Kentucky.

“While most of these opportunities are part-time and seasonal, these jobs can provide a gateway to a full-time career at Meijer,” Michael Rotelle, senior vice president of human resources, said in the release. “As we continue to grow, we are frequently looking to fill our ongoing part-time and full-time needs. These positions provide an opportunity for people to begin a retail career within a growing company.”

While traditional retail positions such as stockers and cashiers are needed, there are also opportunities in more specialized roles. Many Meijer team members have begun in entry-level roles and grown into full-time and leadership positions.

Total Produce makes further inroads in North American market

Total Produce, based in Dublin, Ireland, has purchased a 45 percent share of Eco Farms Avocados Inc., a Temecula, CA-based grower, shipper and importer of avocados and other fruit.

Eco Farms, which was started by a partnership led by company President Steve Taft in the early 1970s, was one of the pioneers in the development of the organic avocado sector.

Taft told The Produce News Sept. 2 that the company has entertained offers before but the timing was never right. He said a number of factors entered into the decision to allow Total Produce to purchase a minority stake in the avocado operation with the ability to take controlling interest at an unannounced time down the road.

"Certainly the age of the partners was a factor," he said.

However, he added that there will be no immediate changes in the management of Eco Farms.

Total Produce's first entry into the North American marketplace came in early 2013 when it agreed to purchase a controlling interest in the Vancouver, BC-based Oppenheimer Group in two phases over a four- to five-year period.

Taft said the Irish firm's method of operation is to "acquire well-run companies and not change a lot of things." He said that was another factor in partnering with the European-based firm.

The Eco Farms president expects that the new partnership will result in an infusion of cash "that may allow us to do a few things," but he wouldn't reveal any specifics. He did say that Eco Farms has done a little business in Europe in the past "and this might make that a little bit easier."

However, he added that he did not anticipate shipping any California avocados to Europe, "but maybe from some of the other areas that we represent."

Like most California avocado grower-shippers, Eco Farms also imports from several other major production areas including Mexico, Chile and Peru. Taft said that aside from Total Produce's wholesale business and an avocado connection through Oppenheim, this is the company's first foray into the avocado-production business.

Taft did say that there has been quite a bit of consolidation in the avocado business over the past decade and indicated this would allow Eco Farms to remain as a viable grower-shipper.

The company's general manager, Matthew Clark, told an international produce publication that involvement from Total Produce will allow Eco Farms to increase its grower base around the world and double its volume within the next three to five years.