SuperValu could separate its Save-A-Lot business

SuperValu Inc. is exploring a separation of its Save-A-Lot business, and as part of that process it has begun preparations to allow for a possible spin-off of Save-A-Lot into a stand-alone, publicly traded company.supervase

“Save-A-Lot is a leading national hard discount retailer with over 1,300 total stores, comprised of approximately 430 corporate stores and approximately 900 stores operated by licensee owners, and we believe Save-A-Lot has significant growth potential," Sam Duncan, president and chief executive officer, said in a press release. "Over the last two-and-a-half years, Save-A-Lot has repositioned its brand, refocused its efforts on fresh produce and meat, and remerchandised its stores and product offerings to better appeal to a broader group of customers.

"Today’s announcement reflects our commitment to continuing to explore ways to maximize value for our shareholders," he said. "We believe a separation of our Save-A-Lot business could allow Save-A-Lot, our Independent Business and our Retail Food banners to better focus on their respective operations, and pursue strategies specific to their business characteristics and growth potentials, for the benefit of our shareholders, customers, licensees and employees.”

The news came alongside the announcement of the company's Q1 sales results for fiscal 2016.

First quarter net sales were $5.41 billion compared to $5.26 billion last year, an increase of $143 million or 2.7 percent. Save-A-Lot network identical store sales were positive 0.6 percent. Identical store sales for corporate stores within the Save-A-Lot network were positive 2.8 percent. Retail Food segment identical store sales were negative 0.3 percent. Total sales within the Independent Business segment increased 1.7 percent. Fees earned under transition services agreements in the first quarter were $64 million compared to $58 million last year.

"We delivered sales increases across all three business segments and managed our costs very well in this first quarter," Duncan said. "I'm pleased with our bottom line and ability to manage to these results in spite of softer sales at Save-A-Lot and in our Retail Food stores. We have plans in place and operationally we remain well positioned."

No specific timetable for a separation has been set and there can be no assurance that a separation of Save-A-Lot will be completed or that any other change in the company’s overall structure or business model will occur.

Indianapolis Fruit Co. hosts 28th annual golf outing and trade show

Indianapolis Fruit Co. hosted its 28th annual golf outing and trade show July 20 and 21. The event brings together the wholesale distributor’s valued retail partners and vendors.  The 2015 golf outing and trade show was one of Indianapolis Fruit Co.’s most actively attended events in company history with more than 600 total guests enjoying the two-day event.

The trade show took place at The Crane Bay Event Center in downtown Indianapolis.Golf Outing 2015 Pictures-22Marc Jones of Indianapolis Fruit, Clay Verkaik of Standard Market, John Cunningham of Indianapolis Fruit and Doug Edwards of Millers & Sons. At the entrance of the event center, guests were greeted with a red carpet leading to a custom Spiderman and Avengers-themed NASCAR, provided and sponsored by Sage Fruit. The inside of the event center was beautifully decorated with all colors of fresh produce and assortments of flower bouquets.

Indianapolis Fruit Co.’s vendor partners displayed and sampled their products during the showcase, and relished the opportunity to interact with retailers. Continuing to give back to the community, all fresh produce and products displayed during the event were donated to the Little Sisters Foundation.

“We look forward to the show every year," Anthony Bruce from Melissa’s Produce said in a press release. "Great occasion for face-to-face interaction and best place to show-and-tell new items or demonstrate other opportunities for the stores.Golf Outing 2015 Pictures-13Rick Breeden of Natalie’s Orchid Island Juice Co. with Antonia Mascari of Indianapolis Fruit. Really a fun and relaxed atmosphere with all the right people at one place."

“The Indy Fruit food show is one of our company’s favorite events each year," Kevin Steiner of Sage Fruit said in the release. "It brings together vendors, retailers, and the Indy Fruit team and provides a forum for us to develop our partnerships and grow sales together. The atmosphere over the couple of days is professional, but relaxed so it really provides an ideal environment to collaborate.”

On July 21, the golf outing was held at Eagle Creek Golf Course and hosted over 250 golfers in a Florida-style scramble tournament. The weather was perfect, yielding blue skies and warm sun. Following the golf outing, a dinner and award ceremony was held in the clubhouse. Trophies were awarded to first- through third-place finishers, including the winning team of the day, which finished with a score of -21.

Colorful campaign an industry game-changer

The eat brighter! campaign, forged through a joint alliance of the Produce Marketing Association and Sesame Workshop in conjunction with the Partnership for a Healthier America, is already having an impact on the lives of young school children, their parents and caregivers.

The program, designed to encourage consumption of fresh fruits and vegetables among children, piggybacks on the successes of beloved and colorful Sesame Street characters and the highly successful Sesame Street brand to get its message across.EatBrighter1Sesame Street’s Big Bird is joined by first lady Michelle Obama, honorary chair of the Partnership for a Healthier America, and Billy Eichner, Funny Or Die/NBC comedian, in the Grocery Store video to promote the eat brighter! campaign. The video has been viewed over 550,000 times and is being considered for an Emmy nomination. (Photo courtesy of the Produce Marketing Association)

The program has been extended through the end of 2018, and Mexico has been added as an approved market, joining the United States and Canada in the campaign.

Results of a recent participant study conducted by PMA reveal just how much of an impact eat brighter! has had. Kathy Means, vice president of industry relations with PMA, said this is only the second full school for the campaign.

Here are some hot-off-the-press comments and insights. “On average, participants are reporting a 1 percent to 2 percent increase in sales,” Means told The Produce News.

Some industry kudos and observations provided to PMA by survey participants include:

  • “Characters: biggest booth draw ever.”  
  • “Beyond kids, appeals to broad demographic.”
  • “Accessible to every company.”
  • “Helps lead change with consumers.”
  •  “Unifying across the industry.”
  • “Staggering retail results; ran short of bags.”
  • “Game-changer for our industry.”
  • “Volume up with several retail outlets.”
  • “Well-accepted by retailers and consumers.”
  • “Love the graphics, message.”
  • “Increase sales volume, merchandising capabilities.”
  • “Excellent job getting retailers on board.”

The eat brighter! branded program is primarily delivered through suppliers and retail outlets via grocery stores. “There are opportunities for daycares and the lower elementary classes, especially through their produce suppliers,” Means said.

A royalty-free turnkey toolkit has been tweaked with more graphics and ideas for participants. “We do encourage retail participants to take advantage of the autumn/back-to-school seasonal point-of-sale graphics provided in the eat brighter! toolkit,” Means added.

Industry participation in the campaign continues to grow. “The number changes as we are adding new folks all the time. And once a company signs up, they are approved for the length of the initiative, now through the end of 2018,” Means commented. “So it is a continual build. When we add up all the participants — suppliers, promotional organizations, retailers either sublicensed themselves or accepting eat brightr!-labeled product — we have about 110 companies participating, representing 130 commodities out of around 155 and 30,000 grocery stores.”

Means was asked how PMA and participants get the word out about eat brighter! “We rely on our participants to reach into their communities, mostly through retail grocery stores,” she responded. “Stores are where people make their purchasing decisions, and we want to be marketing to parents and kids like the cereal, soda, candy, chips companies do. We want kids to demand fruits and vegetables — and they will and do when they see these favorite characters. We also have seen some great interactions and engagement through #eatbrighter on social media platforms like Twitter, Instagram and Facebook. Consumers and participants alike are sharing the message — and we couldn’t be happier about it.”

Although the campaign is primarily conducted through retailers and suppliers, Means added, “We are looking to reach lower-grade elementary students and daycares through suppliers. This is not a program aimed at schools, so this outreach is gravy for us. If suppliers are working with schools, they provide eat brighter!-labeled products to the foodservice operation.”

Chris Veillon, director of marketing for Nature Fresh Farms Sales Inc., provided some feedback about ways in which companies can become directly involved at the local level. Veillon said Nature Fresh Farms is supplying cases of fresh tomatoes, peppers, and cucumbers to three schools in the Leamington School District in Ontario, Canada, during its three-week Summer Learning Program. A total of 100 school children are participating in the program, and the supplied produce will be used as snacks and part of the children’s lunch program.

“By the end of the program, we will have provided 20 different Sesame Workshop coloring and activity sheets for the kids to use. Our corporate chef, Henry Furtado, will be touring all three schools on July 16 to talk about healthy eating, the importance of the need to eat brighter,” Veillon said. “Chef Henry will also be making bell pepper smoothies with the kids, too.” Nature Fresh Farms hopes to deliver Sesame Workshop branded “eat brighter!” T-shirts to all children in the schools Chef Henry visits.

Means was asked about the participation of first lady Michelle Obama in the eat brighter! campaign. Obama is the honorary chair of the Partnership for a Healthier America. “The Grocery Games video with Michelle Obama, Big Bird and Funny Or Die/NBC comedian Billy Eichner was a fabulous, amazingly generous show of support,” she replied. “It has reached more than 550,000 times. It’s even being considered for an Emmy. Mrs. Obama remains fully supportive, and she has indicated that her commitment to reducing childhood obesity will continue after she and her husband leave the White House.”

CMI plans to expand pear pouch bag success

The initial Washington state pear crop forecasts for the 2015 harvest are in, with a slight increase in production predicted, up from the smaller 2014 harvest.  While there are plenty of pears on trees, hotter-than-normal termperatures throughout the growing season are reported to have reduced pear growth.prem

According to Steve Castleman, senior vice president of sales for CMI, hotter weather has slowed sizing of pears during the critical July growing season. “Our horticulturists tell us that pear size is down one to two sizes from norma," he said. "It looks like this will put a premium on larger sized pears and increase our supply of fruit that fits our successful pouch bag program.”

An increased supply of smaller pears for bags may be good news for retailers.  Nielsen scan data for the just-concluded season show that packaged pears drove category growth in both dollars and volume while bulk pears declined.  For the pear season from Sept. 1, 2014 to May 23, 2015, total pear sales declined by 6 percent.  During the same period, packaged pear dollars increased by 12.7 percent.

“CMI’s Sweet Gourmet Pear Pouch bags have been a huge hit with our retail partners this year,” Steve Lutz, vice president of sales, said in a press release.  “Nielsen data for the season shows that our two-pound Sweet Gourmet Pear Pouch bags sales increased by 126 percent, so were really excited about our prospects during the new crop.”

Lutz believes the success of the pouch is related to the strong graphics on the package as well as the upscale appearance of the bag. “Bagged pears have historically been packed in low-cost  poly bags that convey a low-quality message to consumers,” said Lutz.  “The beauty of our new pouch bag is the strong appeal it has to consumers looking for both high quality and the convenience of not having to select individual pears.  In addition, the bags include an educational component to educate consumers about pear ripening.”

According to Lutz, the two-pound package also appears to be key.  He said that in the past most pear bags were three-pound packages. 

“The two-pound pouch is small enough that it encourages trial by light users because of a lower price point as compared to a three pound unit,” he said.  “The experience from our customers is we’re able to drive incremental purchases with the Sweet Gourmet Pear pouch bags rather than simply cannabilizing sales of existing products.”

CMI is currently estimating that packing of Sweet Gourmet Bartlett pears will be under way beginning Aug. 10.

PMA Foodservice: cauliflower and carrots the next kale

Can you imagine cauliflower and carrots qualifying as the next hot products to take over that mantle from kale?  

Their staple status and long tradition on the American dinner plate would seem to make both of them ineligible for the “next hot thing” moniker, but these two items were center stage and center plate during two different chef presentations at the PMA Foodservice Conference, held in Monterey, CA, July 24-27.

Hugh-AchesonChef Hugh Acheson, a judge on 'Top Chef.'Two chefs talking about “What’s Hot?” took the audience on a visual tour of some vegetable-centric dinner entrees featuring various restaurants in Los Angeles, Chicago and New York.  While many obscure vegetables were also featured, mainline items, such as cauliflower, carrots and cabbage received great kudos from restauranteur Chef Jet Tila and Gordon Food Service Corporate Chef Gerry Ludwig.  The fast-paced, hour-long presentation featured a score of vegetable dishes being served as entrees.  The two chefs discussed the dishes, how they were prepared and the emerging trend of vegetables in center plate.

The discussion was fueled by an annual Gordon Food Service exercise that has the culinary team from that company visiting many restaurants in those three progressive culinary environments to see what trends are on the cusp of going viral, so to speak.  Over a 15-day period earlier this year, Chef Ludwig and his colleagues visited 108 restaurants and sampled 1,151 dishes.Jet-TilaChef Jet Tila  Each was photographed, deconstructed and cataloged to gauge trends in products, preparation and presentation.  Ludwig said vegetables in the center of the plate as the main entrée is gaining much traction in Los Angeles and New York, though lagging behind in Chicago.  It is his contention that restaurant trends matriculate on the coasts and do go nationwide.  “Veg-centric meals is a macro trend for the next decade,” he said.

Chef Jet, as he is called on his website, agreed.  “Vegetable centric cuisine is a movement not a fad,” he said.  

The chefs give credit to Chef Travis Lett of Gjelina’s in Los Angeles, who began featuring vegetable entrees in his trendy restaurant six years ago.  Today, they dominate the menu with 12-15 main dishes on a nightly basis.  “He has definitely brought about a change in the mindset of chefs.”

Gerry-LudwigChef Gerry LudwigThe two presenters were quick to differentiate between vegetarian fare and vegetable-centric dishes.  The latter are not necessarily vegetarian or vegan, and, in fact, in almost all of the dishes there is some type of meat or protein component.  But that component is not the star of the plate, just as in more traditional restaurants, vegetables are a side dish.  “Garnish with meat,” said Chef Jet, “to kick up the dish.”

He added that a great way to increase the flavor of the vegetable is to cook it in a meat sauce.  “Embolden the flavor with beef broth,” he said.  In fact, one of the dishes featured was a root vegetable entrée that was poached in meat sauce before being roasted.  Another featured fennel poached in chicken broth.  Still another dish had sautéed kale as the main ingredient but a house-made chorizo incorporated to provide a little zip.  

Ludwig said these chefs are creating these vegetable-centric dishes by applying similar cooking methods to vegetables that used to be the domain of meat.  They are spit roasting, charring and grilling cauliflower, carrots and cabbage.  One dish featured a roasted head of cauliflower that has been pre-poached in chicken stock and then topped with a crispy bread crust. “Chefs are elevating produce to a level we haven’t seen before,” Ludwig said, speaking of the results of this year’s research.”

He noted that on the trip to New York, he tasted the “most flavorful cabbage I’d ever had” and then it was topped the next day by another cabbage dish at a different restaurant.  

Ludwig said there is a great opportunity to add vegetable as entrees and encouraged suppliers to bring these ideas to their foodservice customers.  Chef Jet advised cooks to “torture” these vegetables into submission through grilling, roasting or sautéing.  He said the caramelization brings out the flavor and warrants the center plate spot.  Chef Jet encouraged chefs new to the concept to start by preparing the familiar vegetables with a different method and build the plate around that vegetable.

When pushed, Ludwig said rutabaga is an underused vegetable that could move into limelight in the near future.

The two chefs also talked about root to stem cooking, which is the concept of using the entire vegetable in the dish, including its trimmings.  This is the vegetable equivalent to the “nose to tail” trend popular in meat cooking.

In a session later in the day, Chef Hugh Acheson, who owns four restaurants in Georgia and is a judge for the "Top Chef" television show, expanded on the whole vegetable cooking theme, which he called “leaf to root.”  He told the grower-shippers in the crowd not to trim vegetables when sending them to foodservice.  “The chef will figure out what to do with the trimmings.”  He also noted that there was no reason for a carrot to ever be peeled again, as in its gnarly state with hairs hanging off is the best plate presentation.

He freely admits that the fast-rising prices of protein caused him to give vegetables as an entrée a chance.  Because the protein portions on his plate were declining because of input costs, he began paying more attention to the side dishes.  Now the side dish has taken over.

Acheson agreed that cauliflower is a rising star.  He noted that vegetables taste a lot better because we have learned how to cook them.  “Our mothers did a horrible job,” he said, talking at this point specifically about the fact that cauliflower was almost exclusively served as the result of boiling, which does nothing more than boils the flavor out of it.  He also called steaming a bad cooking idea for vegetables.

The Canadian native, who also worked as a chef in San Francisco for awhile, clearly believes we are in the golden age of cooking — especially vegetable cooking.  He opined that the history of cooking includes a very short time of doing it right…”like 15 years ago,” he quipped.

Talking about trends. He believes the local movement is here to stay but noted it doesn’t have to actually be local to catch the consumer’s fancy.  “What people are looking for is authenticity and a sense of place.”

He urged growers to tell their story to the consumer.  “Start with where you come from and why you do this,” he advised.

Passionate about cooking, Acheson bragged that his two daughters learned how to cook at a very young age, which has led him to form a foundation to transform home economics classes in school.  He believes all students should have basic cooking skills, knowing how to caramelize vegetables and make a vinaigrette before graduating from high school.  He said time spent learning how to cook will never be lamented on the death bed, and it is also a great way to spend family time.  “Every American,” he said, “should have a core skill set,” which includes cooking from scratch.