U.S. military commissaries pick New York apples

The New York Apple Association in Fishers, NY, announced that its 2006 Defense Commissary Agency display contest was an overwhelming success.

With a total of 20 entries, it was the second-highest participation in the seven-year history of the program. Four winning displays were chosen, with awards going to Patrick AFB Commissary in Patrick, FL; Fort Gillem Commissary in Forest Park, GA; Fort Rucker Commissary in Fort Rucker, AL; and Fort Drum Commissary in Fort Drum, NY.

"Over the years, we've worked closely with commissaries to encourage them to promote New York apples," David McClurg, vice president of marketing for the association, said in a statement.

Jim Allen, president of the association, commented that he was especially touched by comments from Fort Drum, NY. "Unfortunately, this year the Fort Drum Commissary produce department did not see an increase in sales over the same period last year because we have over 7,000 troops deployed to the Middle East fighting the war on terror," said Steve Martin, Fort Drum produce management team.

"Despite the lower number of customers, Fort Drum's produce department's management team did an outstanding job with this year's displays," Mr. Allen said. "They continue to do their part to keep life as normal as possible for their military families."

The 2006 contest required commissaries to construct apple displays using New York state apples and identify those apples with the "Apple Country" logo. Displays were to include a minimum of three apple varieties in either bagged or bulk. Apple varieties used were McIntosh, Empire, Gala, Jonagold, Crispin, Red Delicious, Rome, Cortland and any other New York state variety that the commissary chose.

Commissaries competed to win one of four 48-inch Euro display tables.

The contest ran from Jan. 30 to March 4, and the display had to be up for a minimum of four weeks. This contest was open to any U.S. DeCA Commissaries that choose to participate.

Entries were judged on the creative use of display materials, originality and sales appeal. Entrants were asked to send the details of the results of the promotion such as sales increases or increases in cases sold.

One of the comments that came in with the entries and photos included the following:

"With our wide variety of New York apples, we could not help but sell, sell, sell. We brought in 114 cases of apples and had no trouble selling them all. Last year at this time we sold other apples and only sold 39 cases of them. That says a lot for the great product and great display. Not only did our display sell apples, it also increased the sale of Marzetti products."

Some of the entries included sales comments that helped to reinforce how well this contest was received. Sales went up over the same period last year by 10 percent at one location, 85 percent at another and a whopping 185 percent at still another.

Ripening sticker to be tested on Washington apples

A sticker that could tell whether an apple is ripe in the orchard and packinghouse is being tested this fall and could be marketed as early as next year.

Mark Riley, associate professor of agricultural and biosystems engineering at the University of Arizona, teamed with Arizona psychologist Robert Klein years ago to develop a new device they hope is different from other technologies that have proven to be expensive or time-consuming in measuring fruit ripeness.

The marker, created by the fledgling company RediRipe, detects ethylene gas - the chemical released during ripening - and turns the patent-pending sticker from white to blue.

With funding from the Washington Tree Fruit Research Commission, the sticker will be tested on apples in Washington during the 12-week harvest, starting later this month. The commission is also hoping to test the sticker on stored fruit and at retail, said Jim McFerson, manager of the commission.

"We aim to work first with growers, then connect to grocers and then to consumers," said Mr. Riley. "Each will have different needs and requirements of performance and sensitivity of the device. This likely would need to be tailored to each [fruit] or several types of fruits to have varying degrees of sensitivity."

The device, if proven effective, could be used for storage handlers and shippers who handle the apples throughout the cold chain. Right now, workers use natural indicators such as firmness to determine if apples are ripe. A simple, accurate and affordable device could save the apple industry money. Even before shipping, U.S. apple growers lose $300 million annually due to inefficiencies in determining ripeness on the tree and post-harvest, said Mr. Riley.

But there are still bugs that need to be worked out, said Mr. McFerson; it may or may not make it to commercial success. Other devices are in the works, including a hand-held sensor, which is also being supported with grower dollars.

These are the types of technologies that Washington tree fruit growers hope will receive research dollars from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, whichdid pitch in funds through a small business grant.

When asked whether the industry could end up with more losses from a ripe fruit indicator, he said the consumer deserves it. "If consumers expect quality, we should provide it," said Mr. McFerson. "We can't afford to pick, store and sell fruit and not meet consumer expectation."

UC professors share innovations with PMA audience

MONTEREY, CA -- Technological innovations will play a key role in improving the taste of fresh produce and in marshaling produce through the supply chain, according to two University of California- Davis professors who spoke during the recent Produce Marketing Association Foodservice Conference & Expo, here.

James Thompson, a professor in the school's biological and agricultural engineering department, and Michael Reid, a professor in the school's department of plant sciences, presented a foreshadowing into the future during a workshop held at the PMA conference.

Some innovations the two professors presented are in their infancy and others in the concept or design stage.

The two professors said that customers want taste, texture, reliability, value/price, freshness, ripeness, safety and appearance. But Mr. Reid said that taste life and nutrition life "are shorter than appearance life." Vitamin C and antioxidants deplete as fresh produce ages. Chlorophyll sensors and continuous monitoring of ethylene and carbon dioxide levels will be commonly used to gauge quality in the future.

"The apricot industry is going away because we harvest the fruit prematurely," Mr. Reid said, adding that new ripening technology featuring molecular regulation of ripening helps address such problems.

One packaging innovation being introduced is a "hammock pack" clamshell that suspends fruit above the bottom of the container. UC-Davis developed the hammock pack and enlisted Pomona, CA-based F-D-S Manufacturing Co. Inc. to manufacture it. This year, Southern Oregon Sales will distribute its pears in the hammock pack, Mr. Thompson said.

UC-Davis made arrangements to test the hammock pack with avocados and stone fruit, Mr. Thompson said. As a food-safety measure, the fresh produce industry has increased its use of packaging such as clamshell packaging, he said.

Mr. Thompson told the audience of a new instrument that is a battery-operated, hand-held unit that acts as an "electronic nose." Additionally, research is under way on miniaturized instrumentation that will measure for sugar and other taste components. Sensors to check for taste "are a few years away," he said. Such technology will enable the industry to grow "high-flavor cultivars" and "genetically modified cultivars" as it improves on its varieties, he said.

The two professors argued that genetically modified organisms have their place in food production.

"We've all been eating a lot of GMOs," Mr. Thompson said, adding that Europe and China "aren't protesting" the use of GMOs much now, as had been the case in the past.

"In 20 years there's no doubt GMOs will be a standard tool," Mr. Thompson said.

In the area of information-intensive product handling, Mr. Thompson said that new information technologies would transform quality management. "There will be a transparent post-harvest handling," Mr. Thompson said.

Included in the technology mix will be "active RFID," Mr. Thompson said. The next generation of RFID has batteries in it and tests for temperature and humidity and gases such as ethylene. "We'll be able to measure post-harvest life and know who's to blame," Mr. Thompson said.

Sundia achieves 2,000-retailer milestone

Sundia Corp., based in San Francisco, announced that its Original Watermelon Juice and watermelon juice blends are now found in the produce sections of over 2,000 retail stores nationwide, exceeding the company's expectations.

The watermelon marketer and juice company picked up retail distribution in New England and the Midwest the third week of July. Retailers carrying Sundia juices now include Whole Foods, Randall's, A&P, Shaw's, Albertson's, Wal-Mart, HEB and Tom Thumb.

Sundia Original Watermelon Juice was first announced last September, with the watermelon juice blends being added in March.

"Being in 2,000 stores is a major milestone for a company as young as Sundia," Dan Hoskins, chief operating officer of Sundia Corp. and a former Odwalla executive, said in a statement. "What's even more encouraging is that many of our new retailers were added because their customers demanded the juice."

Sundia's watermelon juice line includes Original Watermelon, Watermelon Pomegranate, Watermelon Blackberry and Watermelon Limeade.

Started only a little over a year ago, Sundia has become the leading watermelon brand in the United States. Through partnerships with the nation's top watermelon growers and distributors, Sundia-branded watermelons now account for over 30 percent of the country's watermelon supply. Watermelon growers benefit from their Sundia partnership through bulk purchasing agreements with suppliers such as the recently announced deal with Weyerhaeuser Co. that help growers more accurately predict and control their future cost of goods.

Procacci Bros. puts theory into practice with farm tours

CEDARVILLE, NJ -- In Mike Maxwell's view, the produce world is like a relay race.

The president of Procacci Bros. Sales/Garden State Farms in Philadelphia elaborated by saying that each segment of the produce industry focuses on carrying the baton for its segment of the race. But within the industry, the various players tend not to know a great deal about what happens before they receive the baton, or what happens with their valuable produce after they let it go.

Within this line of thought, store-level retail produce managers handle and merchandise fresh produce for a living, but most have never set foot on a produce farm.

Procacci Bros. works to help some of those managers understand what is involved in getting produce to those stores. Periodically Procacci Bros., which is among the world's larger produce grower- wholesaler-distributors, takes a group of produce managers on farm tours. Such a tour took place July 26, here.

Mr. Maxwell met J.M. Procacci, chief financial officer of the company, at a 1,200-acre Procacci-owned tomato farm and packing operation here to take a dozen produce managers on such a tour.

The lasting value of the tour was enhanced as Mr. Maxwell used a high-quality digital camera to shoot individual pictures of the managers in the field. After this and other such tours, large- dimension photos are printed and laminated to send to the managers. These photos are then hung in the managers' individual produce departments to show consumers that the managers have first-hand knowledge of what happens in the field.

The managers on the July 26 tour represent the Foodtown retail alliance, which has various owners and stores primarily located in New Jersey but also in Pennsylvania and New York. Procacci Bros.' Philadelphia operation is the produce distribution center for Foodtown.

The Cedarville farm produces tomatoes that are all proprietary varieties developed by Procacci's own plant breeding facility in Naples, FL.

The firm grows "Santa Sweets" grape tomato, Uglyripes and round tomatoes on the farm. This is one of many growing operations that Procacci owns.