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Mike Alliman named CFO of River Ranch

River Ranch Fresh Foods LLC in Salinas, CA, announced the appointment of Mike Alliman to the position of chief financial officer.

Mr. Alliman will be responsible for all accounting and finance activities of the company, including grower accounting, payables, receivables and financial reporting.

A certified public accountant who holds a master of accountancy with an emphasis in cost accounting, Mr. Alliman reports directly to Jim Lucas, CEO and president.

Mr. Alliman brings a wealth of comprehensive, industry-related experience in various operational and finance positions. Most recently, he was vice president of operations for FreshPoint in Denver. Prior to that, he had been vice president and general manager of Red?s Markets in Orlando, FL; vice president of value-added operations for Fresh Choice in Salinas; and president of Custom Cuts in Milwaukee.

?We are extremely pleased to bring someone with 20-plus years of produce, finance and operational experience to River Ranch," said Mr. Lucas. "He will be a tremendous asset to our company and management team."

Veneman named to lead UNICEF

WASHINGTON " U.S. Agriculture Secretary Ann Veneman has been named to take over as head of the United Nations Children?s Fund, starting May 1.

?Her qualifications are outstanding," U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan said of Secretary Veneman, who has headed USDA since 2001.

The outgoing secretary will be in charge of more than 7,000 people spanning 157 countries who respond to the needs of children, ranging from running massive child immunization campaigns to mobilizing aid in disasters such as last month?s devastating Indian Ocean tsunami.

Ms. Veneman, who grew up on a family farm in the San Joaquin Valley and headed the California Department of Food & Agriculture, decided not to stay on for President Bush?s second term.

On Jan. 6, a Senate panel confirmed Nebraska Gov. Mike Johanns to succeed Sec. Veneman as secretary of agriculture. Raised on a dairy farm, Gov. Johanns also comes from a strong agriculture background, and as head of USDA will have to navigate through fierce political battles, such as looming budget cuts, Mad Cow disease concerns and the upcoming farm bill.

Broccoli plantings reflect consumer demand

A steady consumer demand for broccoli has led growers to offer the commodity in a number of forms and packages.

Maggie Bezart, vice president of marketing for Castroville, CA-based Ocean Mist Farms, said that the company has a "conservative increase? in broccoli acreage in Coachella, CA, this winter.

?There?s a higher demand on crowns," Ms. Bezart said. As a result, Ocean Mist is striving to increase its yields. More of Ocean Mist?s size 18 packs are going to shrink wrap to meet consumer demand, she said.

?We see more crowns going to foodservice," Ms. Bezart added. "There?s an increased demand in Canada in bunches and foodservice."

Broccoli consumption continues to grow on a per-capita basis, Ms. Bezart said.

Broccoli increasingly has found its way into value-added products through Salinas, CA-based Mann Packing Co. and other companies. Broccoli salad blends find broccoli florets being paired with cauliflower florets. Carrots and cabbage also are used with broccoli blends.

California and Yuma, AZ, grow the vast majority of broccoli in the United States. In California, the Salinas, Santa Maria and San Joaquin valleys lead the way.

Tom Russell, president of Salinas, CA-based Pacific International Marketing Inc., said that his company has experienced strong, steady growth in broccoli sales. "Every year we sell more broccoli," Mr. Russell said. "Five years ago, our desert broccoli deal was at 500 acres. Now it's at 2,600 acres."

Between various labels and packs, PIM has 49 broccoli items; five years ago, the company only carried 14s, 18s and crowns, Mr. Russell said.

PIM has experienced strong growth selling party trays to processors, Mr. Russell said. There?s a strong demand from processors during the holidays and occasions such as the Super Bowl, Mr. Russell said.

PIM also has five lines of iceless broccoli cuts. "We?re doing iceless in all varieties " regular iceless for the domestic market," said Mr. Russell.

PIM grows broccoli at six locations in the desert, including Yuma, AZ. A typical yield per acre in the desert is 600-700 cartons. With rents for Yuma farmland hovering around $600 per acre, PIM has spread its harvest around, Mr. Russell said.

High yields are hard to come by in the desert in December, Mr. Russell said, but they pick up in January and February when the market drops.

The company hasn?t grown its organic broccoli category as fast. Two years ago, PIM grew more organic broccoli than today. Still, the category is up 50 percent from three years ago, Mr. Russell said.

Tim Tomasello, broccoli commodity manager for Mann Packing Co., said that the winter desert deal has gone well for broccoli despite heavier-than-normal rainfall. As of Jan. 17, the U.S. market f.o.b. price was $6 on bunch and $7-7.50 on crowns.

Broccoli withstands rainfall pretty well, Mr. Tomasello said, adding that warm rains speed up the harvest, while cool rains slow it down a little.

Mann?s desert broccoli plantings are up at least 5 percent, Mr. Tomasello said. "We continue to see a trend between value-added retail and foodservice."

Both broccoli and Mann Packing " one of the larger broccoli shippers in the world " have gotten a boost from the book Superfoods RX: Fourteen Foods that Will Change Your Life. The book?s co-author, Dr. Steven Pratt, appeared in Mann Packing Co."s booth at the Produce Marketing Association?s Fresh Summit in October in Anaheim. Dr. Pratt signed complimentary copies of his national bestseller and answered questions from attendees.

Dr. Pratt?s appearance confirmed the positive effects of healthy eating, Mr. Tomasello said. Mann Packing is the most recommended vegetable brand in Dr. Pratt?s book, appearing numerous times in the book?s recommended shopping list. Dr. Pratt has been quoted as complimenting Mann for its fresh-cut and ready-to-eat broccoli.

Crowns, florets, spears and value-added products have gained in popularity at Mann.

Throughout 2004, Mann launched national in-store recipe distribution programs, on-line promotions via the company?s web site (www.broccoli.com) and the SuperFoods Rx web site (www.superfoodsrx.com), and a direct mail campaign to Mann?s consumer database and in select markets.

PSJ expansion well under way

SAN JUAN BAUTISTA, CA " Pride of San Juan, a leader in the gourmet lettuce, herb and edible flower businesses, is well along the path of expanding its headquarters, here.

PSJ is expanding its headquarters from 55,000 square feet to 170,000 square feet. Expansion of its Yuma, AZ, facility from 45,000 square feet to 100,000 square feet was completed Nov. 20.

?We needed to go along with the growth we?ve had," said Joe Feldman, vice president of sales and marketing. "The bar keeps being raised for food safety and quality."

PSJ has added 12 greenhouses to the site to bring to 20 the total number of greenhouses in San Juan Bautista. Ten of the new greenhouses are already on-line and full.

Greenhouse space now stands at 100,000 square feet " up from 40,000 square feet. "The greenhouses are mostly for our own transplants," Mr. Feldman said. Expansion construction both here and in Yuma began in July. Pete Trentz, chief financial officer of PSJ, said that the company would meet its target of being fully functional with the expansion here by March 15.

The infrastructure at both sites is designed to allow for further expansion with relative ease, Mr. Trentz said. The transition to the expanded facility in Yuma went smoothly, and a similarly smooth transition with no disruption to business is expected here, he said.

?We anticipate this [San Juan Bautista] and Yuma will hold up for two years," Mr. Trentz said. When the time comes to expand again, the Yuma site can add 30,000 square feet in a few weeks, he said.

The thrust behind the expansion is owed in large part to the early success PSJ is enjoying in its partnership with renowned celebrity chef Emeril Lagasse to market prepackaged salads and other items, Mr. Feldman said.

?We?ve been in "Emeril?s? for six months," Mr. Feldman said. "?Emeril?s? has gone well. We just got started with hitting retailers."

Even before the partnership with Mr. Lagasse, 10-year-old PSJ has enjoyed strong and steady growth, Mr. Trentz said.

?We?ve been sustaining 20 percent growth for the past eight years," Mr. Trentz said.

PSJ is the largest private employer in San Benito County, and with the increased space, PSJ anticipates having 900 to 1,000 seasonal employees here in 2005, up from 500 to 600 last year. Many of those workers relocate to Yuma in November and return here at the beginning of April.

The site here will include a 20,000-square-foot pepper room. For the past three years, PSJ has been leasing a plant in nearby Hollister, CA, for its peppers.

PSJ has added five loading docks here to the six existing loading docks. All 11 docks are for outbound product. Also, the packingshed here will expand by 66 percent.

The regional water quality control board has approved PSJ?s recycling of its vegetable wash water here on site, making PSJ the only agricultural company in the state to receive such approval, Mr. Trentz said. That system should be activated by April, he said.

?We?ll use the same water twice," Mr. Trentz said. "The public and Pride of San Juan benefit. We don?t have to buy as much water from the district or operate our wells as much."

Monsanto to acquire Seminis

ST. LOUIS -- Monsanto Co. announced that it signed a definitive agreement to acquire Seminis Inc. for $1.4 billion in cash and assumed debt, plus a performance-based payment of up to $125 million payable by the end of fiscal year 2007.

"The addition of Seminis will be an excellent fit for our company as global production of vegetables and fruits, and the trend toward healthier diets, has been growing steadily over the past several years," Hugh Grant, chairman, president and chief executive officer of Monsanto, said in a Jan. 24 statement. "Seminis is uniquely positioned to capitalize on this fast-growing segment of agriculture, and the acquisition likewise expands Monsanto's ability to grow. We look forward to furthering the growth and leadership position established by Alfonso Romo and his team as the Seminis business is an important extension to our agricultural seeds platform."

Seminis is the global leader in the vegetable and fruit seed industry, the statement said, and its brands are among the more recognized in the vegetable-and-fruit segment of agricultu

Seminis supplies more than 3,500 seed varieties to commercial fruit and vegetable growers, dealers, distributors and wholesalers in more than 150 countries around the world.

"Ten years ago, we established Seminis with the vision of building the world's market leader in the vegetable and fruit seed industry. Through the support of our management team, we successfully built a research and marketing platform to serve growers, food companies and consumers," Alfonso Romo, current chairman and chief executive officer of Seminis, said in the statement. "I believe Seminis can continue to realize this vision and achieve its full potential as part of Monsanto. We are bringing a complementary technology base and specialized expertise that can not only support economic growth for farmers, but contribute to the health and nutrition of consumers on a global scale."

Bruno Ferrari, currently the president and chief operating officer of Seminis, will continue to lead Seminis, which is expected to become a wholly-owned subsidiary of Monsanto upon completion of the acquisition.

The Seminis business will report to Brett Begemann, executive vice president for Monsanto.