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Bolthouse Farms looking for suitors

Wm. Bolthouse Farms Inc., headquartered in Bakersfield, CA, and one of the larger carrot grower-shippers in the country, is looking to sell at least part of the firm, according to an article in the May 20 issue of the Bakersfield Californian.

Repeated calls to the Kern County shipper were not returned, but the company's finance manager, Marty Buck, was quoted in the newspaper article confirming the report that apparently had appeared on the Internet earlier in the month. Mr. Buck said that some members of the family-owned operation were interested in cashing out, and that the sale of at least some of the private shares could occur by this summer.

Opening Bolthouse to outside investors would be a major move for the 90-year-old family-run farm.

According to the company's web site, the Bolthouse family began commercial vegetable farming in western Michigan in 1915. The company grew steadily through the years and became a major supplier of carrots, celery, spinach and onions, with most of its production going to local canneries.

By 1950, Bolthouse Farms was a leading supplier of carrots to Midwest processors.

In 1959, William Bolthouse built a fresh carrot-packing facility, and began marketing to the newly emerging chainstores and supermarkets.

The move to the fresh market eventually resulted in the relocation to California, as Bolthouse needed to be in the carrot business every day of the year. In 1972, the company built a packing facility in Bakersfield and moved its headquarters there.

In the 1990s, the carrot industry consolidated dramatically. Today, Grimmway Farms, also located in Kern County, and Bolthouse Farms represent around 90 percent of the U.S. carrot production.

According to the Californian, Bolthouse is working with Goldman, Sachs & Co. to secure buyers. Its carrot and premier juice operation have annual revenues in the neighborhood of $400 million to $500 million.

The premier juice operation at the company's plant in Bakersfield began in 2003 and offers a variety of fruit- and vegetable-based juices.

Cameo drives increase in apple category

Cameo apples generated the largest percentage increase in both dollars and volume of all apple varieties during the first quarter of 2005.

Retail volume of Cameo apples increased 41.9 percent and retail sales dollars increased 29.5 percent nationwide from first quarter 2004, the highest of all apple varieties.

The apples that are driving retail sales increases are new varieties, led by Cameo, said Kevin Precht of the Cameo Apple Marketing Association in Wenatchee, WA. He said that more aggressive retail pricing is also leading consumers to consistently purchase Cameo and other varieties.

The average price of Cameos during the first quarter of 2004 was $1.31 vs. $1.19 during the first quarter of 2005, a 9 percent decline.

"This price shift reflects more aggressive retail promotions for Cameo and lower everyday pricing, which stimulates consumer trial and increases repeat purchases," Mr. Precht said.

The strong Cameo increases in the first quarter are very encouraging, Mr. Precht said, because traditionally the strongest-selling season for Cameo has been in the spring and summer months as supplies of other varieties decline.

The increase in the first quarter shows that consumers are already in the Cameo buying mode, and that will mean good retail opportunities for this apple through summer, Mr. Precht said.

The Cameo apple variety was discovered as a chance seedling in a Washington state orchard in the 1980s and has been grown commercially for the past six years. Cameo apples are now the sixth-largest variety of apples grown in Washington state.

Oppenheimer's ENZA apples hit high note with jazz festival promotions

As demand for New Zealand apples grows, product shipped from that country by leading pipfruit exporter ENZA is finding good reception through retail partners of BC-based The Oppenheimer Group.

Among the favored varieties is the Jazz, a relative newcomer that is being promoted in an innovative campaign that is looking to link up with jazz festivals across the United States and Canada.

David Nelley, pipfruit category manager for Oppenheimer, told The Produce News in early May that promotions are "big on Jazz, and we're conducting special consumer programs playing on that variety with in-store demos across" North America.

While volume this year on Jazz and all other New Zealand apples is anticipated to be reduced due to a weak dollar and stronger euro, Mr. Nelley said that promotions on fresh product will be carried out enthusiastically.

"The market is very hot, he said. "Gala prices are a lot higher than anyone in the Southern Hemisphere anticipated they would be. And of course the big story is our Jazz.

He went on to say that volume figures are projected to be 15.5 million cases of apples and pears from New Zealand this year, compared to 21 million last year.

Fifteen percent of the volume is organic, and Mr. Nelley said, "We're really making a push on organics, which are down in volume because of the growing season. Last year they performed well for our growers, and we're looking at 100,000 cases this year.

Oppenheimer began marketing Royal Galas and New Zealand pears in mid-April, and it will ship through August and September. Mr. Nelley said that Braeburns and Jazz will come on in late May and run through July. Demand is somewhat across the board for apples. Royal Gala, Braeburn and Jazz are very popular right around the United States, wherever a progressive retailer is ready to pay more for fresh crop rather than [lower prices for] storage, he commented.

When the Royal Galas and pears first hit U.S. markets this season in April, Mr. Nelley said that "ENZA has consistently invested in promoting apples and pears in North America, introducing new varieties and building a brand that the trade has come to trust.

He went on to say that "despite this year's crop reduction and fragmentation among New Zealand exporters and traders, ENZA will market approximately six times more volume than its nearest New Zealand competitor.

Moreover, ENZA fruit was showing very good quality, he said.

"Royal Galas are measuring a little higher on pressure than last season, and the color is very good. I think the North American trade will be pleased with the work ENZA has done to present consistency in the box. Later varieties are also shaping up well, he said.

In addition to Royal Galas, Braeburns and Jazz, ENZA will ship and Oppenheimer will market Granny Smiths, Fujis, Pacific Roses and Pink Ladies later in the season as well as "a full complement of ENZA's Taylor Gold, Comice, Bosc and Asian Pears through July.

Ocean Mist boosts marketing and sales team

Castroville, CA-based Ocean Mist Farms has hired Kori Tuggle as its marketing manager, effective June 1. She comes to Ocean Mist from Salinas, CA-based Church Bros. LLC, where she was director of marketing and business development. Prior to that, she held the same title at Santa Maria-based Fresh Kist Produce LLC.

Ms. Tuggle had reunited with her former bosses -- Steve and Tom Church -- at Church Bros. LLC on Sept. 13 after she left Fresh Kist. At Church Bros., Ms. Tuggle directed a wide range of marketing programs, including packaging, promotions, new product development, advertising and contract management.

Previously, Ms. Tuggle worked for Safeway Inc. for several years, first as produce buyer and then in international sales and marketing. She is a graduate of the agricultural business program at California Polytechnic State University and has a master's degree in business from Pepperdine University. She has been very active in industry organizations, including United Fresh Fruit & Vegetable Association, Produce for Better Health Foundation, the Fresh Produce & Floral Council and the Cal-Poly Agribusiness Advisory Board.

"I used to want to work for Ocean Mist when I was buying artichokes from them for Safeway," Ms. Tuggle said, adding that she said she is "extremely proud to join Ocean Mist and that it is an opportunity "to be a part of a growing, highly reputable, 81-year-'young' company.

Ms. Tuggle said that it was a hard decision to leave Church Bros. "Tom and Steve [Church] taught me the marketing game, Ms. Tuggle said.

Ocean Mist also has created additional responsibilities for Joe Feldman, who joined the company in February as vice president of commodity sales. Mr. Feldman will continue to wear that hat but also will become vice president of sales and marketing, effective July 1.

Ocean Mist President Ed Boutonnet said that Mr. Feldman's 20 years in the produce industry "have given him the depth of experience that makes him quite capable to head our sales and marketing department. In May, Ocean Mist further shored up its sales team by hiring industry veteran Wyatt Maker. Mr. Feldman said that he has had a long association with both Ms. Tuggle and Mr. Maker.

"I knew Kori as a buyer for Safeway, Mr. Feldman said. "I worked with Wyatt at River Ranch. He knows product. "With the additions of Kori and Wyatt, we are positioning ourselves as a very effective team to market our dominant position in Ocean Mist artichokes and the long-respected quality of our broad line of other products, Mr. Feldman added.

Ready Pac to continue consolidation with closure of three plants

Irwindale, CA-based Ready Pac Produce Inc. has further consolidated its processing operations by announcing May 13 the closure of its processing facilities in Boisbriand, Canada, Salinas, CA, and Yuma, AZ.

The company is planning to cease production at Boisbriand in late summer of this year. The Salinas and Yuma plants have been seasonal operations with Salinas in production for spring and summer crops and Yuma for the winter crop. Operations in Salinas will close at the end of 2005. Yuma operations already ended with this past winter's crop.

The four remaining plants will be Irwindale, CA, and Florence, NJ, both of which are Ready Pac plants; and Jackson, GA, and Plymouth, IN, both of which had been facilities of Salinas-based Tanimura & Antle prior to T&A merging its Salad Time operation with Ready Pac a year ago. That merger made Ready Pac the nation's third-largest processed salad producer.

Ready Pac president and CEO Larry Kern said in the company's May 13 statement that the consolidation would improve the company's service, innovation and cost structure.

"With this right sizing, we expect to have significant cost efficiency and improved utilization of our plants and assets, which will solidify our strategy of profitable growth across all our categories," Mr. Kern said.

The May 13 announcement follows Ready Pac's decision in early February to shut down production at its Spreckels, CA, facility -- the smaller of the Salinas-area facilities that it acquired in its merger with Salad Time. At the time of the May 13 announcement, that facility already had been shuttered and about 100 employees there had moved to the company's nearby Schilling facility in Salinas. The Salinas-area employees also work at Ready Pac's facility in Yuma during the winter crop season.

Steve Dickstein, vice president of marketing for Ready Pac, said that the company's May 13 consolidation announcement affects about 400 hourly-wage workers in both Salinas and Yuma. All those workers will be offered the opportunity to work in the Irwindale facility and will be offered relocation assistance, Mr. Dickstein said. The Boisbriand facility had 295 hourly wage employees who also are being offered the opportunity to work in the Irwindale facility and are being offered relocation assistance, he said. Employees who elect not to stay with the company will be offered severance assistance.

Though the Salinas operation will cease at the end of this calendar year, the facility will be scaled back gradually, Mr. Dickstein said. In August, the Salinas facility will scale back from two shifts to one shift, he said.

"T&A will continue to remain one of our largest suppliers, Mr. Dickstein said.

Ready Pac said in its May 13 statement that the plant "closures respond to ongoing major changes in the marketplace. Demand for Iceberg lettuce products is continuing to fall while consumer preferences for European-style salads, complete grab-and-go meals, and innovative cut fruit products are growing. These preferences would require the company to retrofit its plants in Canada, Salinas, and Yuma, which would be cost prohibitive.

Mr. Dickstein said that the Iceberg lettuce and cabbage categories are not growing, but that baby leaf and items such as spring mix and spinach mix are on the rise. This trend is evident in both retail and foodservice, he said. Ready Pac's business is growing faster at retail, and the Salinas operation was geared toward foodservice, which further doomed the Salinas facility, he said.

Ready Pac's three lines are fresh-cut salads, fresh-cut fruits and fresh-cut vegetables. Not all of the four remaining plants under the new consolidation had been capable of handling all three lines, but the four plants will be upgraded with the ability to take on added capacity and lines, Mr. Dickstein said. The upgrades should answer logistics challenges Ready Pac's customers had faced, he said.

In its May 13 statement, Ready Pac said that upgrades to its four remaining production facilities would improve its ability to provide overnight delivery to the majority of the market and that each plant will be capable of responding to marketplace changes and serving both retail and foodservice customers.

Ready Pac said in February that its successful "Bistro To Go bowl salad line had significantly expanded its distribution base and become the number one brand of ready-to-eat salads in the country based on what at the time was the latest 12-week data from Information Resources Inc.