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PMA releases safe produce handling messages in Spanish

Since 1998, the Produce Marketing Association, based in Newark, DE, has addressed food safety at the consumer level through its financial support of the Partnership for Food Safety Education, a non-profit membership organization dedicated to educating consumers at home and at work about safe food handling.

During PMA?s Fresh Summit 2004 in Anaheim, CA, PMA and the PFSE unveiled produce-specific safe handling messages for consumers; now, these valuable consumer-education tools have been released in Spanish.

?Adding Spanish versions of the safe produce-handling messages enhances the usability and extends the reach of these key education resources," said PMA Vice President of Government Relations Kathy Means. "As consumers heed the advice given in the new dietary guidelines and add more fruits and vegetables to their lifestyles, it is critically important that they know how to properly handle produce safely and properly. Plus, PMA members and our board of directors said they wanted these safety tools in Spanish, and we?re pleased to make that possible."

The safety messages revolve around Check, Clean, Separate, Cook, Chill and Throw Away. Outreach tools (available in both English and Spanish) have been developed for use by industry members as well as consumer influencers such as extension officers. Web-based offerings will consist of a brochure and a flyer with room for a company or agency logo, a draft news release, PowerPoint presentations, downloadable graphics, and idea-generator lists. They are available on the Internet at http://portal.fightbac.org/pfse/toolsyoucanuse/spanishm aterials/. PMA encourages members who conduct community outreach programs to consider including these materials in their efforts.

PMA was a founding member of the partnership, and PMA President Bryan Silbermann serves on the PFSE board of directors. PMA served on the partnership work group that developed the messages and is providing funding for material dissemination.

CMI grower Apple Citizen of the Year

Columbia Marketing International, a Wenatchee, WA-based distributor of premium-quality apples, pears and cherries, has announced that Mike Wade, general manager of Columbia Fruit Packers, has been named this year?s Apple Citizen of the Year.

The award began in 1981; the recipient is chosen by a group of apple industry representatives.

Mr. Wade is the third generation of his family in the agricultural business in the Wenatchee Valley. In 1946, his grandfather Ike Wade began Columbia Fruit Packers Inc. In 1950, Mike?s Wade?s father, Jim Wade (who was the recipient of the 1995 Apple Citizen of the Year award), joined the business. In the late 1960s, Mike Wade began working in family orchards and, when he was old enough, he spent summers working in the warehouse.

Mr. Wade graduated from the University of Washington with a degree in business. After a brief stint at Boeing and in restaurant management, he began working for his father at Columbia Fruit in 1979.

Mr. Wade is a member of the U.S. Apple Foundation and is past president of the Washington Fruit Commission Board, past chairman of the Northwest Horticultural Council Board and past chairman of the Northwest Fruit Exporters Board.

Mr. Wade opened one of the early wineries, Fieldng Hills, in the Wenatchee Valley in 1999, after Columbia Fruit Packers planted its first vineyards in 1998.

Mr. Wade and his wife, Karen, have three daughters and make their home in East Wenatchee on an orchard that Ike Wade purchased in the 1940s.

Bob Mast, marketing director for CMI, said, "This honor represents the dedication, commitment and leadership of Mike Wade."

CMI is the sales and marketing company for five independently owned growing and packing companies in Washington: Columbia Fruit Packers in Wenatchee; McDougall & Sons in Wenatchee; Double Diamond in Quincy; Larson Fruit in Selah; and Highland Fruit in Yakima.

Albertsons' vice president to speak at PMA RFID Academy

The Produce Marketing Association announced that John Raudabaugh, vice president of systems implementation for Albertsons, will discuss the implementation and benefits of radio frequency identification technology and discuss his expectations of how the growth of this technology will affect members of the produce supply chain during PMA?s RFID Fresh Produce Academy & Expo on June 2 in Monterey, CA.

This event is scheduled in conjunction with the June 2-4 PMA Retail Produce Solutions Conference, also in Monterey.

Albertsons, a $40 billion retailer with more than 2,500 stores, has made a strong commitment to RFID development.

In previously published remarks, Mr. Raudabaugh has explained that Albertsons is taking a collaborative and incremental approach with its suppliers regarding RFID tagging and will be conducting a pilot project in the Dallas/Fort Worth marketplace.

In an interview with RFID Journal in November, Mr. Raudabaugh said that RFID "will change many of the processes in how we conduct and go to market with our business. In today?s supply chain world, there are a number of opportunities for product to get lost or disappear from the manufacturer to the store shelf. The EPC network, and the maximizing of our RFID technology, will allow us to design the consumer demand chain of the future, where there is a crystal-clear vision of where products are " from manufacturer to check-out."

In that same interview, Mr. Raudabaugh also noted that "there are a number of case types, such as plastic totes, shrink-wrapped bundles, corrugated containers and bags of product like onions and potatoes. Some products can be difficult to tag, and some case-level containers don?t lend themselves well to readability even if tagged properly. Because no two suppliers face the same tagging and placement challenges or business processes, we will work to accommodate each supplier on a case-by-case basis throughout the pilot until we have solid, coordinated standards defined."

Retail produce executives and their supply chain partners who want to hear more from Mr. Raudabaugh and learn about Albertsons? RFID strategies should plan to attend PMA?s RFID Fresh Produce Academy & Expo, which also features presentations focusing on the most up-to-date and latest RFID developments and innovations by representatives from the following organizations: Tanimura & Antle; Symbol Technologies; Samsys Technologies; Manhattan Associates; Printronix; EPCGlobal US; Center for Food Distribution & Retailing, University of Florida; NewStar Fresh Foods LLC; and C.H. Robinson Worldwide Inc.

The academy's educational program will conclude with an open-panel question-and-answer session with several of the presenters. The RFID expo will feature RFID equipment and service providers that will highlight leading technology solutions and provide hands-on demonstrations.

Pro*Act names Steve Finberg its new VP of sales and marketing

PRO*ACT, a Monterey, CA-based leading fresh produce supplier to the foodservice industry, announced that it has appointed Steve Finberg vice president of sales and marketing.

He will assume these responsibilities from Brad Young, who recently stepped down to assume leadership of Incredible Fresh in Naples, FL, one of PRO*ACT?s 44 distribution companies.

Mr. Finberg has more than 15 years of experience in the industry with increasing responsibilities from upper management to executive leadership roles. He comes to PRO*ACT from L&M Cos., where he most recently held the position of vice president of sales. Prior to his tenure with L&M, Mr. Finberg was executive vice president and Chief Operating Officer of DiMare Fresh.

PRO*ACT provides consolidated produce and perishable distribution, sourcing and technology programs to foodservice operators through its network of distributors from over 66 distribution centers nationwide. Mr. Finberg will be responsible for developing, managing and executing the company sales and marketing plan to expand its leadership position in the perishable distribution category.

Steve Grinstead, president and Chief Executive Officer of PRO*ACT, said in a release, "Steve?s extensive background in produce, both sales and operations, and his experience in all aspects of the fresh food distribution business will bring tremendous benefits and opportunities to PRO*ACT as we continue to expand our organization. We are excited to have Steve join our dedicated and committed executive management group and look forward to all that he will bring to the team."

Honduras' vegetable exports expanding as country still recovers from Mitch

Mauro Suazo has struggled to recover from Hurricane Mitch since the storm dumped up to four feet of rain on Honduras between Oct. 25 and Nov. 1, 1998. Always an active industry leader, Mr. Suazo has served as a consultant for Honduras' Department of Agriculture. He headed the Central American Melon Conference, hosted by Honduras, last summer.

Speaking with The Produce News April 5 about Honduras? status in post-Mitch redevelopment, and the progress of Honduran produce exports, Mr. Suazo provided a mixed review.

He said the national economy has grown by 3 percent for each of the last three years. "That is above average in Central America, and it has been sustained, which is good."

This growth "has kept the country in tune with the International Monetary Fund to the point of performance in fiscal responsibility? that the government of Honduras is entitled to the pardoning of some foreign debt. "At the end of the tunnel this is a reward. Now Honduras is eligible for more loans and reduced debt." He said that the national government "is trying to ease poverty, which is difficult. But overall, the prognosis for the country is good."

In central Honduras? fertile Comayagua Valley, many good things are happening, Mr. Suazo said. "The Comayagua Valley will soon be the equivalent to Culiacan [Mexico]. To me it's amazing when I go there and see development."

The Honduran government provided the technical expertise and financing for a turnkey Comayagua greenhouse project. This created 50 hectares of greenhouses last year, with an additional 20-30 hectares being built both this and next year. This greenhouse project has the capability to compete with Mexican and Canadian greenhouse vegetable production "once Honduras gets a protocol to allow [it] to ship tomatoes and colored peppers and other items now forbidden to enter the U.S. due to fruit fly."

He said that work is underway with the USDA to receive that protocol. "I don?t know how fast or slow that is coming, but without it there is no way to diversify. If they don?t receive the protocol, this [greenhouse project] will be a white elephant."

Greenhouse vegetable productivity is five times that of an open field, Mr. Suazo said. Comayagua Valley open fields are exporting a variety of fresh vegetable crops, such as eggplant and pickling cucumbers, to the United States. But the winter market becomes saturated with those crops, so to survive the greenhouses must be shipping other items, such as colored peppers and vine-ripe and tear-drop tomatoes, he said.

Mr. Suazo credited grower Omar Mejia of Inversiones Mejia for not only surviving Hurricane Mitch, but flourishing with Oriental vegetable exports since the disaster. He said that Mr. Mejia controls most of the 2 million packages of Oriental vegetables being shipped to the United States from the Comayagua Valley. Inversiones Mejia has over 600 small suppliers.

?How he managed to do it, I don?t know," said Mr. Suazo, "but he has it organized. Anyone who goes to Honduras to try to tap into Oriental vegetable demand ends up doing cucumbers and eggplants and sweet onions because Mejia has a firm grip on the Oriental vegetables."

Mr. Suazo said that the Comayagua Valley now has 35,000 hectares of drip-irrigated farm land. Exporters there enjoy good connections to the seaport. "Labor is abundant and the horticultural culture there goes back many years. Twenty-three years ago, I was involved in putting the first drip irrigation in the Comayagua Valley."

He said that Comayagua growers are addressing high freight rates by chartering refrigerated vessels bound for Florida ports. This practice, Mr. Suazo predicted, will continue to increase. There is discussion of starting a charter to a northeastern U.S. port, such as Philadelphia.

When Hurricane Mitch struck, Mr. Suazo?s family was one of about eight major melon grower-packer-exporters located in southern Honduras in the Choluteca area. This broad, flat coastal plain of red earth, which lies between El Salvador and Nicaragua, served as the drainpipe for the water that rushed to escape Honduras? Pacific-facing slopes. Except for one built by the Japanese, bridges were wiped out. (The Japanese bridge, though still standing, was obsolete because the river bed moved.) Melon packinghouses and warehouses were destroyed. Roads in some places disappeared or were grossly damaged. Many people vanished with their homes.

?After Mitch was done, there were four or five [melon] companies left. Today there are three. Honduras lost its place in the [melon] market in Europe and the U.S.," Mr. Suazo said.

The remaining melon companies are the Sol Group, the Molina family and a firm owned by Fresh Quest in Pompano Beach, FL.

Mr. Suazo said that the Honduran government started financing small growers, but "people in the melon business now require a critical mass to produce and be certified in food safety and have the volume needed for packaging, cooling and a lot of infrastructure."

Companies like Mr. Suazo?s "suffered the loss of infrastructure in Mitch that was never replaced because the national bank will not finance us again. So Honduras? melon industry declined, but three companies picked up the slack and enlarged themselves."

Still, he said that Honduras has been unable to match Costa Rica?s aggressive melon industry, which now has 30 independent melon companies shipping to Europe and the United States. Costa Rica, Mr. Suazo said, has overtaken Honduras as Central America?s leading melon exporter. Guatemala, with a large melon business coming in part from Del Monte, is Central America?s second-largest melon exporter, followed by Honduras. Panama ranks fourth, trailed by Nicaragua. According to a USAID web site, in 2001, Honduras exported 1,374 containers of honeydew. This grew to 1,568 containers in 2002 and 1,709 in 2003. The primary export season runs from January to April. Mr. Suazo said that Honduras? "cantaloupe production has come down drastically and honeydew has stabilized. Watermelons, because they require less infrastructure, have increased quite a bit."

Speaking by telephone from his Pompano Beach office, Mr. Suazo said that his firm, Suazo Agro, "was one of the thriving companies damaged by Mitch. We lost $1.5 million between 4 p.m. and 2 a.m. one night. Since that day, the Suazo family has struggled and fought hard trying to get back on its feet. We have not found the local financial support. We?re now looking for foreign financial support, and if it is found, we will go back to farming. If not, we will focus our efforts on becoming a marketing liaison."

Mr. Suazo said that Honduras will be holding national elections this November, with a new president scheduled to take office in January.

?It is expected the same party, the National party, will win the election. If that happens, the new president will continue to expand on bringing people back to farms from the big cities."

The National party candidate, Pepe Lobo, "is a grower-farmer-producer himself. He is the president of Congress now. On the other side of the fence, Mel Zelaya is running against Mr. Lobo. He has been a candidate in the past and unable to win. It looks like he won?t be able to win now."