Railex plans unveiled at PMA

By April or May, an innovative transportation option will be in place for Washington state's grower-shippers, allowing fresh produce to travel from that state to New York in five days by refrigerated rail car.

The new service, provided by Railex LLC, will move perishable commodities by a 55-car train. Each of the new 64-foot refrigerated boxcars will carry the equivalent of four truckloads, and the high-speed travel time will be achieved by keeping the train intact and moving non-stop from its loading point in Wallula, WA, to its destination in Albany, NY.

According to Paul Esposito, vice president of logistics and strategic planning for AMPCO Distribution Services Management LLC, the much-needed service is the culmination of an agreement among his company, which is the parent company of Railex, and key players Union Pacific Railroad and CSX Transportation.

Union Pacific provides the rail lines linking 23 states, and along with Jacksonville, FL-based CSX will operate the dedicated produce unit train.

Railex, which was formed earlier this year as a division of longstanding AMPCO, will own and operate the new loading and unloading centers as well as manage handling and distribution of product on each end.

Mr. Esposito told The Produce News that loading and unloading will actually take place inside the two centers, which are each 200,000 square feet, and he said that one train will run weekly.

"Our two controlled loading centers allow us to load and unload 14 cars simultaneously inside," he said, noting that the cold chain is never broken. He added that the train will have a seamless interchange at Chicago and stops only to change crews.

"We believe this new service will provide an alternative method to ship perishable produce from Washington to New York other than over-the-road transportation," said John Philp, Union Pacific Railroad assistant vice president of food and refrigerated products.

Andy Pollak, AMPCO's CEO and owner, added, "We are very excited about this new service option for shippers of perishable goods, which will fill an existing transportation void by allowing for a five-day rail transit from Washington state to the Northeast."

The unit train has been designed to carry products such as apples, pears, onions and potatoes, and Mr. Esposito said that he had been in contact with some of Washington's major fruit shippers.

In addition, Railex was among the exhibitors at the recent PMA Fresh Summit in Atlanta, and, "We've gotten a lot of play from the convention," said Mr. Esposito. "This is something the country really needs."

Referring to the 3,000-mile distance from Washington to New York, Mr. Esposito said that the non-stop Railex service will move product in the same amount of time -- 124 hours - - as trucks. But by hauling 200 loads at once, the trail will save an estimated 4.3 million gallons of diesel fuel annually.

In addition to the fuel savings, Railex promises GPS tracking by case throughout the entire route, and Mr. Esposito said that the service also has the ability to move mixed commodities.

Moreover, all pack sizes and weights can be shipped, and bar codes will allow for real-time inventory. There will also be web-based access to inventory, and quality control will be provided at both east and west centers. Each center has a major packing and grading facility.

Different temperature rooms allow for all types of commodities, and Railex provides backhaul opportunities. More information on Railex's unique program can be seen on- line at www.railexusa.com.

Castellini Co. chairman headed for presidency of Cincinnati Reds

Produce industry veteran Robert H. Castellini may soon be the new president of the Cincinnati Reds.

Mr. Castellini heads a group of local businessmen who have made a bid to purchase a controlling interest in Major League Baseball's oldest franchise. If the group's efforts are approved by the other owners in the league, which is expected to occur before the end of the year, the Cincinnati Reds have announced that Mr. Castellini would replace Carl Lindner as the team's chief executive officer.

Joe Bride, a spokesman for Mr. Castellini, said that Major League Baseball prohibits the bidding group from discussing the situation until the deal is sealed. Mr. Bride said that the only formal announcement came from the Reds, which included a quote from the longtime produce executive. "Carl [Lindner] has meant so much to the Reds and the city of Cincinnati," Mr. Castellini said in the news release. "As such, we are thrilled that he has agreed to continue his association with the club as a significant partner in our ownership group. I look forward to finalizing the agreement and submitting our group for MLB approval in the very near future, as we are very excited about this opportunity and are eager to get started on the work ahead."

Mr. Castellini is the chairman and CEO of Castellini Co., which is now headquartered in Wilder, KY, located across the river from Cincinnati. The Castellini Group of Cos. combines to form one of the larger distributors of fresh fruits and vegetables in the United States, encompassing all major segments of the produce distribution industry. The firm's web site says that the combined companies offer "more than 2,500 fruits, vegetables and floral items including a complete line of value-added, specialty and organic products for the retail and foodservice markets."

The firms making up the Castellini Co. are Crosset, Club Chef, Grant County Foods, RWI, R&O, C.L. Frank Distributors and Fresh Network. Founded in 1896, the Castellini Co. was originally part of the Cincinnati produce terminal market.

This is not the first time that Mr. Castellini has been involved in the sports world. He has previously held ownership interests in both the St. Louis Cardinals and the Baltimore Orioles, and his company is a sponsor in NASCAR racing.

Earlier this year, several of the owners of the Reds, including Mr. Lindner, announced that they would sell 51.5 percent of the team. The Reds' press release announced that the "purchase price of the interests sold will be based on an enterprise value of the club of approximately $270 million."

Delicious Foods announces new advisory board member

MONTCLAIR, NJ -- Delicious Foods announced that Dan Hamilton has joined its advisory board effective immediately. Mr. Hamilton was formerly the senior vice president of marketing for H.E. Butt Grocery Co.'s Houston division and has held a number of key executive positions at HEB in the perishables and marketing areas.

"We are excited to have an individual with Dan's extensive background and experience on our Delicious Foods team," Doug Brent, co-chairman of Delicious Foods, said in a statement. "With the growth plans we have in place for our Sunsweet Fresh and Made In Nature businesses, Dan will provide solid strategic input in allowing us to fully meet our objectives. We continue to build our organization by attracting talented individuals with backgrounds and expertise spanning the entire supply chain in order to deliver unparalleled products and services to our retail partners. By doing so, we enhance the probability of successfully delivering and marketing products that meet or exceed consumer demand for flavor and quality. The addition of Dan to the team will complement our efforts perfectly."

Mike Pereira, managing director of Delicious Foods, added, "Dan has an extensive and progressive career in food marketing and retailing that will greatly support our efforts to launch innovative products in both the fresh and organic food categories. In addition, his contribution to our strategic planning process will prove to be invaluable in ensuring the needs of our retail partners are fully considered when developing new products and programs."

"I am very impressed with the team at Delicious Foods and the business's growth prospects," Mr. Hamilton said. "Their focus on products within the fresh and organic food categories that provide consumers with the flavor they want and are identified with clean and proven brands is a very appropriate strategy in today's market. In joining the advisory board, I look forward to contributing to the success of this business model."

Delicious Foods is a consumer-driven food sales and marketing company. Its Sunsweet Fresh division markets fresh produce products under the "Sunsweet" brand. Its affiliate, Made In Nature LLC, manufactures and sells organic food products under the "Made In Nature" brand.

New York apples featured on Food Network

MANLIUS, NY -- New York Apple Association nutritional spokeswoman Linda Quinn will star in an episode of "The Secret Life of ..." which is shown on the Food Network. The show featuring Ms. Quinn will premier Nov. 14 at 10 p.m.

In the episode, Ms. Quinn interacts with host Jim O'Connor as they make a classic apple pie for the show's holiday special, "The Secret Life of ... Thanksgiving"

In the baking segment, Ms. Quinn takes Mr. O'Connor through the whole process of slicing apples, putting the ingredients together and finalizing the lattice crust on top. This was done during a discussion of the history of apple pie as it relates to Thanksgiving.

Ms. Quinn's segment was taped in July at Wilken's Orchard in Yorktown Heights, NY, in the Hudson Valley. Apples for the segment - Ida Reds and Acey Macs - were provided by Crist Orchards in Walden, NY. Cider was provided by Dressel Farms in New Paltz, NY.

Ms. Quinn, a registered dietician, resides in Manlius, NY, and has been the New York Apple Association nutritional spokeswoman since 2002. She appears on television stations around the state every year promoting the health benefits of eating apples.

"It is exciting that Linda and our apples will be getting such huge national exposure," said New York Apple Association President Jim Allen.

The association represents all the state's 695 apple growers. This year's apple harvest yielded upwards of 22 million bushels.

The "Secret Life" episode repeats on Saturday, Nov. 19 at 3 p.m., Sunday, Nov. 20 at 6 p.m., Monday, Nov. 21 at 10 p.m. and Tuesday, Nov. 22 at 10 a.m. Click on the Food Network web site (www.foodnetwork.com) for more details on the show.

Based in Fishers, NY, the New York Apple Association is the nonprofit agricultural trade association representing the commercial apple growers in New York. It supports profitable growing and marketing of New York apples through increasing demand for apples and apple products; representing the industry at state and federal levels; and serving as the primary information source on New York apple-related matters.

PMA panel: Creativity, eye on trends leads to fresh marketing ideas

ATLANTA -- An orange is an orange is an orange -- except when it isn't. When it or any other item in fresh produce is more is a determination made by those with their finger on the pulse of consumer tastes.

A panel of such pulse feelers convened here Nov. 5 at the Produce Marketing Association's annual convention to discuss successes and challenges in reinventing produce and reinvigorating profits. Sometimes, success lies in repositioning a product, including perhaps a packaging upgrade. Other times, presenting a product in a whole new way is the ticket to a sea change in sales results.

Robert Verloop of Sunkist Growers Inc. said that Sunkist reinvigorated its orange category with its Cara Cara orange offering, which it trademarked as "The Power Orange."

Sunkist also reinvigorated its Naval oranges by aligning with Little League Baseball. In 2004, Sunkist sold 3 million bags labeled "The Official Fresh Snack of Little League Baseball." In 2005, Sunkist doubled its sales of the bags.

Jack Gyben of Progressive Produce and Progressive Marketing Group said that companies need to "make every package count." When his company came out with its "MicroBaker" microwavable potato with an "EZ open strip," unit sales jumped dramatically, he said.

Lisa McNeese of Grimmway Farms said that industrywide, carrots are much more tender than they were 20 years ago. The company has come up with many variations on the carrot sticks that have reinvigorated sales.

Grimmway's alignment with the "Sponge Bob" character has been "amazing," she said, adding that Sponge Bob "has created a whole new category."

Grimmway's holiday bags have also been well received. "Major retailers call and ask when holiday bags would be coming," Ms. McNeese said.

Skip Johnson of Get Fit Foods told the audience of the company's success with its "Grapple" brand apples, which have the sweet flavor of Concord grapes infused in them, paired with the crispness of a fresh, juicy Washington Extra Fancy apples.

Get Fit Foods has tied in with the new Disney film, "Chicken Little," with a "Krazy for Karaoke" sweepstakes.

Kurt Vetter of POM Wonderful said that his company "reintroduced a fruit that's been around for 5,000 years." The company's specialty -- pomegranates -- has a short harvest season from around October through December. November is "National Pomegranate Month," he said.

The company has enjoyed success with its POM Wonderful pomegranate juice in addition to offering fresh pomegranates. "If you believe a product is a commodity, you can only go with price," Mr. Vetter said.

POM Wonderful promotes the numerous health benefits of pomegranates, and its juice drink has gained significant national media attention.