Driscoll adds Steve Trede to category management team
by Brian Gaylord
Watsonville, CA-based Driscoll Strawberry Associates Inc. has announced that Steve Trede has joined its category management team as category development manager.
Mr. Trede has worked in the produce industry for more than 25 years for companies such as Desert Glory, Del Monte Fresh Produce and the California Strawberry Commission. A food technology graduate of Iowa State University, Mr. Trede most recently worked selling tomatoes for Desert Glory.
Mr. Trede started with Driscoll Aug. 6. as its category development manager for the northeastern United States. He fills the role previously held by Valerie Sill, who was promoted within Driscoll to strawberry business manager on May 1.
Mr. Trede said that he handled category management at Del Monte Fresh Produce about six years ago as director of marketing and promos. He said that his role at Driscoll would find him "deeper involved with retail" in its effort to engage the consumer.
Miles Reiter, Driscoll's chairman and chief executive officer, said that Mr. Trede is a "food marketing professional with both a broad range of experience and specific experience in berry marketing."
Driscoll's category management team works closely with retail partners to try to achieve optimum berry sales and profitability.
Chuck Sweeney, director of category development for Driscoll, once worked with Mr. Trede at the California Strawberry Commission. Both he and Mr. Trede were regional merchandisers for the California Strawberry Commission. He said that he is confident that Mr. Trede's leadership "will help us raise the bar on customer focus."
Mr. Trede has been married for 31 years, has two children and four grandchildren, and he currently lives in Richmond, IN. He will work for Driscoll from his home.
Driscoll expects ample supply of strawberries and raspberries
by Brian Gaylord
Watsonville, CA-based Driscoll Strawberry Associates Inc. is anticipating a bumper crop of strawberries and raspberries carrying into the fall months.
In strawberries, the abundance is coming from all of the company's growing areas in California. The surge in strawberries includes a big comeback crop in the Watsonville-Salinas and Santa Maria areas, as well as a fall crop in Oxnard, CA, for which volumes will be ramping up soon, said Tim Youmans, Driscoll's national retail sales manager.
The message to retailers and consumers is that they are going to see a good supply of strawberries. Retailers can "maintain the size and location of their berry patch display," Mr. Youmans said.
The prime window for running ads is from now until the end of October, Mr. Youmans said. That time frame should be good for in-store promotions and for pricing berries at a profitable level, he said.
The surge in strawberries is a result of the freeze earlier in the year, which set the crop back to a later cycle. Retailers have been responding very favorably to the news, Mr. Youmans said.
October and November should be strong promotional months for Driscoll's raspberries, with a fall peak in volume out of Oxnard in addition to supplies from central Mexico. The strong volumes also are a result of the earlier freeze.
"The comeback is stronger," Mr. Youmans said. "It's a unique opportunity."
Lone Star Citrus looking forward to bright future
by Lora Abcarian
It's been little more than half a year since Lone Star Citrus Growers in Mission, TX, broke ground for its new 120,000-square-foot packing facility, and business partners Jud Flowers, Trent Bishop and T.J. Flowers are really upbeat about future prospects.
Jud Flowers is the company's president, Mr. Bishop is vice president and sales manager, and T.J. Flowers serves as assistant sales manager and transportation specialist. They are joined by Susie Marroquin who serves as the company's controller. These four individuals bring 74 years worth of experience in the citrus industry to the table.
"A core group of us decided to get together and fulfill our dream," Mr. Bishop told The Produce News.
He said that the company is currently focusing on Texas grapefruit and oranges, with the lion's share of product being supplied through outside growers. Lone Star has business relationships with a good grower base in the Rio Grande Valley.
According to Mr. Bishop, grower operations are located in an area 70 miles long and 30 miles wide around McAllen, TX. "The packing plant is pretty central to growers," he said, adding that many are located within 10 miles of the facility.
"Jud is a very, very hands-on president," Mr. Bishop said. "I think it's fair to say we'll be a substantial player in the Texas industry. We enjoy great grower support."
Marketing for grapefruit and oranges takes place between Oct. 1 and May 10. Lone Star is located approximately 20 miles from the Mexican border, and Mr. Bishop said that Mexican lemons and tangerines are imported between August and February.
"[Our marketing window] closely resembles the children's school year," he went on to say.
Grapefruit is marketed under the "Texas Red" label, and oranges are marketed under the "Texas Sweetie" label. Both of these labels, Mr. Bishop said, have a Western flavor. Additionally, the company does private labeling for its customers.
The new operation has been designed to accommodate state-of-the-art development for the future. "Food safety will be a key with the design of the facility," Mr. Bishop stated. "Facility infrastructure is broader than technology [currently] allows."
The entire facility is wireless. "Inventory will be real-time updated as it is packed," Mr. Bishop said. The design will facilitate radio frequency identification upgrades and is wired with Category 6 cables.
Lone Star currently has 20 full-time employees. At the height of operation, Mr. Bishop said, the firm would employ approximately 160 people.
The McAllen area has a high unemployment rate, and Mr. Bishop said that the company has also been successful in securing day laborers from Mexico due to its proximity to the border.
"We haven't had any labor issues," Mr. Bishop stated. "We've had a ready supply of labor."
According to Mr. Bishop, 90 percent of product marketing will focus on the United States and Canada. "We will do some exports to the Far East," he added.
Mr. Bishop is excited about the prospects for commodity line expansion. "We see innumerable opportunities out of Mexico," he said.
Although 80 percent of Lone Star customers arrange their own transportation, Mr. Bishop said that T.J. Flowers handles logistics for the balance of the company's clientele.
Henry says supplies unaffected by freeze
The late-August arrival of the first charter shipment of Chilean avocados assured Henry Avocado customers that their late summer and fall promotions around the country would not be affected by the widely reported mid-July freeze in Chile.
On hand to inspect the first charter arrival Aug. 30 at the port of Los Angeles, Phil Henry of Henry Avocado Corp. said that while the volume of the Chilean imports would be lower than last year due to the freeze, he expected adequate, promotable volume similar to the 2005 season.
"The worst is over," Mr. Henry said. "The shortfall impacted the supply for August and early September. Now we'll meet whatever our customer needs may be."
Chilean growers anticipate that 170-180 million pounds will have been shipped between now and February. In addition, supplies from Mexico will be available, and in the winter California will start.
"Mexico will be a very important part of our supply from September through June, especially for our Texas customers," Mr. Henry added. "In fact, the majority of the avocados distributed by our Texas office will be from Mexico."
Mr. Henry emphasized that the uniformity and quality of the domestic and imported avocados have made the annual transition from one source to the other virtually seamless for the company's retailers, foodservice operators and consumers. He said that the industry's desire for year-round availability has been realized for the past few seasons and is now solidified in the minds of buyers.
Anticipating the increase in demand for its custom-ripened avocados, Henry opened two new ripening rooms this summer, giving the Escondido, CA- based grower, packer and importer a total of 43 forced-air rooms.
It also increased its distribution capability in 2007 by adding ripening and transportation personnel in its San Diego and San Jose offices.
As a pioneer in the avocado-ripening process, Henry Avocado continues to promote custom ripeness to its buyers, and expects over 80 percent of orders to specify one of the five degrees of ripeness it offers. The company publishes a ripening guide that describes the five options, which range from hard to fully ripe.
Ideal for buyers at the retail or foodservice levels, the guide describes the five stages of ripening so that avocados can be purchased on an "as-needed" basis.
"By using agreed-upon terms for the levels of ripeness, our customers get maximum accuracy in their orders," Mr. Henry said. Using the foodservice sector as an example, he added, "Now confident that a stable price and supply exists throughout each season, foodservice has created year-round dishes and salads that feature fresh avocado."
Import Safety Working Group shares new vision for policing imports
by Joan Murphy
WASHINGTON -- Health & Human Services Secretary Mike Leavitt pointed to his tour of a lettuc-e-processing plant as an example of the life-cycle approach to food safety that should be incorporated in a plan to improve the safety of imports.
At a Sept. 11 press briefing, Mr. Leavitt explained the report's fundamental change in import policing. The Interagency Working Group on Import Safety, made up of senior administration officials, forwarded the report to the White House less than two months after it was charged with developing a plan to improve the safety of imports.
"It's a change from an intervention-focused strategy to a risk-based approach focused on prevention with verification. Instead of a point-in-time assessment at the border, we're recommending a focus on the full import life cycle, building safety into the products that we purchase every step of the way," he said.
Some sectors are already doing this, he noted as he recounted his experience at a lettuce-processing plant, one of the 20 stops Mr. Leavitt made during the summer as part of a fact-finding mission to understand import operations.
"As the lettuce [comes] in the door, it's marked in a way that would allow it to be tracked back to the row on which it was picked, the time of day in which it was picked," said Mr. Leavitt. "And talking to the processing manager, he said, our motto is, 'know your grower.' He said, I not only want to know where it was picked and what time it was picked, I want to know the nutrients that were given to that lettuce; I want to know the kind of water that was provided; I want to know about the quality every step of the process, every step along the way.'"
The report said that federal agencies will need to seek new authority to identify and punish bad actors, assure sufficient data accompanies shipments and share data on import transactions from the various government-run automated systems.
"We found that there were data systems that are used by the FDA, where an FDA inspector would need to have five passwords to get into five different parts of the FDA system," said Mr. Leavitt.
But the report is silent about the costs of building a new import-safety program.
"Although additional resources and authorities may be needed, that will be evaluated after the comment period and after we've put together the specifics of the implementation plan," he said.
The working group is holding a public meeting Oct. 1 in Washington, DC, to receive comment on the role the government and industry can take in better protecting Americans from unsafe imports.
When asked about the role of importers in meeting the new vision outlined in the report, Mr. Leavitt replied that importers and domestic suppliers will need to meet U.S. standards.
"Now in many cases that means we have to produce a standard, because there isn't a standard for everything. And second of all, we need to have a means by which we can assure its being met," he said.
"Now in many cases, if we're looking at this large picture from a snapshot to a video, in many cases that may mean that we develop sufficient confidence in the exporting country's certification process, and then we essentially audit their process. They refer to that as certification. That's a legitimate tool," he said.
The Grocery Manufacturers of America praised the new report, saying it incorporated many of the industry's suggestions.
"For instance, the food industry believes that, while inspections are an important component of our nation's food safety net, inspections alone are not the pathway to a safer food supply," said Mary Sophos, senior vice president for GMA. "A stronger focus is needed on preventing contaminations and outbreaks, and a risk-based, 'lifecycle approach' to food safety is the key to strengthening the safety of products or ingredients sourced overseas."
But critics said the report contained too few details.
"It's more an outline than a plan, so it's hard to comment on," said Chris Waldrop of the Consumer Federation of America. One thing is certain, he said: Without an increase in FDA funding, the plan cannot be implemented. Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-CT) said that she was disappointed that an action plan would not be released until November, but "this interim report at the very least, is an acknowledgement that a serious problem exists in our food-safety system, and as such, deserves attention."
She added, "As they say however, the devil is in the details. Vague discussions about building blocks and frameworks on how to increase accountability, enforcement and deterrence is helpful, but I hope the action plan that is forthcoming will contain details about how to ensure the safety of imported products."