SALINAS SCENE: American Agri-Women get earful on trends

Congregants at this year's 30th annual conference of American Agri-Women, held the weekend of Nov. 12 in Monterey, CA, heard much about changing trends in food at retail and in foodservice.

Roberta Cook, marketing economist with the Department of Agricultural & Resource Economics with the University of California at Davis, touched on numerous trends in a power- point presentation, which relied heavily on data from Food Marketing Institute as well as other sources.

The following are highlights from her talk:

Surveys show that having high-quality fruits and vegetables rate highest among consumers' priorities in choosing a primary supermarket, followed by high-quality meat, a clean and neat store and low prices. "We're moving from economies of scale to economies of skill," she said. "Greater vertical coordination between suppliers and buyers is driving greater horizontal coordination between suppliers to achieve scale and year-round supply."

More suppliers are acting as sourcing agents for retailers. Higher sales helps cover higher overhead costs.

In 1996, supermarkets accounted for 12 percent of takeout food, while fast-food restaurants accounted for 48 percent; in 2004, supermarkets accounted for 27 percent of takeout food, and fast-food restaurants accounted for 35 percent. Foodservice fresh produce and fresh-cut demand is rising. Subway is the No. 1 buyer of fresh tomatoes; McDonald's is now the top foodservice apple buyer and a top-five foodservice buyer of spring salad mix and grape tomatoes.

This year saw the continued growth and proliferation of home-meal replacement companies offering prepared entrees that are fresh or chilled.

Consumers are turning to carry-out gourmet meals, some of which are now available in the local grocery store. Sales of organic food in the United States climbed from $1 billion in 1990 to $10.9 billion in 2004.

Total Hispanic buying power in the United Statesis approaching $700 billion and is expected to reach $1 trillion in 2010. Hispanics visit grocery outlets 26 times per month compared with nine times for non-Hispanics.

More and more, large year-round grower-shippers may become the sourcing entities for retailers, procuring volume above and beyond their own production via geographic diversification, including imports. Smaller, seasonal players will need to find niche markets.

Mann Packing named a Top 100 supplier
Salinas, CA-based Mann Packing Co. has been named a Top 100 supplier by foodservice marketing and distribution company SYSCO Corp. Award recipients at SYSCO's 2005 Supplier Recognition awards ceremony were selected from a group of more than 2,000 eligible suppliers worldwide.

Abby Taylor takes top post with Ag Against Hunger

Abby Taylor, communications specialist for the Watsonville, CA-based California Strawberry Commission, is the new executive director of Castroville, CA-based Ag Against Hunger.

Ag Against Hunger collects fresh produce donations from growers and shippers throughout Monterey, Santa Cruz and San Benito counties and distributes them to food banks and community pantries, locally and nationally.

Ms. Taylor replaces Bernadette O'Keefe, the group's executive director for the past nine years.

(Contact Western Editor Brian Gaylord at 831/757-4000 or

Taiwan levels 'second strike' on Northwest apples for codling moth detection

For the second time in six weeks, Taiwan's Bureau of Animal & Plant Health Inspection & Quarantine has detected a codling moth larva in apples shipped from Washington state.

While all U.S. growers and shippers other than those involved with the detection remain eligible for export to Taiwan, the so-called "second strike" moves the industry closer to a possible closure of the Asian market, which could occur should a third detection be made.

The latest detection was made Nov. 18; the first of the season came Oct. 7. Both shipments originated in Washington, according to Washington Apple Commission President Dave Carlson.

Mr. Carlson told The Produce News that as of Nov. 13 of this year, Washington had shipped just under 1.3 million boxes -- predominantly Fujis -- to Taiwan. "Hopefully we won't see any more strikes," he said Nov. 21.

Mr. Carlson went on to say that Washington has "shipped billions of apples [to Taiwan], and we have never introduced codling moth [to that country].

"They still don't have [codling moth] there," he continued. "But it's their rule and their country, and if we do have a third strike, they've indicated they will close the market."

He added, "We certainly hope it doesn't close because Chinese New Year [is a major shipping period]. We missed it last year."

The 15-day celebration begins Jan. 29.

In 2004, Northwest apple shippers were faced with a similar situation, and the Taiwan bureau closed the market on Dec. 31 after codling moth was found in shipments from Washington, Oregon and California. The ban remained in effect until spring.

Prior to the 2004 ban, some 1.6 million boxes of Washington apples had been shipped -- slightly more than one-third the average volume Taiwan receives annually.

The market was reopened April 27, allowing shippers to see accelerated movement in the record-busting 105 million-box crop of 2004.

Though the second strike report was not welcome news, Mr. Carlson said that there has been good news to bring to light.

Going into winter 2005-06, Washington exports "are up considerably," and he said that the industry had just experienced "a banner week."

He said that 927 carloads had been shipped the week of Nov. 7, and for each of the two weeks prior, more than 800 cars had been shipped.

"As of Nov. 13, we are 12.3 percent ahead of last year in exports," Mr. Carlson said, adding that 83 of the Nov. 7 week's cars went to Canada and 106 went to Mexico. "The rest were to various offshore receivers," Mr. Carlson said.

He noted that Mexican restrictions continue to be "a challenge," and he said that Washington has four shippers with no tariffs, two with low duties and "the rest are at 44 percent."

The high duties were put into place Sept. 29, a reinstatement of anti-dumping tariffs that were put on Red Delicious and Golden Delicious in 2002, suspended in May of this year and brought back this fall by publication in the Mexican federal register.

In 2004, approximately 8.3 million boxes of apples were shipped to Mexico, with Red Delicious the top variety with 3.7 million boxes and Goldens coming in at 2.8 million.

Beachside and Main Street ink pact

Guadalupe, CA-based grower-shipper Beachside Produce LLC and Santa Maria, CA-based Main Street Produce Inc. have struck an agreement whereby Beachside began marketing Main Street's vegetable products Nov. 9.

Main Street Produce, a longtime grower-shipper of broccoli, bell peppers and strawberries in the Santa Maria Valley, will continue to market its own strawberry crops.

Paul Allen, chief executive officer of Main Street Produce Inc., said, "The union will allow Main Street Produce and Beachside Produce to target their marketing efforts, allowing both to better serve our customer base and fuel the growth each is experiencing."

John Jackson, CEO of Beachside Produce, said, "It is a complementary union for both companies and our customers since the arrangement also includes expanding shipping operations through Main Street Cooling in Santa Maria."

Main Street Produce owns the Main Street Cooling facility. Mr. Jackson said that Beachside has sales experience with broccoli, which gives Main Street Produce the ability to focus on strawberries.

"We'll handle their broccoli year round," Mr. Jackson said, adding that Beachside moves a lot of broccoli and that Main Street should benefit from that.

Beachside Produce will market both the "Main Street" label and its own "Beachside" label through the end of the year. After that, all vegetable products will be shipped under the "Beachside" label.

Beachside Produce -- formerly known as Apio Fresh LLC -- specializes in broccoli, artichokes, brussels sprouts, cauliflower, celery, green onions, mixed lettuce and Iceberg lettuce.

OPMA's 10th annual awards gala recognizes greatness north of the border

The Ontario Produce Marketing Association held its annual gala dinner and awards ceremony Nov. 12 at the DoubleTree International Plaza Hotel in Toronto.

Almost 400 people attended the event and were treated to an evening of fun, food and excitement, as well as industry tributes during the group's 10th annual awards ceremony.

A highlight of the evening was the presentation of the Lifetime Achievement award to Gerard (Whitey) Van Alebeek of Bradford & District Produce Ltd. Steve Stewart, a long time associate of Mr. Van Alebeek, presented the award.

Mr. Van Alebeek's career started at the age of 14 when he began working in the vegetable fields in the Bradford, ON, area. Since that time, he has held a number of roles, and he has been an important contributor to the success of the vegetable industry in the Holland Marsh. His knowledge, dedication to the vegetable industry and long service were recognized recently when he was appointed to the role of general manager of Bradford & District Produce Ltd.

Produce Person of the Year was awarded to Cory Clack-Streef of Faye Clack Communications Inc. Ms. Clack-Streef was recognized for her selfless efforts to raise money for the victims of Hurricane Katrina, which hit the Gulf Coast of the United States this fall. In the aftermath of the storm, she realized that many of her long-time produce industry friends and co-workers in the southern United States had lost everything due to the storm. Ms. Clack-Streef organized "Project Re-Leaf" to rally the Canadian produce industry behind their American friends. The project raised over $20,000, which is being used to help the victims of the hurricane piece their lives back together.

An Outstanding Achievement Award was presented to Jeffrey Honey of the Ontario Produce Marketing Association, whose tireless work has made the OPMA the go-to source for alternative inspection services in Ontario and the premiere resource for training produce receivers in Canada. Mr. Honey, who is bilingual, has also produced a range of technical fact sheets in both French and English for use by receivers across Canada. He is widely recognized as the pre-eminent authority on produce inspection within the Canadian industry, and he has been a major factor in raising the level of knowledge on receiving docks across Canada.

The night also featured a tribute to the memory of the late Mary FitzGerald, a longtime employee of Chiquita Fresh North America who spent her entire 40-year career in the company in a variety of roles across Canada and the United States. In addition to her commitment to Chiquita, Ms. FitzGerald was a strong advocate for the Canadian produce industry through her involvement with industry organizations such as the Ontario Produce Marketing Association and the Canadian Produce Marketing Association. As recently as May, she served as the conference chair for the CPMA's annual convention in Toronto.

Other highlights of the evening included presentations of $10,000 donations to the Heart & Stroke Foundation of Ontario and the Canadian Cancer Society from proceeds collected from OPMA's Grower/Retailer "5 to 10 a day" promotion program. The Canadian Produce Marketing Association's chairman of the board, Rick Wallis of the Oppenheimer Group in Vancouver, BC, was also an honored guest at the event.

The presentation of donations and awards was followed by the immensely popular and expanded casino, caricaturist, fortunetellers and dancing. Casino prizes worth over $5,000 were awarded at midnight.

FCM sees progress at recent citrus canker and greening workshop

Florida Citrus Mutual, headquartered in Lakeland, FL, organized and hosted the second International Citrus Canker & Greening Research Workshop Nov. 7-11 in Orlando, FL. The meeting assembled international researchers who have specific expertise on canker and greening to discuss the current status of knowledge and to extract information relative to the ongoing situation in Florida.

Andy LaVigne, FCM's executive vice president and CEO, said the group made significant progress during the meeting toward better understanding greening and how it must be addressed in the future.

"We also gained additional scientific information on how other parts of the world eradicate and/or suppress citrus canker," said Mr. LaVigne.

Casey Pace, director of public affairs for FCM, added, "With greening, scientists feel that it must first be determined how widespread the disease is before they try to devise a plan to eradicate or control it. We are told that it is important to educate growers on how to detect greening in their groves. One of the difficulties is that it can easily be mistaken for other more typical tree problems."

Citrus greening is believed to be an even bigger threat than canker because it destroys entire trees and the fruit - and in a short amount of time - often from four months to a year from the time trees are infected. It is carried from tree to tree by the citrus psyllid, an Asian insect species. The disease is nearly impossible to stop because extermination cannot kill every insect. Those that avoid insecticide contact make their way to the next tree, begin reproducing and continue their destruction. Trees cease to produce edible fruit even in the early stages of infection.

Thought to be the most serious citrus disease in the world, citrus greening is the major limiting factor for citrus production in parts of Asia and Africa, where it is predominant. It is also a major problem in the Saudi Arabian Peninsula, and it has been found in S?o Paulo State, Brazil. Citrus greening has not been found in Australia or in the Mediterranean citrus-production regions.

FCM hosted the first International Canker Research Workshop in June 2000. The purpose of the November meeting was to disseminate information on research progress and renew priorities for research based on the current and future status of canker in the Florida and global citrus industry. Citrus greening was added to the agenda because it poses an equal or even greater threat to the Florida industry.

Management options proposed by researchers, scientists and industry professionals at the meeting include keeping citrus nursery production away from grove sites, spraying fruit-bearing trees at strategic times to prevent infestations, developing faster detection methods and determining the distribution of greening in the state.

Regarding canker, information provided at the meeting included the fact that delays in program implementation that were imposed by residential litigation and a series of catastrophic storms during two consecutive seasons were unquestionably major setbacks. Management options recommended at the meeting include increased monitoring of plant movement and better sanitation protocol to all components of the industry.

"On a positive note regarding canker, scientists at the meeting reported that they are looking at disease-resistant varieties of citrus," said Ms. Pace. "Also, new technology gives researchers the ability to do some modeling that may help tell us where canker may have spread because of Hurricane Wilma long before it can be detected by the human eye. This is done by assessing how the winds blew and in what direction during the storm. That could mean early detection, thereby giving the industry the ability to look for the disease in specific areas before it can spread farther."

Those in the industry welcome any positive news related to Florida citrus, but it doesn't seem like enough when compared to the bad news. Besides the losses due to the spread of canker, Hurricane Wilma's winds and rain resulted in the loss of about $180 million -- about 17 percent -- of the season's supply. Florida was already headed into the 2005-06 season with the second lowest citrus crop reported since 1944-45, due primarily to damage done by storms during the 2004 hurricane season.

FCM will continue its efforts to help its grower-members overcome their difficulties in any way possible. In the past five years alone, it has been effective in bringing a total of $1.2 billion to growers in hurricane assistance, canker compensation and eradication, and for other needed purposes from state and federal sources.