Dried fruit processor Mariani Packing enters fresh strawberry market
July 17, 2007
by Brian Gaylord
MONTEREY, CA -- Mariani Packing Co., a longtime industry-leading dried fruit processor, has entered the fresh strawberry market with Albion-variety strawberries that carry the "Mariani" label.
Mariani Packing, based in Vacaville, CA, has partnered with U.S. Fruit & Veg Inc., based here. U.S. Fruit & Veg Inc. handles the growing and sales. Having the growing and sales operations in-house is a big plus, said Ash Shoukry, president of U.S. Fruit & Veg.
U.S. Fruit & Veg has been selling fresh strawberries for a couple of years, experience that undoubtedly helped when Mr. Shoukry approached Mark Mariani, chief executive officer of the family-run Mariani Packing, with the idea of bringing "Mariani" brand fresh strawberries to market.
Mariani Packing has a history of growing strawberries and other fruit for the fresh market, and the company is taking an active role in the food-safety aspects of bringing its branded fresh strawberries to market.
Although U.S. Fruit & Veg is not producing a large volume of strawberries this year, the company is "getting the ['Mariani'] label out there," said Tom Cserep, senior sales manager for U.S. Fruit & Veg. The "Mariani" brand strawberries are selling across the United States and in Canada and Mexico. Retailers started receiving shipments in early June. The strawberry harvest could run into November.
U.S. Fruit & Veg has its own transportation company -- Global Transportation Logistics -- which provides direct delivery capability. "We deliver as small as a pallet," Mr. Shoukry said.
Mariani Packing is letting U.S. Fruit & Veg handle sales, and so far the sales staffs for both companies haven't joined forces to sell the strawberries. Mr. Cserep brings prior fresh produce retail experience to the strawberry venture and handles operational duties. U.S. Fruit & Veg salesman John Spadaro, a former Monterey County restaurateur and caterer, and the point person on the strawberry sales, is credited with building much of the "Mariani" strawberry business to date, Mr. Cserep said.
In addition to its sales office in Monterey, U.S. Fruit & Veg has a sales office in Fresno.
Mr. Shoukry said that there are synergies between his company and Mariani Packing. U.S. Fruit & Veg and Mariani Packing both are family-run businesses. In addition, Mr. Shoukry, Mr. Cserep and Mr. Mariani all are graduates of California Polytechnic State University at San Luis Obispo. Mr. Mariani has family in Monterey County, another link shared with Mr. Shoukry.
Mariani Packing's products are carried by virtually every major retailer. The company offers a complete line of dried fruits such as dried plums, raisins, apricots, peaches, pears, apples and mixed fruits. The company also offers a variety of fruit pieces, fruit extrusions, pastes and other ingredient items that it customizes to special applications.
Mariani's breadth of dried fruit products offers ample cross-merchandising possibilities, including retailers using "Mariani" brand strawberries with "Mariani" dried fruit products as an end-cap display, Mr. Shoukry said.
Fancy food show draws exhibitors from far and near with more produce than ever
July 15, 2007
by Christina DiMartino
NEW YORK -- The one-and-a-half pound Summer Fancy Food Official Show Directory was the first indication visitors got of the size of the annual National Association for the Specialty Food Trade event, held July 8-10 at the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center, here. Separated by countries, regions and categories, exhibitors consumed the entire 675,000 square feet of facility exhibit space.
Each year the show features more produce and produce-related exhibitors. And with ancillary products like nuts, dried fruits, dressings, sauces, spreads, premium juices and other items taking up more shelf space than ever in produce aisles, choices were abundant for purveyors.
Baldor, headquartered in the Bronx, NY, presented its usual elaborate exhibit of fresh produce, and packaged and processed gourmet items, with an emphasis on "Baldor Local," the company's line of locally grown produce.
Baldor representatives on hand offering samplings and greeting visitors were Rania Abboud, director of specialty foods, Kevin Murphy, chief executive officer, Michael Muzyk, president, and Emily Balducci, director of marketing. Ms. Balducci explained that the locally grown category continues to grow tremendously.
"Baldor issues 'Baldor Local' stickers for producers within the 150-mile locally grown range we service," Ms. Balducci said. "We can truck product from these growers who otherwise could not service the wide distribution range that Baldor covers. We are working with about 75 local growers currently, and the list continues to grow. Our major local suppliers include the Vineland co-op in New Jersey, Satur Farms in Cutchogue, New York, and Flying Rabbit Farms in Otego, New York."
The "Baldor Boston Local" operates the same service from the company's recently opened Chelsea, MA, operation.
The company sampled Black Velvet apricots, a plum-apricot mix from Kingsburg Orchards in Kingsburg, CA, which is known for its high-quality stone fruit.
"Kingsburg is developing a certified-organics line, which fits perfectly into our 'Baldor Organics' line of branded products, said Ms. Balducci. "This year it has organic yellow and white peaches, yellow nectarines and Flavor Rosa Pluots. The company will expand its organics line next season. Another of our major organic suppliers is Capay Organic Farm in Capay, California."
Baldor is also expanding its processed line of products. Featured at the show were Funkin fruit purees from Britain, which are shelf stable, all-natural fruit purees marketed toward the foodservice industry. It also featured Greek olives and Morelli Pasta from Pisa.
Hosting visitors at Melissa's/World Variety Produce's booth were Robert Schueller, director of public relations, Melissa (the company's namesake, and daughter of Joe and Sharon Hernandez, its founders) and Aaron Marsh, and other company representatives. Its vivid display was outfitted with high- quality specialty produce and processed items, including the company's new kit-style products.
"The 'Melissa's Guacamole Kit' was designed around the idea that consumers want to make guacamole in their kitchens, but they find that buying all the ingredients tedious," said Mr. Schueller. "This kit includes two avocados, one Roma tomato, one shallot, two garlic cloves, one lime and one jalape?o pepper, enough to make two cups of guacamole in 10 minutes."
Mr. Schueller noted that cilantro, which is often added to guacamole, is purposely left out of the kit because people either love it or they dislike it, thus leaving the option to consumers' taste.
"The 'Melissa's Salsa Kit' contains three Roma tomatoes, one shallot, two garlic cloves, one lime and one jalape?o pepper," he said. "The result is a tasty salsa to pair with chips or to add to Latin dishes."
Mr. Schueller added that the company is currently gearing up to add mangosteen from Thailand to its list of fresh produce. The U.S. Department of Agriculture is scheduled to approve imports of the product on July 24, and Melissa's will add it to its line as soon as shipments start arriving.
Melissa's is also expanding its processed product line. On display was its "Good Life Food," line, including the new agave syrup, a shelf-stable organic syrup used as fruit topping, in beverages and even on top of pancakes. The company also displayed its specialty radishes and a wide range of other products while offering generous samplings of Pluots and other items.
From across the pond, an extensive range of high-quality produce and non- produce items from every region of Italy was on hand at this year's show. Special emphasis was placed on fresh produce from the southern regions of Calabria, Basilicata, Sicily and Puglia. At a special dinner held July 8 at the San Domenico restaurant, Mario Pirillo, agricultural minister for the region of Calabria, addressed the crowd of Italian and American dignitaries, the press and importers and distributors of the region's products.
"The region of Calabria is known around the world for some of the most highly desired processed and packaged products including olive oils, cheeses, meats, olives and other classical products," he said. "But our growers also produce some of the finest quality fresh fruits and vegetables, including citrus, Tropea onions and other produce items. We invite interested professionals to contact us to explore the possibilities that exist between our countries."
Mr. Pirillo was also on hand at the Italian Trade Commission booth at the show to meet and greet visitors.
The first of India's mango distributors in the United States, Hafoos Mango Fruit Exports Pvt. Ltd., headquartered in Borivali, India, also exhibited at the show and offered samples of in-season varieties of its "Om Mangos" brand. In March 2006, talks between the U.S. Department of Agriculture and India's government resolved long-standing issues regarding potential pests and diseases. The discussions led to a framework outlining requirements for bilateral trade of commodities treated by irradiation, and provided a road map for importation of mangos by the United States. The first shipment of Indian mangos arrived in the country on April 27.
"Indian mangos come in various shapes, sizes and colors," said Parag Gandhi, director of Hafoos Mango. "We offer the top 11 varieties, including the most highly demanded Alphonso and Chausa types. Seasons vary depending on the variety, but we will have at least one popular variety available in all but two months of the year, and many varieties are available for several months running."
"Om Mangos" are distributed by the company's U.S. representative, Paresh Sheth in Upland, CA.
"Every shipment is air freighted into Los Angeles," said Mr. Sheth. "We are eager to meet with distributors, wholesalers, retailers and others who want to know more about high-quality Indian mangos."