Giumarra's berry division grows with new hires

Building on its reputation as a recognized leader and global provider of produce, Los Angeles-based Giumarra has announced the addition of two new members to its berry division: Michael Caputo and Bruce Turner.

"We are experiencing phenomenal growth within our berry division and believe these appointments signal great things to come from Giumarra," said Hillary Brick, vice president of marketing. "We continuously strive to make buying from Giumarra the best possible experience and know that customer support is vital to achieving our goal. We are confident that these new hires have the skills to not only capitalize on our current sales momentum but to also leverage their experience and acumen for continued successes."

Michael Caputo will assist in East Coast berry sales and will contribute to the operational efforts of the division. He comes to Giumarra with extensive experience in both logistics and Customs, including interaction with federal authorities such as U.S. Customs and the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Most recently, Mr. Caputo worked for Coast to Coast International Services, a provider of specialized services for ship owners, shippers and receivers of cargo.

Bruce Turner will be joining the berry division on the West Coast in Seattle, where he will assist with operations. He brings almost 20 years of extensive produce industry experience to the position. Before joining Giumarra, Mr. Turner was employed with Associated Grocers as its director of business development. In addition, he has prior experience with The Oppenheimer Co., where he served as a key account category manager for apples, pears and kiwifruit.

Labor and immigration issues discussed at National Onion Association convention

Members of the National Onion Association had an opportunity to trade information on a variety of topics at the group's 92nd annual convention in Scottsdale, AZ. The conference concluded Dec. 3.

NOA Executive Vice President Wayne Mininger said that a hot topic of discussion involved labor and U.S. immigration policy. The association is following developments at the congressional level, and Mr. Mininger expects those developments to have a significant effect on the onion- growing industry. "How will the U.S. government respond to labor issues? There are a lot of very strong opinions," he said.

Mr. Mininger acknowledged that the situation with illegal aliens will be difficult to resolve. Proposals run a full gamut from construction of a wall between the United States and Mexico to the documented worker program favored by President Bush. Migrant labor makes up a good share of the work force in agriculture, and Mr. Mininger is uncertain about the potential for adverse effects on onion growers. "We are in conversation and monitoring the situation," Mr. Mininger told The Produce News of industry lobbying efforts.

On Dec. 1, Mr. Mininger delivered an onion industry report. A total of 22 states grow onions for the fresh market and for storage, and Mr. Mininger said that product was grown on 142,090 acres in the United States. He said that in 2005, acreage declined by approximately 5 percent from 2004 totals, noting that this acreage does not include hydrated onions. There were production cutbacks, with fall-winter storage taking the hit. "Virtually all of that acreage" saw production cutbacks, he noted.

Leaders by volume for the fresh market include Idaho- eastern Oregon, Washington and California, and there are approximately 1,000 onion growers in the United States. Mr. Mininger expects prices at the farm and wholesale levels to be higher in the next year.

During the conference, Kimberly Reddin, NOA director of public and industry relations, talked about industry promotions. The association is a "produce-of-the-month" sponsor and is working with Sodexho on a program educating elementary school-age children about healthy produce. In April - officially designated Onion Month - Ms. Reddin said, "Students and parents will receive information about onions and fun recipes they can make at home with their parents." An activities page and calendar have been developed. "Teachers and foodservice managers are encouraged to utilize the [public address] announcement suggestions and other info to incorporate onions into the lunch menu throughout the month."

Ms. Reddin said that future projects for the association include three full-color releases, development of a chef education guide and a variety of foodservice publicity placements.

A summer convention will be held July 19-22 in Las Cruces, NM.

Baldor to move into new facility next spring

Having outgrown its current facility, Baldor Specialty Foods, one of the larger importers and distributors of fresh produce in the Northeast, will be moving to a larger facility this coming spring.

"We are forward-thinkers and we have spent the last two years knowing that we needed to move to a larger building as we outgrew ours," said Michael Muzyk, president of Baldor.

The company and its 510 employees will move into the 185,000-square-foot facility, located on 12 acres of New York City-owned land in the Hunts Point section of the Bronx, sometime within the next three to six months.

Mr. Muzyk said that Baldor plans to hire somewhere between 300 and 350 additional employees who will "run the gamut from blue collar to white collar. The new facility will allow us to expand our product line, better handle efficiencies and grow the company."

As part of the move, New York City's government has requested that Baldor's old facility be made available to the tenants of the Bronx Terminal Market, who will be displaced by the redevelopment of the city-owned facility the market currently occupies. "We would love to see them use this facility," said Kevin Murphy, chief executive officer of Baldor.

Stanley Mayer, president of the Bronx Terminal Market Preservation Association Inc., the organization formed to help the soon-to-be-ousted tenants find a new home where they could still remain together, was pessimistic about the market's chances of moving to Baldor's facility.

"It's a beautiful facility, but it's not for our business - it's not good for us," Mr. Mayer said. "It's set up for distribution. We distribute, but not the way they do."

Mr. Mayer said that in addition to the low ceilings and numerous columns in the fully refrigerated Baldor building, the facility's location was not desirable to the market's 16 to 18 tenants who would need to be relocated.

"We are currently working on two other sites where we can stay together," Mr. Mayer said. "This is the first time we have seen that [New York City Mayor Michael] Bloomberg has recognized the need to do something for us. It is the first baby step."

CAC's Nutrition Advisory Committee chairman retires

Charley Wolk is stepping down after 20 years of successful leadership as chairman of the California Avocado Commission's Nutrition Advisory Committee.

His retirement comes after a distinguished tenure of service overseeing the committee responsible for scientific research into the health benefits of California avocados. His deep commitment to the committee educated millions of consumers about the California avocado's role in a healthy diet and dispelled common myths about the fruit, industry observers said.

According to David Heber, director of the UCLA Center for Human Nutrition and chair of the committee, "Charley Wolk added the dimension of real-world common sense and a keen ability to appreciate the big picture that made our efforts on the CAC's nutrition committee so successful. His character and integrity made a profound contribution to the NAC."

Mr. Wolk's management of the committee led to these accomplishments:

o Consumer perception of California avocados changed from being a "fatty" food to one that offers health benefits. The percentage of Americans who consider avocados to be "good for you" increased from 35 percent in 1994 to 67 percent in 2003, according to an independent research study in 2004.

o The number of positive health stories in the media about California avocados rose exponentially during the last 20 years. Today, the majority of California avocado news coverage reports the fruit as a "good-for-you" food because of its heart-healthy fat content.

o Avocados have been featured as a "Nutrition Superstar" in the American Diabetes Association's Food & Nutrition Bible. "Under the leadership of Charley Wolk, CAC's Nutrition Advisory Committee made a transformative impact on our business," Mark Affleck, CAC's president and chief executive officer, said in a statement. "He understands the blend between board politics and organizational success more than anyone I've ever seen in my 20-year professional career."

In addition to his duties with the committee, Mr. Wolk served as chairman of the board for the California Avocado Commission in 1994-95 and again from 1998 to 2001. He was also founding chairman of the Hass Avocado Board in 2003, and was just re-elected to that position for the 2005-06 season. Former California Gov. Pete Wilson named Mr. Wolk as a regional water control board member for the San Diego district in 1996. He was San Diego County Farmer of the Year in 1986 and San Diego County Farm Bureau President from 1988-1990. In all, Mr. Wolk has nearly 30 years experience in association and board management and is known nationally for his leadership and innovation.

"I am immensely proud of the stellar work and dedication that the members of the California Avocado Commission's Nutrition Advisory Committee have contributed during the past 20 years to help educate Americans about the health benefits of California avocados," Mr. Wolk said after being recognized for his service at a recent CAC board meeting. "We have uncovered scientific evidence that phytonutrients in avocados may help reduce the risk of heart disease and various types of cancers."

Mr. Wolk graduated from Marquette University in 1959 with a bachelor's degree in mechanical engineering and earned a master of science in management engineering from George Washington University in 1971. A lieutenant colonel in the U.S. Marine Corps 1959 to 1980, Mr. Wolk currently resides in Fallbrook, CA, with his wife, Pamela, where he operates The Bejoca Co., an agricultural management firm.

ExpressTrak rail service may soon double capacity

PHILADELPHIA -- J.M. Procacci is excited. He expects ExpressTrak to be doubling its refrigerated rail cargo service in the near future.

His firm, Procacci Bros./Garden State Farms, here, is in the midst of a two-year contract with ExpressTrak, which Procacci Bros. has used to bring produce to Philadelphia from various distant U.S. shipping points.

The expansion of service became a greater reality on Nov. 30 when the Senate provided $8.3 million within a larger bill. This portion of the legislation is part of a $40 million grant titled "Efficiency Incentive Grants to the National Railroad Passenger Corporation." That corporation is Amtrak, and Amtrak's total funding from Congress for 2006 is $1.3 billion.

Kevin McKinney, vice president of marketing for Norfolk, VA-based ExpressTrak told The Produce News Dec. 7 that his firm entered into a 15-year contract with Amtrak in 1999. Amtrak trains are contracted to pull ExpressTrak refrigerated cars for fast service -- five days from coast to coast.

Mr. McKinney also indicated that ExpressTrak and Amtrak are currently in litigation, so he was limited in what he could say about the new national funding for ExpressTrak, which is a private company.

Of the legislation, he said, "I'm glad to see Amtrak got its budget." Mr. McKinney added that the $8.3 million provision "is for a perishable program, which is pretty much what we do. How that will be implemented, I don't know."

ExpressTrak owns 110 refrigerated cars, "which were all used at one point," Mr. McKinney said. Mr. Procacci indicated that only 55 of those cars were used last year, but he expects all the ExpressTrak cars to go into service in 2006. "We have been waiting for the other 55 for four or five years."

The congressional language indicated that the "$8.3 million shall be made available immediately upon enactment of this act only for a revenue service demonstration of not less than 5,500 carload shipments of premium temperature-control express."

Mr. McKinney said, "There is more cause for optimism" since the legislation passed "than maybe there otherwise would have been. We are anxious to remain in business. It is good for the produce industry and for all the parties involved." Mr. Procacci said that the expansion of ExpressTrak service "is an alternative means of having freight brought in -- other than by truck - in a timely fashion." Procacci Bros. has used ExpressTrak "a lot" in receiving product from Naples, FL-based Gargiulo Inc.'s California program.

Ken White, Procacci Bros.' inbound transportation coordinator, noted that the company last year also received ExpressTrak freight from Washington and Florida. With ExpressTrak service availability expected to double, "we'll definitely get a better price," he predicted.

"This gives us a new lease on life," Mr. Procacci said. "It's a good service. We've used five and six cars a week in years past." He said that ExpressTrak refurbished old mechanical refrigerated unites with Thermo King-type units, which are highly effective.

While the legislation was still pending on Nov. 18, the National Association of Railroad Passengers said, "Amtrak is trying to exit the carload express business, but the bankruptcy judge overseeing ExpressTrak requires Amtrak to continue handling ExpressTrak cars. Evidently not satisfied with the volume Amtrak was offering - roughly 1,400 cars in FY 2005 - ExpressTrak would appear to have a federal subsidy to support an almost 300 percent increase in traffic volume."

The ExpressTrak web site indicates, "ExpressTrak is a new concept in transportation. Combining the flexibility of truck transport, the economy of rail and the speed and scheduled dependability of the passenger train, ExpressTrak moves temperature-controlled and time-sensitive product with speed, economy and on-time precision. In conjunction with our partner, Amtrak -- America's only nationwide rail system -- ExpressTrak serves cities from coast to coast. The network of ExpressTrak routes and terminals continues to expand."