New Mexico onion deal off to a good start

With supplies down a bit, the New Mexico onion deal got off to a good start, and in mid-June shippers were quoting prices better than usual for this time of year.

Stormy Adams of Shiloh Produce Inc. in Hatch, NM, summed up the comments of many who were interviewed by The Produce News when he said, "The crop is short, so demand is up and the prices are pretty good."

Mr. Adams said that the short supplies are the result of reduced acreage and reduced yields. Mimbres Valley Produce Co. Inc. in Deming, NM, is one of the firms that contributed to the reduced acreage. "We decided to lay out of the deal for a year or two," said Grayson (Fuzz) Smyer, the company's general manager. "It hasn't been a good deal since 1998. We just decided to give it a rest. We'll probably look at it again in a couple of years."

This year, Mimbres is concentrating much of its efforts on its watermelon acreage, which Mr. Smyer said is the firm's top crop. Mimbres' decision is no doubt working out for that firm as well as others.

Most New Mexican onion growers have been producing product since mid-May, and commercial production should continue for the next five months. The onions have been sizing very well so far this year, which has left a shortage of small onions. On June 20, Mr. Adams said that a premium was being paid for mediums and pre- packs, with jumbos being in good supply. "But I think we will have a shortage of jumbos in a week or 10 days," he said.

That won't bode well for Larry Barker of Barker Produce Inc. in Las Cruces, NM. "I deal mostly with the processors who want the jumbos," he said. "There's not much of a market for the small onions with the processors, which is good because the small onions are very tight."

He said that this year has been fairly typical, but he confirmed that prices are up a bit. Like the others questioned, he said that the quality of the crop is very good. Within the next few days, Mr. Barker said that the onions grown from transplants will start to be dug and so he expects a bit of an increase in supplies.

Shawn Barris of Griffin-Holder Co., which sells the New Mexican deal out of Rocky Ford, CO, agreed that it has been difficult to secure small onions. "It's become a large onion deal," he said. "That's just what everyone is doing."

As such, he said that he expects the small onions to return a premium throughout the year. After relocating into New Mexico every year for the past 20 years to sell that deal, Griffin-Holder no longer has an operation in that state and instead sells those onions from its Colorado facility.

"This is the third year we've done it that way, and it works pretty good," said Mr. Barris.

New Mexico sells a wide variety of onions including a good supply of reds, yellows and whites. The various shippers offer both sweet and non-sweet varieties.

New group seeks to energize fresh asparagus industry

Newly formed WEA Farms in Lima, Peru, is launching a new line of value-added fresh asparagus products for retailers. Focusing on providing value-added items like Euro covers, microwavable bags, MA bags, tips, clamshells and other special packs, WEA intends to energize the fresh asparagus industry.

"Everyone involved in this project is extremely excited," Peter Warren, a partner of WEA Farms, said in a press release. "We are targeting higher-end customers who are looking for a premium product with dedicated attention to the packing process. Our customers are already experiencing the benefits and opportunities of these value-added products among their own customer base."

WEA Farms represents over 600 acres of certified asparagus fields which it will pack in a new state-of-the-art facility in Lima. "The decision to locate the plant in Lima was based on the ability to be closer to the airport," Mr. Warren said in the statement. "It will allow us to have better control over post-harvest conditions. The product arrives in refrigerated trucks within eight hours of harvest and is immediately packed and prepared for exportation."

A unique focus of the WEA Farms operation is the concentration on detail vs. volume. "We only pack 2,000 cases a day," according to Mr. Warren. "Our major focus is on quality and attention to packing the product perfectly, as opposed to moving large quantities of product."

The operation's "emphasis on packing and the drive to provide new products is about meeting specific customer needs," said Mr. Warren. "We are currently working with customers in England to sell 'the concept' of 'Vitamins in a Bag.' This 100 percent ready-to- eat microwaveable bag maintains all the natural nutritional value of the asparagus as it cooks."

Other customer needs are being met through the utilization of the actual packaging. "The Euro covers give a better high-end presentation, keep the product fresher, and the taste is better," said Mr. Warren. "The Euro wrap provides cooking ideas, handling and usage information and other promotional messages. We also provide our display-ready shipping boxes, which have increased sales for retailers."

WEA Farms is a joint-venture among Peter Warren, Wilson Encalada Atapaucar and Winder Encalada Atapaucar. Mr. Warren is a 24-year veteran of the U.S. and international produce industries, having worked many years in Florida importing fruits and vegetables. He was one of the early importers of fresh green asparagus while working at Winter Fruit Co. in Philadelphia. He later helped drive the development of the industry in Peru, which currently exports more than 12 million 11-pound cases a year to the United States and close to 4 million cases to Europe and other countries.

Mr. Warren moved to Peru two years ago to focus on future innovation in the industry.

Wilson and Winder Encalada, originally from Cuzco, Peru, have worked for some of the top export companies in Peru including Inca Fruit and Agricola Chavin.

"Together they have run packing facilities and harvest crews for some of the best farms in the country," said Mr. Warren. "Now we're combining our expertise to make this venture a paramount one-of- a-kind operation."

In 2005, WEA exported close to 100,000 cases using four different packing facilities, shipping to the United States, Europe, Brazil and Argentina. The new plant is the newest and most certified plant in Lima. "It is completely climate controlled with the latest technology," said Mr. Warren. "We are currently working with the largest importers in the U.K. and Spain. Our combined experience and innovative ideas are already bringing the best buyers to our door.

"The season begins in two weeks and we can't wait to get started," he concluded.

The Perishables Group to provide data solutions to BI LO/Bruno's

The Perishables Group, an independent consulting firm specializing in the fresh foods industry, has a new agreement with BI LO and Bruno's to provide the necessary data and tools for a customized perishables performance tracking and category development program.

The agreement will enable BI LO/Bruno's and its supplier partners to gain new insights into category performance across the perishables departments including produce, meat, seafood, deli and bakery.

"This level of information has historically not been available in perishables," Michael Yakovsky, group vice president of perishables marketing at BI LO/Bruno's, said in a statement. "It will help us more effectively identify new opportunities in perishables. It will also allow us to work more effectively with our supplier partners by enabling them to better understand our performance as well as the competitive market performance."

In a statement, Bruce Axtman, president and CEO of the Perishables Group, based in Chicago, said, "We are very pleased to have expanded the scope of our work with BI LO/Bruno's. We look forward to helping this industry leader build on its success through direct involvement in its merchandising activities and in facilitating information sharing with its suppliers."

Damon Distributing opens L.A. office

Nogales, AZ-based Damon Distributing opened an office in Los Angeles the week of June 19 across from the Los Angeles Wholesale Market.

Though Damon Distributing is well acquainted with the Los Angeles Wholesale Market and services customers in Los Angeles, the opening of its L.A. facility marks the first time Damon Distributing has opened an office in Los Angeles.

Ray Del Toro is sales manager of Damon's Los Angeles office. Mr. Del Toro is new to Damon but is a 17-year produce industry member who grew up on the Los Angeles Wholesale Market through his father's business there.

Sal Pelayo was scheduled to join Mr. Del Toro the week of June 26 as a salesman for the two-person office. Mr. Pelayo and his family have been farming grapes in Delano, CA, for many years. Sales and marketing will be handled out of the Los Angeles office; accounting will be handled in Nogales.

Mr. Del Toro said that the Los Angeles Wholesale Market is one of the busier ones in the nation, so it makes sense for Damon to open an office nearby.

"Being able to keep a pulse on that market will help the company," Mr. Del Toro said. "There's a great deal of companies that choose this [regional wholesale market] as a loading point."

Dick Keim, who manages an office for Damon in Vista, CA, had worked with Mr. Del Toro in the past, and it was he who had suggested to Mr. Del Toro that he contact Damon about running an office for the company.

"Ray has knowledge of avocados," Mr. Keim said. "He has import deals on product from Mexico, and he has a good working knowledge of the Los Angeles market."

Damon's proximity to the Los Angeles Wholesale Market will help in consolidating loads, Mr. Keim said.

Regarding Mr. Del Toro's background, Mr. Keim said that Mr. Del Toro has had the advantage of growing up in the Los Angeles market and that the more successful salespeople "are the ones who have been around it."

Mr. Keim said that opening the office would expand Damon's commodities offerings and help cater to customer requests for items that appeal to the tastes of Asians and Latinos. The office will help during the summer harvest season in Nogales.

"Often, customers are looking for a new item they can have at the retail level," Mr. Keim said.

New brochures/rack cards ready for Vidalia onions

The Vidalia Onion Committee has designed three new brochures and point-of-sale cards available to growers and packers, produce managers, the public and anyone else wanting to find out about Vidalia onions and how to prepare them.

Vidalia Onions - Just the Sweet Facts is an informative brochure that tells all about the history of Vidalia onions, interesting facts, growing season and availability, planting and harvesting, and how to store and save.

Favorite Vidalia Onion Recipes is a brochure featuring simple "down home" Southern recipes that highlight the sweet flavor of Vidalia onions.

"Nutritional Value of Vidalias" is a rack card with nutritional information, production facts and a map of the Vidalia growing region.

"It is incredible the number of calls and e-mails we get during the season asking how to store Vidalias, how you can freeze Vidalias and when exactly you can buy them," Vidalia Onion Committee Executive Director Wendy Brannen said in a press release. "We also get a high volume of consumer contacts requesting simple Southern recipes."

The purpose of the new brochures and rack cards is to make this information readily available to the public and also to those who want to display them in their stores or offices. Ms. Brannen also uses them while on the road representing the committee at events such as state fairs, farmers market events that highlight Vidalia onions or Georgia-grown products, and national and regional trade shows.

Ms. Brannen said that there have been some good materials printed in the past, but many were produced by sources other than the committee or were outdated. "This is an opportunity for the committee to fill a void in our outreach efforts by providing concise, updated materials directly from our office. And, very important, they include the new Vidalia logo and a consistent feel in their layout," she said in the release.