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Dan Borer joins Keystone

Keystone Fruit Marketing in Greencastle, PA, announced the hiring of Dan Borer, who will handle sales from the company?s Northwest Divisional office located in Walla Walla, WA.

Formerly senior sales manager for Seald Sweet LLC in Vero Beach, FL, Mr. Borer brings a wealth of produce sales and marketing experience in the areas of citrus and sweet onions.

Mr. Borer began his produce career in engineering and field production during the early 1980s after graduating from the University of Florida. He began his sales career with DNE during the mid-1980s before joining Indian River Citrus as sales manager. In 1992, he was named vice president of sales for River One International Marketing, with responsibility for domestic and international markets.

Mr. Borer will work in conjunction with Northwest Sales Manager Bill Brownfield to expand the products and services currently offered, and he will continue to develop Keystone?s international presence.

Keystone President Bob Evans said, "We are looking forward to taking advantage of the experience, contacts and professionalism that Dan brings to our company." "I am extremely excited to be joining such a leading and innovative organization," said Mr. Borer. "There is great potential with the existing core business as well as many opportunities both domestically and abroad with the level of quality that Keystone brings to the marketplace with its products and services."

Mr. Borer and his wife, Lauri, will reside in Washington?s Walla Walla Valley with their youngest daughter, Dana. They also have two older children: a daughter Erin, who will be attending Florida State University in the fall, and a son, Chris, who is a rescue swimmer with the U.S. Navy.

Paramount Farms facing litigation over tainted almond case

Nearly a year after Paramount Farms announced a massive recall of millions of raw almonds and after negotiations failed to reach a settlement, two law firms have sued the company on behalf of plaintiffs who said they got ill from eating the company?s almonds.

Marler Clark, the Seattle-based law firm, and Martinez & Potter, a Los Angeles-based law firm, filed a lawsuit on behalf of seven people who became ill with Salmonella Enteriditis infections after eating Paramount Farms? raw almonds between September 2003 and May 2004. The lawsuit was filed in the South Judicial District of the Los Angeles County Superior Court.

Last May, Paramount announced a nationwide recall of all raw almonds sold under the "Kirkland Signature," "Trader Joe?s," and "Sunkist? labels. Costco mailed more than 1 million letters to members known to have purchased the recalled product in the United States, and the recall was later expanded to include nuts sold in bulk to approximately 50 other commercial customers, some of whom repackaged almonds for sale under other brand names. The recall included almonds exported to France, Italy, Japan, Korea, Malaysia, Mexico, Taiwan and the United Kingdom.

The recall was launched after Oregon health officials spotted a cluster of five patients infected with Salmonella enterica serotype Enteritidis. The investigation then identified 29 patients in 12 states and Canada sick with the same strain of Salmonella.

According to the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention, tests of raw almonds recovered from a patient?s household and samples collected at Paramount were negative for Salmonella. Health officials isolated Salmonella in one environmental sample collected at Paramount and in three samples from two huller-shellers that supplied Paramount, said CDC.

In response to the lawsuit, Paramount Farms, the world?s largest supplier of pistachios and almonds, said that it is company policy not to comment on ongoing litigation.

Since the recall was announced last May, the company said it has worked proactively to make sure that its products are safe.

?Now no raw almonds are released from the plant unless they undergo a kill step," said Chris Tuffli, communications director for Paramount Farms, who added that raw almonds are treated either with propylene oxide or undergo a scientifically validated pasteurization process.

In the wake of the Salmonella outbreak, the Almond Board of California has drafted an action plan calling for pasteurization of all raw almonds. The board is working with the industry and the U.S. Department of Agriculture to turn the plan into a mandatory rule as part of the marketing order, said Julie Adams of the board.

However, the industry is still conducting research on the appropriate technology and treatment techniques that can remove the bacteria while still not interfering with the sensory characteristics of raw almonds. Any technique that implements a new food-safety process is going to cost the almond industry, she said. The board also has to ensure that there is capacity for small, medium and large plants to implement the new safety requirements.

In the meantime, the lawsuit alleges that all seven plaintiffs who are suing the company had Salmonella infections linked to almonds manufactured and sold by Paramount Farms. Paramount recalled roughly 18 million pounds of almonds in May 2004 after the CDC traced the Salmonella illnesses to consumption of Paramount?s raw almonds between September 2003 and May 2004, said Marler Clark.

?We have been working to settle our clients? Salmonella claims against Paramount Farms for almost a year now," said William Marler, managing partner of Marler Clark. "Unfortunately, Paramount has not made reasonable offers to our clients to settle their claims? The plaintiffs live in California, Washington and Arizona. "At this point, we feel that the only chance of obtaining just compensation for our clients is letting a jury decide the value of these claims," Mr. Marler said.

NEPC expo: Want loyal customers? "Moments of Magic" may be the answer

BOSTON - If the well-worn but nevertheless crucial idea of "satisfying your customer" is still the key to success for any business, then attendees of the New England Produce Council?s expo heard a dynamic and magical presentation that told them exactly how to get that key.

Shep Hyken, a professional speaker and author, delivered a high-energy keynote speech Wednesday morning, April 6 here at the Hynes Convention Center. His address, part of the council?s annual Produce & Floral Expo, was titled "Moments of Magic," and Mr. Hyken indeed used magic card tricks to help illustrate his points as well as keep his audience entertained.

The speaker began by emphasizing that "satisfying? customers is hardly sufficient in today?s competitive business environment, since "satisfied? really means "just satisfactory." Instead, the successful business will strive to make its customers fiercely loyal.

Building true customer loyalty involves "creating a moment of magic? by a business that customers will notice, enjoy, appreciate and remember. (Doing the opposite creates, of course, a moment of misery.) "A moment of truth is anytime a customer comes into contact with any aspect of a business, however remote, and has an opportunity to form an impression," Mr. Hyken quoted Jan Carlzon of Scandinavian Airlines as saying. And "every moment of truth," said Mr. Hyken, is an "opportunity to create a moment of magic."

For the NEPC audience, Mr. Hyken offered the example of a produce delivery truck pulling up to a supermarket. If the truck is clean, it will make a good impression " a moment of magic if you will " he said.

The keynote speaker then detailed his top 10 specific strategies toward creating moments of magic and, in turn, loyal customers.

Manage the first impression. This sets the tone for further interaction.

Knowledge of your business. You should know virtually everything about your business, since you want your customers to come to you for answers to their questions. If you don?t know the answer to a specific question, you should know where to find the answer. Build rapport. The ability to talk about things in general, whether world events or your customers? kids, help cement relationships.

Enthusiasm. If you?re not excited about your business, your customers won?t be either.

Imagination. It is very important to "get inside? your customers? heads, so ask questions to help you understand your customers? needs in a very specific way. For example, if a customer says he needs your product delivered "quickly," ask him directly, "How quickly??

No mistakes. This is the goal, since everyone makes mistakes, Mr. Hyken noted. But when you make a mistake, fix it as quickly as possible to renew your customer?s confidence.

Quality. Strive for the best quality, of course, but since many of your competitors may have equal quality, delivering that product quickly and efficiently will help to differentiate you from the competition and help build long-term relationships.

Under promise, over deliver. In other words, set an expectation and then exceed it. For example, if your customer says he needs a product delivered by noon tomorrow, try to get it there an hour earlier.

Consistency. This refers to not just consistently good product but to "consistency of attitude," he said. Everyone at your company must make the effort to exhibit a positive attitude.

Appreciation. Say thank you over and over again to your customers, both in person and on the phone.

Following the keynote presentation, the council announced that in its Best Booth Contest, Carbone Floral Distributors came in first in the single-booth category and Don Shapiro Produce came in first in the multiple-booth category. Paul Kneeland of Roche Bros. Supermarkets, who was also the 2005 NEPC Expo Committee chairman, was honored as Retailer of the Year by Produce Business.

Attendees then made their way to the highlight of the event, the trade show, which this year boasted 186 booths, according to NEPC Executive Director Laura Sullivan. Total attendance at this year?s event was still being tallied at press time, but Ms. Sullivan estimated that it could approach 1,000.

CPAC tackles issues at annual meeting

At their annual meeting on March 24 in Monte Vista, CO, grower-shipper members of the Colorado Potato Administrative Committee took an in-depth look at several issues affecting both of the state?s potato-growing areas.

A number of grower-shippers from Area I, located in the Greeley-Wray region of northern Colorado, made the several-hours-long trip to the San Luis Valley, Area II, to contribute their thoughts on matters such as grading, water rights and increasing demand for their product. And while the northern Colorado group has seen its numbers and acreage reduced over the past years, the marketing efforts of the southern contingent were well received.

CPAC Executive Director Chris Voigt said that representatives of both growing regions "seldom have the opportunity to all come together like this," and he noted that the San Luis Valley "? shared with them some results of our promotional activities."

Those results show that some accounts "had perhaps pledged a 5 percent increase in volume and achieved double that," as did retailers who ran more ads than they had in the past.

The valley had also seen "accounts in regions who had never signed up with us before."

Mr. Voigt said, "In all, there were a handful of these stories to tell, and these results are encouraging to this entire group, whether they?re up north or from the San Luis Valley."

During the course of the meeting, marketing activities were discussed in greater detail. Members heard reports on the status of the upcoming proprietary Programmed Learning initiative as well as an on-line consumer behavior study involving volunteer panels made up from a 4 million-person sample.

Veronica Kraushaar of Vanguard Marketing Strategies called the sample "perhaps the largest on-line sample in the industry," and said that key findings of the study, which is "designed to show that educated consumers change their perceptions and behavior about potatoes," will be shared with the industry at the FMI/United convention in May.

CPAC members were also shown a review of recent studies that indicate retailers who promote potatoes can see volume lifts three times or more greater than normal, "in contrast to other top fruits and vegetables," Ms. Kraushaar noted. She said that similar category updates are being shared with retailers during merchandising visits to receivers.

An overview of retailer comments concerning overall quality of Colorado potatoes provided comments ranging from "above average? to "outstanding," and trucking issues, which affect the entire produce industry, were cited as a key hindrance to moving further volume.

CPAC members are currently looking at truck fleet and rail options to mitigate the transportation challenges. Another report showed that there is an overall lack of awareness that Colorado produces more than 100 varieties of potatoes, and between 70 and 80 percent of retailers polled by CPAC merchandisers admitted that they are unaware of the many varieties available from the state.

To educate receivers, a new Colorado Catalogue of Varieties is being distributed.

Discussions were held on pilot programs involving ethnic store demos and local media appearances by nutritionists, and programs to create positive awareness of Colorado and to create new consumer segments will be expanded for the 2005-06 season.

The committee members also looked at growth in the foodservice segment, which will receive increased focus this season and in seasons to come. It was noted that white tablecloth restaurants are seen as "ideal targets for the specialty, higher-value varieties of Colorado potatoes," Ms. Kraushaar said.

AgJOBS may see best chance for Senate vote

WASHINGTON " More than two dozen produce groups are urging the Senate to approve agriculture worker reform legislation, known as AgJOBS, that may be offered on the Senate floor during the week of April 11.

A reformed H-2A worker program is absolutely critical to all labor-intensive agriculture sectors, said Craig Regelbrugge, senior director of government relations for the American Nursery & Landscape Association.

Mr. Regelbrugge said that the Agricultural Job Opportunities, Benefits & Security Act of 2005, sponsored by Sen. Larry Craig (R-ID), may be offered as an amendment to a supplemental spending bill being debated on the Senate floor. Five years in the making, the bipartisan legislation may get its best chance at a Senate vote as an amendment to a fast-moving spending bill drafted to pay for the war in Iraq.

The AgJOBS bill is critical not only to growers but to workers that operate the entire foodservice sector, said Jerry Welcome, president of the International Fresh-cut Produce Association. "We applaud Senator Craig?s efforts on this critical workforce issue. This is a fair and equitable approach that will help the fresh-cut industry and agricultural sector deal with a chronic agricultural labor shortage."

Messrs. Regelbrugge and Welcome said that stricter enforcement of immigration rules since Sept. 11, 2001 resulted in labor shortages in the Yuma, AZ, region this winter. Farmworker buses were stopped and workers deported the same day, said Mr. Regelbrugge.

As a result, some lettuce fields were not harvested this winter because of the severe labor shortages, pointing to the need for a stable, legal workforce, said Mr. Welcome.

Supporters of the AgJOBS legislation say it can be attached to the supplemental spending bill because the House already opened up the immigration issue by attaching the controversial Real ID Act, a piece of legislation that would bar federal agencies from accepting for any official purpose state-issued identification cards or driver?s licenses that could have been issued without verifying the recipient?s immigration status. The bill also would make it tougher for some people to seek asylum in the United States.

With the latest anti-immigration fervor, it is unclear whether Sen. Craig?s language would survive intense debate on the Senate floor, as some critics believe the issue should be dealt with in the context of a comprehensive immigration reform measure or fear the bill would give too many workers amnesty.

The industry that relies on agriculture workers argues that its sector is facing an immediate crisis and that it should not have to wait for immigration reform, which could take Congress a long time to work out, said Robert Guenther of the United Fresh Fruit & Vegetable Association.

According to a United fact sheet, Sen. Craig?s bill would allow workers to get better working conditions, growers to get a stable workforce, and consumers to get a safe and stable American-grown food supply.

The chronic labor shortage and the improved border security may mean that Americans will be forced to rely increasingly on an imported food supply. The legislation also would improve border security by allowing up to 500,000 workers to register with a government program that adjusts them to legal status.