Salyer American looking to build its brand

Lyn Hughes, who for the past three-and-a-half years has boosted the "Birds Eye Fresh" brand in the produce industry with the development of licensing agreements for a number of commodities, has left that company for a position as senior director of sales and marketing for Salyer American, based in Salinas, CA, effective Aug. 1.

In her new role at Salyer American, Ms. Hughes will assist in identifying and developing new business opportunities as well as spearheading new product development and packaging innovation.

"Salyer American has been a quiet company but one that is known for its quality, service and integrity," Ms. Hughes told The Produce News. "I will be looking to build the brand to the trade and then eventually at the consumer level."

One of the ways to build the Salyer American name in the eyes of consumers is to include information on the product packaging, said Ms. Hughes, who explained that research has shown that consumers want usage ideas and recipe and nutritional information on the products they buy. She said that it is a relatively inexpensive method to boost a company's name compared to television spots and print ads in national consumer publications, which can be costly and difficult to measure in efficacy.

While at Birds Eye Fresh, Ms. Hughes was instrumental in securing licensing agreements for grapes and mushrooms, as well as value-added products including "Table Toppers," a line of easy-to-prepare vegetable side dishes. Replacing Ms. Hughes at Birds Eye Fresh is Rhett Smith, who has worked at the company for the past 15 years. Mr. Smith has a degree in horticulture from Oklahoma State University and has 20 years of experience buying agricultural products.

Regarding the addition of Ms. Hughes, Larry Ryan, vice president of sales and marketing for Salyer American, said in a statement, "I'm excited about the industry experience and knowledge that Lyn will bring to Salyer American as well as her fresh perspective and innovative spirit. Salyer American is well positioned in the western vegetable deal, and I believe that Lyn will enhance our commitment to quality product and complete customer satisfaction."

Ms. Hughes, a native of Orange County, CA, said that the move to Salyer is especially exciting since she has had a desire to return to California. Prior to Birds Eye Fresh, she spent 14 years with Los Alamitos, CA-based Frieda's Inc. in the business development area.

Established in 1986, Salyer American Fresh Foods Inc. is a vertically integrated company that controls its vegetables from seed to harvest to shipment. It provides year-round quality supplies under the "American Classic," "American Pride," and "Blue Chip" labels.

PMA's foodservice conference draws a record attendance

MONTEREY, CA -- Citing a figure of "more than 1,500 attendees," the Produce Marketing Association said that its 2006 Foodservice Conference & Exposition drew record attendance. This year marks the 25th anniversary of the show.

Lorna Christie, PMA's senior vice president of industry products and services, told The Produce News July 19 that the conference had been on pace to exceed last year's numbers for exhibitors, wholesalers, distributors and operators on-site in Monterey. With the exception of exhibitors, PMA did not yet have the final tabulations on those numbers, she said.

In 2005, the conference set a record with 140 exhibitors and edged that out this year with 141 exhibitors. Also in 2005, the conference set a record with 87 operators on-site. Ms. Christie said that there were "over 100" operators on-site this year, a figure that has more than doubled from the 2004 show. The show is increasingly attracting menu developers, Ms. Christie told The Produce News, adding that she is most pleased to see an increase in buyers and "those who influence" buying decisions.

Exhibitors with whom The Produce News spoke appeared pleased by both the quality and quantity of foot traffic to their booths. Ms. Christie said that early feedback was unanimously positive.

River Ranch Fresh Foods Vice President of Marketing Bruce Knobeloch said that overall traffic was good. "We had higher-value discussions and contacts," Mr. Knobeloch said. "Overall it was as good or better than in the past. There was a high level of energy on the floor."

Mr. Knobeloch said that the way the week was shortened this year "had everybody more focused." Because foodservice's role in the fresh produce industry is constantly evolving, the show is a good way for people to keep in touch with changes, he said.

Mike Howarth of Meritech Inc. said that he experienced heavy foot traffic to his booth to hear about Meritech's hand- and foot-bath offerings. "We see a lot of customers who we already have [as customers]," Mr. Howarth said. Rory Cornell of Steinbeck Country Produce said that Steinbeck enjoyed good response and that the more intimate foodservice show was "easier" than PMA's annual convention.

Michael Boggiatto of Boggiatto Produce said that he experienced "great traffic and lots of great comments" on his Iceberg Babies, a variety of Iceberg lettuce that is slightly smaller than a softball.

Nathan Stornetta of Produce Careers Inc. said of Sunday's exhibition floor, "for a five-hour gig, the level of clients is exceptional."

Andrew Cumming, a managing partner in Metz Fresh LLC, said that he was pleased with the level and quality of foot traffic by the Metz Fresh booth. Dennis Donohue of European Vegetable Specialties said that he was impressed with the foot traffic. "I sit on a perch and watch the world go by," Mr. Donohue said. "This is my 18th year exhibiting at this show."

IN THE TRENCHES: Innovative companies have leading edge

A salesperson was just completing a long-winded presentation to a retailer. After it ended, the retailer asked, "So what's new about your item?"

Not expecting that question, the representative hemmed and hawed, "Well, umm, I mean, umm, well & nothing. But the package is neat anyway."

What company can afford to throw away valuable revenue dollars by not being inventive? Today, companies have to be "sly as a fox" in creating something new and of value for consumers. And if they're not, they're sunk.

The word is "innovation." This is the pivotal requirement in moving a company forward by making it exceptional rather than just common.

Many companies often make innovation an afterthought. Months and years go by in companies only to find them producing the same items in the same packages that the founders developed 40 or 50 years ago. Although still around, these same companies will eventually fail because they become fixated on the past and lack the desire to be creative.

On the other hand, many organizations have great vision and make innovation a standard commitment. They are energized with a hands-on dedication to be inventive.

What motivates a company to innovate? I contacted some very enthusiastic people in the produce industry and asked them for their perspective on innovation.

Matt Seeley, marketing director of The Nunes Co. Inc. (Foxy Fresh Vegetables) in Salinas, CA: "Insight comes from observations. Listening to consumers, networking with retailers and monitoring lifestyle trends play an enormous role in helping us develop new products or new initiatives with customers. Innovation, in its simplest form, comes two ways: developing something completely new or taking an existing item and making it better or different."

Ed Kershaw, chief executive officer of Domex Marketing in Yakima, WA: "Innovation is the driver of our industry. The best practices, quality and taste are all becoming commodities by their continual barrage of babble. Innovation is the 'how to' vehicle for separating the 'Great' from the 'Good.' But innovation, like software, is a fleeting moment, as competitors benefit from our innovations. Therefore, in today's 'play-to-win' environment, innovation is a total, never-ending commitment. Innovation raises the bar. Commitment to innovation raises the bar higher."

Mike Aiton, senior vice president of Sun World International in Coachella, CA: "Sun World was built on innovation and has become synonymous with this concept throughout the [1990s]. Items which were launched as specialties have become mainstream and a big part of today's produce department. Elongated sweet red peppers, seedless watermelon, Superior seedless grapes, DiVine ripe tomatoes, which was the precursor to the vine-ripened tomatoes of today, and even Flame seedless grapes are all part of our heritage. Today, we operate the largest private grape and stone fruit breeding facility in the U.S. and continue to release new varieties with special flavor attributes. We see there being two ways to survive: Be the low-cost provider or have unique differentiated products, which can get us on the supplier short list for today's retail and wholesale community. We have selected this option and continue to work to maintain the position we have developed."

Derrell Kelso, owner of Onions Etc. in Stockton, CA: "You can be as innovative a person or company as there is in the industry, but if you are not adaptive, it means nothing. To be innovative in the produce industry, you must visualize something that has never been seen before. For innovative people, that is not the difficult part. The difficult part is having the patience for people to finally visualize it themselves and finally adapt. The time between innovation and adaptation is the determining factor of success and failure. In the past 100 years, our society has made more strides than it did in the past 2,000 years. Technology will not slow down. Competition will eat up companies that don't have the ability to innovate and adapt as fast as others. The big will fail because of their lack of adaptation to new innovation and the small will grow due to their adaptation to innovation. This is how it has been from the beginning of time in nations, civilizations and organizations."

K. Steve Phipps, principal owner and sales and marketing director of Market Fresh Services in Lee's Summit, MO: "We study the industry and develop solutions. We rarely have a retailer tell us to do this or that, but we always have great reception when we take our show on the road. It is called proactive marketing versus reactive marketing. We create new items and packaging that offer value exchange to the entire supply chain and consumers."

In order to get just one sale today, organizations have to excite people with something new and different beyond the ordinary. Changing lifestyles demand it. Consumers like and accept change today more than ever before.

Some companies may be enjoying a fair business in the produce industry today, but if innovation is nonexistent, a negative message develops. But the companies with aggressive leaders in creativity are usually those at the top of the heap.

Successful innovators spend time with customers and learn from them. They ask questions and seek suggestions. They create long, boring survey reports. Besides, most people never read them anyway. They simply venture out into the trenches and meet directly with customers inquiring about their needs. Senior management is the key element of innovation. When company leaders encourage their people to share ideas and suggestions, it's amazing how many become marketable successes.

Cal Giant participates in 29th annual Watsonville Criterium

Saturday, July 22 marked the 29th anniversary of the Watsonville Criterium Cycling Race, which was held in downtown Watsonville, CA. The course was to have many dips and turns and was on local city streets allowing plenty of involvement from the neighborhoods with the opportunity to cheer the riders on as they passed by Brewington, Cerritos, Rogers, Oregon, Hill and California streets. The race had several categories including local juniors division, masters, women and Cat 1/2 men.

Each category had a prize package attached for the winners that included cash and fresh strawberries from California Giant. The event was expected to draw 30 to 40 riders for each of the seven categories.

California Giant's cycling team was to have a strong presence at the race. In addition to serving as an event sponsor, spectators were to see about 20 of the red, white and blue jerseys carrying the Cal Giant team logo. The Cal Giant / Village Peddler team, one of the top-ranked elite cycling teams in the United States, was also going to race at the event.

Local residents were encouraged to come out and attend the exciting cycling event and bring their kids to participate in the free junior race providing a fun and exciting way to get involved in cycling.

Navy teams up with Apio to boost produce shelf life

The U.S. Navy is hoping this January to outfit ships with a packaging technology that would boost the shelf life of fresh produce to save the military from wasting millions of dollars on spoiled fruits and vegetables.

The Navy has been testing Apio Inc.'s BreatheWay, a proprietary membrane technology that provides an optimal atmosphere within the package to extend shelf life and preserve the freshness of the produce.

Although the Navy tested other technologies, this one is simple because it does not introduce chemicals or gasses on board ships, according to Deborah Sisson of the U.S. Department of Defense's Combat Feeding Program. "We've been working for close to two years on it and have conducted fleet testing on the USS Reagan and other ships," she said.

Now the Combat Feeding Program is hoping to convince the Office of Naval Research to fund BreatheWay-packaged produce in September so West Coast-based Navy ships can begin using it in January.

Some produce items don't need it, she said. The Navy would not have to rely on packages that regulate the levels of carbon dioxide and oxygen for optimum freshness on items that are suitable frozen or canned. But for fresh lettuce, tomatoes and peppers, there are no good frozen or canned substitutes, and crews need to have access to fresh lettuce because without it, there would be no salads on board, Ms. Sisson said.

The challenge is for the Navy to extend the shelf life of its fruits and vegetables by 20 percent. By using the company's temperature-responsive packaging system, the Navy has been able to boost the shelf life for some commodities by 40 percent. Tests show that the new packages can extend the shelf life of Iceberg lettuce to 42 days from 28 days; cantaloupe and honeydew melons to 35 days from 24 days; bell peppers to 25 days from 15 days and tomatoes to 14 days from 10 days.

Premature spoilage of fruits and vegetables on ships and submarines is extremely costly. In 2005, the Navy spent more than $26 million on fresh fruits and vegetables, with $3 million lost to spoilage. Navy ships must confront unique feeding situations as ships can be deployed in areas where new supplies cannot be introduced for up to six weeks, Ms. Sisson told a conference of food technologists in Chicago last month.

Apio scientist Ray Clarke also presented the latest news on the partnership at the Institute of Food Technologists' meeting.

Apio's packaging technology, which is used commercially today under the "Eat Smart" brand, can extend shelf life for sensitive vegetables and fruits and can be used for large shipping containers and pallet-size containers. This may solve another problem on board aircraft carriers that must purchase enough produce packed in cardboard boxes to feed up to 5,000 people.

The Navy tested a folding crate solution rather than the conventional corrugated shipping boxes to increase ventilation and reduce further loss to produce when stacked paper boxes fail. The larger retailers use the smart crates for efficient shipping and handling. Reducing paper waste is a priority on board ships in which the waste is either carried on or disposed of later, Ms. Sisson added.

But with the promise of extended shelf life could come new food safety concerns. "We've done some limited microbiological testing and we plan to increase the testing in-house," she said.

Now all produce served on ships is washed and sanitized in a chlorine bath before being served to crew. The Navy follows its own food safety protocol for the handling of fresh produce, Ms. Sisson said.