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Galone named marketing VP at Diamond Fruit

Fruit industry veteran Neil Galone recently relocated from the Yakima Valley in Washington state to the mid-Columbia area of Oregon and Washington, where he has taken the position of vice president of marketing for Diamond Fruit Growers Inc. in Odell, OR.

Mr. Galone, who brought 25 years of experience to the Diamond team when he arrived Feb. 14, will eventually replace Marketing Vice President Gerry Jessup, who will retire in late May.

Most recently associated with Snokist Growers in Yakima, where he was vice president of sales, Mr. Galone has also worked with citrus shippers in Florida. Diamond Fruit President and General Manager Ron Giardelli said that Mr. Galone?s experience in the industry is appreciated.

?We are pleased that Neil has joined the sales team and are looking forward to having him involved in our program," Mr. Giardelli said.

Mr. Galone noted that he looks forward to his involvement with the well-respected operation.

?Diamond has an excellent reputation in the industry for both pears and cherries, and I am excited about the opportunity of working with them," he said.

Mr. Galone went on to say that Diamond?s growers "understand the demands of today?s customers and are committed to growing the quality of fruit necessary to meet those demands."

The 92-year-old cooperative, one of the older in the nation, represents more than 100 growers from Oregon and Washington. The primary label is "Diamond," and other labels are "Panorama," "Jewel? and "Mountain Edge."

Mr. Galone said that most growers produce only pears, although approximately 20 percent of the members also grow cherries.

?We have a couple of growers that do cherries only," he added.

In all, Diamond?s growers produce more than 55,000 tons of fresh pears each year, which is approximately 10 percent of the Northwest?s total volume, making the cooperative the largest supplier in the United States.

Packing is done from three warehouses, and Mr. Galone said, "At the main office, Diamond Central, we do both pre-size and commit-to-pack. At Parkdale, Oregon, we do pre-size, and we have a commit-to-pack line in Odell, Oregon, where we do varietal pears."

Explaining that just a few pear shippers presize their pears, Mr. Galone said that this aspect of Diamond?s service is unique.

?Since we pre-size, it gives us an opportunity to provide a fresher pack to our customers, as we do more pack for specific orders. Pre-sizing also helps us get the right product in the appropriate package," he said.

Diamond packs in standard half- and full cartons, and it also packs in bags, Euros, RPCs and custom requests. The sheds are Primus-certified, Mr. Galone added.

He said that Diamond is "beginning to pack RipeSense, but only has a limited offering at this time." Mr. Galone said, "We do expect that this interest will grow."

Of the 2005 growing season, Mr. Galone noted that Diamond " much like all fruit producers in the Northwest " has concerns about both water and transportation.

?This has been a very light year for precipitation in the Northwest, and it will be an issue for us all," he said. "At this point, however, we do not think that we will have the problems that they could experience in Yakima or Wenatchee."

Transportation is a growing issue, Mr. Galone continued.

?As fuel continues to rise in cost, it becomes increasingly more difficult to get trucks to do split loads. Because we are somewhat isolated from the apple industry, that does sometimes create logistics problems for us. Some of our customers, however, recognize that pears are a significant variety, and in increasing numbers they are using straight loads of pears from this area, and this helps," he said.

?We also have a couple of shippers in Yakima that maintain an inventory of our product in their warehouse, which helps to have our product included on mixed loads of apples and pears."

Taste preference is key to boosting consumption

New research shows that people may inherit their sense of taste, and this may influence how consumers can boost servings of certain fruits and vegetables to meet new health recommendations.

Consumers rely on taste as a top factor for buying fresh fruits and vegetables, and using information on taste preference may be the best way to sell more fruits and vegetables.

A telephone survey conducted for the Produce Marketing Association in mid-January found that taste was the most important factor for shoppers in deciding whether to buy fruits and vegetables, followed by the well-known health benefits of consuming produce.

?For years our industry has educated consumers on the nutritional and health benefits of produce," said PMA President Bryan Silbermann in releasing the survey last month. "We need to go further. Now our challenge is to offer shoppers new flavors and textures to engage their senses."

But with the latest studies appearing to show that people?s taste preferences are inherited, how can the industry and health experts nudge consumers to eat more fruits and vegetables?

?By being aware of your preferences, you can find ways to increase the number of these foods you have each day until you meet health recommendations," said Karen Collins, a registered dietitian who is affiliated with the American Institute for Cancer Research and who writes a weekly column for MSNBC.com.

First, people need to explore their taste preferences. One study found that people could be classified as fruit lovers, vegetable lovers, attracted to both fruits and vegetables, or neither. Fruit lovers like sweeter foods and eat more desserts compared to vegetable lovers, who eat spicy foods, enjoy bitter or savory foods, and are more likely to try new recipes and cook nutritious meals, said the study. Fruit lovers enjoy easy-to-prepare meals.

One way to boost consumption is for fruit lovers to choose fresh fruits as desserts and snacks, while vegetable lovers could use spices and new recipes to incorporate more variety, said Ms. Collins. But vegetables and fruits are nutritionally different, so everyone should eat both, she said.

The inherited taste preferences might explain why some individuals prefer the super-healthy cruciferous vegetables and why others find these vegetables too bitter. People who are sensitive to the bitter tastes in cruciferous vegetables might enjoy them better when they?re stir-fried or saut?ed in a little olive oil, rather than steamed, she said.

A salty, sweet or sour flavor can also reduce a bitter taste, so broccoli and other vegetables of the same family can be prepared with a dash of light soy sauce or a sprinkle of Parmesan cheese. Other options include sprinkling vegetables with a honey, lemon juice or a mild-flavored vinegar.

Donovan joins Fresh Kist

Fresh Kist Produce in Salinas, CA, announced the hiring of Denny Donovan, who recently joined the company?s sales team.

Mr. Donovan has deep roots in the produce industry: his grandfather worked as a buyer in the 1930s for TopCo and Kroger, and his father worked for produce shippers in the San Jose area. Today, his father, uncle and two sons are all active in the produce industry.

?We are extremely pleased that Denny decided to come on board with us," said Jason Lathos, sales manager at Fresh Kist.

At the age of 16, Mr. Donovan found himself working in produce and behind the wheel of a water truck in the fields of his hometown Salinas. His first sales job was at POVE in Guadalupe, CA, and he spent more than 24 years there, with involvement in all aspects of operations, from cooler and shed to transplanting and union negotiations. He eventually rose to the position of general manager.

Mr. Donovan subsequently took a sales position at the Santa Maria branch of Coast Produce, where he serviced retail accounts for over three years.

?He brings an invaluable understanding of the production side of the equation to our marketing team," said Dave Bonetti, the company?s CEO. "Denny is an institution in the Salinas and Santa Maria shipping areas. His knowledge of customers, shippers and growers, as well as the relationships he has nurtured, will be huge assets for Fresh Kist."

Winn-Dixie produce debt could reach $20 million

In the early throes of the Winn-Dixie filing of Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection, the size of the debt is as much speculation as anything else. With that said, the early speculation is that the produce debt could reach $20 million.

But regardless of the size of that debt, Winn-Dixie attorneys have moved quickly to assure produce creditors that they would be paid quickly according to the regular terms of the PACA Trust. The trust provisions of the Perishable Agricultural Commodities Act call for produce creditors to be first in line, and essentially be able to reap the returns from the produce they provided on credit to the retailer.

Winn-Dixie filed for bankruptcy protection on Monday, Feb. 21, and the following day its attorneys were in court filing "first-day motions? including one to allow for the payment of PACA Trust pre-petition claims.

Patricia Rynn of Rynn and Janowsky, a California law firm specializing in produce-industry law, said that it appears to be a fairly straight-forward bankruptcy and a "true reorganization. It appears to be pre-packaged and a well-thought-out bankruptcy proceeding designed to bring Winn-Dixie back in a stronger position."

On Feb. 22, Ms. Rynn fielded calls from many shipper clients. Though she had not finalized agreements to represent all of those shippers in the bankruptcy proceedings, she said her callers had a total debt of about $7 million.

Lou Diess of McCarron-Diess, a Washington, DC, law firm specializing in the produce industry, said that he was representing $3 million to $5 million in debt. "And I have talked to another attorney that has a similar amount," he said. "If all the preliminary talk is accurate, I would say that the produce debt could approach $20 million."

Both attorneys, speaking for their clients, as well as reports from a couple of Winn-Dixie produce suppliers, revealed that Winn-Dixie was fairly current with its creditors. One large California shipper said that Winn-Dixie was current, but the retailer is a large client, so 30 days worth of debt is still quite substantial.

Winn-Dixie?s larger produce suppliers appear to have debt in the range of $1 million to $2 million each.

Ms. Rynn said that the expectation is that the PACA Trust will prove its worth once again with all of the qualified produce suppliers receiving 100 cents on the dollar. Mr. Diess estimated that payments to PACA Trust suppliers could take place within 30-60 days.

A produce supplier can protect his or her assets under the PACA Trust by extending proper terms to the buyer and having the terms properly stated on the invoice. Virtually all produce suppliers now include the correct terminology on their invoices.

While the PACA Trust will most likely leave produce creditors in good shape, other creditors may not be so fortunate, and Wall Street reacted very negatively to the bankruptcy announcement. Shares of Winn-Dixie had been cut in half in the weeks leading up to the bankruptcy as the company reported heavy losses of close to $400 million during the last quarter of 2004.

In addition, rumors about the pending Chapter 11 filing were widespread since mid-February. Trading of the stock was suspended Feb. 22, but it reopened the following day and plummeted to 59 cents a share. A year ago it was $6.

When announcing the bankruptcy, Winn-Dixie said that it had obtained $800 million debtor-in-possession financing from Wachovia Bank, replacing a previous $600 million credit line, to supplement cash flow during reorganization.

All 920 of its stores in eight states and the Bahamas remained open, but there was expectation that many stores would eventually be closed. Winn-Dixie announced that it would seek the bankruptcy judge?s permission to immediately terminate the leases of two warehouses and 150 stores that could save about $60 million annually. The store leases were for properties that had previously been closed. It is also looking to sell all its manufacturing operations.

Winn-Dixie is based in Jacksonville, FL, with all its U.S. stores in the Southeast. It has 79,000 employees, including President and CEO Peter Lynch, who was hired from Albertson?s in December to turn the retailer around.

Reports indicate that Winn-Dixie has lost market share in recent years to Wal-Mart, which has aggressively opened stores in the Southeast.

In a statement, Mr. Lynch said that the reorganization would allow the firm to compete in the future. "This includes achieving significant cost reductions, improving the merchandising and customer service in all locations, and generating a sense of excitement in the stores."

Garlic cloves key element to "Garlic Expressions? dressing

What humbly started out as a signature house dressing for one restaurant some 12 years ago is an item that can be found in specialty food stores and conventional supermarkets across the nation.

?Garlic Expressions? " a salad dressing noted for its whole fresh garlic cloves in every bottle " is the creation of Larry Croy, former chef and owner of a Perrysburg, OH-area restaurant where the salad dressing got its start.

The salad dressing has been on the market for 13 years, distributed by Mr. Croy?s company, LarMar Foods Inc. But it was when Mr. Croy met with the Thomson family of Bakersfield, CA-based Thomson International at a Produce Marketing Association convention a half-dozen years ago that the business moved forward.

Thomson International " growers of garlic, watermelons and onions " devised a method for getting the whole cloves of fresh garlic into the bottles. The cloves were too big to fit in the neck of salad dressing bottles, and LarMar incurred large labor costs as a result. But Thomson came to the rescue.

?We got equipment for special sizing, so they no longer had to cut garlic," said Karen Thomson, vice president of sales and marketing who handles the marketing of "Garlic Expressions? for the West Coast market and Texas for the family business.

Thomson secures the sourcing and processes the garlic, then sends the raw product back to LarMar. LarMar packages and bottles the product at its salad dressing factory and ships product destined for the West Coast market and Texas back to Ms. Thomson. Whole Foods Markets in Southern California has been carrying "Garlic Expressions? for about a year. Whole Foods recently agreed to carry the salad dressing in its Northern California stores, and LarMar is seeking a distributor to handle the product, Mr. Croy said.

?Garlic Expressions? also can be found in the Southern California-based Gelsons supermarket chain and in seven Kroger supermarket divisions, Mr. Croy said. In addition to the garlic cloves, the 12.5-ounce bottle of "Garlic Expressions? salad dressing has premium cider vinegar, canola oil and seasonings.

?It's almost exclusively in the produce section as opposed to the grocery section [of stores], Mr. Croy said of "Garlic Expressions." The garlic used in the product comes from Argentina, Mexico and the Bakersfield, CA, area, he said.