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Ontario Greenhouse Vegetable Growers’ specialty products and marketing initiatives proving successful

Soothsayers of years ago who predicted the success of greenhouse production deserve an acknowledgement of how right they were. Greenhouse vegetables, fruit and flower production is continually evolving. New product testing and trailing is ongoing. Specialty vegetable demand is at an all-time high and increasing annually. Organically grown greenhouse production is quickly becoming the norm, and new greenhouses are sprouting up in regions across North America.

Ontario, Canada, can rightly lay claim to jump-starting the growth and success of hydroponic greenhouse production.

The Ontario Greenhouse Vegetable Growers is a not-for-profit organization representing approximately 220 members. The organization is regulated under the Farm Products Marketing act and is responsible for licensing all growers, packers and marketers of Ontario greenhouse tomatoes, cucumbers, and peppers. 

04150241 Rick Seguin was appointed general manager of OGVG of in August 2015, and he took the helm in early September. He told The Produce News that Ontario greenhouse cucumbers, which grow year round, continue to expand in production every year, as do tomatoes and peppers.

“Tomatoes and peppers start about mid-March in Ontario,” Seguin explained. “Ontario greenhouse production has grown steadily for the past half-dozen years by between five and six percent annually, with the addition of approximately 150-acres each year. Our grower-members now produce in 2,600-acres of greenhouses.”

He noted that last year’s large production of seedless cucumbers enabled growers to get the product into new markets and new regions.

“This year’s production is similar to last year, so that’s good news,” he said. “In order of Ontario greenhouse production, tomatoes are first, peppers second and cucumbers are third.”

Among the largest challenges for Ontario greenhouse growers is the cost of heating the greenhouses. They investigate and study many different options to determine those that can help them save money.

“This winter has been mild, so growers have been saving,” said Seguin. “But production is also dependent on sunshine, and that has been on the scant side this year. Lack of sunshine affects product growth, and that was evident in the size of the cucumber this year.”

He also pointed out the great successes currently happening in the greenhouse industry. New specialty tomato varieties such as cherry, grape and heirlooms are now widely and successfully distributed. Baby and mini colored peppers now join the ranks of the traditional greenhouse peppers, and the greenhouse seedless cucumber line has expanded to include mini and cocktail sizes, which are perfect for snacks and lunch boxes.

“These specialty items are very popular and growing today,” said Seguin. “But the success is mostly due to new packaging, labels, clever trademarks and strong promotion and marketing initiatives. The industry is highly competitive and growers realize they have to compete globally. Greenhouse growers are simply doing a better job than ever of getting their brands in front of consumers in clever and attractive ways.”

Although OVGV regulates only tomatoes, peppers and cucumbers, Seguin said there is growth in other Ontario greenhouse items.

“We are seeing increased volumes of eggplant and leafy greens, and growers are testing strawberries,” he said.

In January, OGVG launched its annual winter cucumber campaign, “Always in Season” at select retail stores throughout Ontario. Included in the group were Loblaw, Metro, Sobeys, Longo’s and Walmart Canada.

OGVG will be promoting greenhouse produce and testing the waters for an extended campaign in the future at booth No. 1214 at the Southeast Produce Council Southern Exposure on March 3-5 in Hollywood, FL. Seguin will be joined by Fiona McLean, marketing and communications coordinator for OGVG, to greet and meet with visitors.

More products, more locations for Loblaw's Naturally Imperfect produce line

Loblaw Cos. Ltd. has expanded its no name Naturally Imperfect produce line, with more products available at more locations throughout Canada. Imperfect or misshapen produce that tastes great and is good for you is now available at Real Canadian Superstore, Your Independent Grocer and select no frills locations in British Columbia, Edmonton, Saskatchewan, Winnipeg and Calgary.  The Naturally Imperfect line will kick off in these locations with apples and peppers. In Ontario, Loblaw is expanding the line of products to include peppers, onions, pears, carrots and mushrooms.

Launched in March 2015 with apples and potatoes in Ontario and Quebec, no name Naturally Imperfect produce can now be found across the country in select Loblaw stores, and no name Naturally Imperfect produce costs up to 30 percent less than traditional produce options found in store.  

"When it comes to produce, Canadians know that beauty is more than skin deep," Ian Gordon, senior vice president of Loblaw Brands, said in a press release. "Our customers recognize they get the same flavor and nutritional benefits in spite of appearances. The positive response to our initial offering of apples and potatoes in Quebec and Ontario demonstrated the opportunity to expand the no name Naturally Imperfect line and offer more selection at a great price to more Canadian families."

Produce included in the no name Naturally Imperfect program was previously used in juices, sauces or soups, or may not have been harvested due to their small size. With this program, Loblaw Cos. is working to ensure farmers have a market for smaller, misshapen fruit ensuring it does not go to waste.

The Loblaw produce teams continue to work with partners to further deepen the offering. Customers should be on the lookout for more no name Naturally Imperfect products before the end of the year.

Harvest Sensations opens new Miami warehouse

Known for year-round premium-quality asparagus, snow peas, sugar snap peas, beans, innovative value-added organic kale products, consolidated and shipping point organic products, and specialties from all over the world, Harvest Sensations currently operates from a 50,000-square-foot, state-of-the-art facility in Los Angeles. Now, it will also operate from a brand new, 37,000-square-foot location in Miami.

“With the addition of our new Miami location, we can now service customers and growers from the United States and beyond,” Harvest Sensations President Doug Ranno said in a press release. “Our new full-service facility and offices will allow Harvest Sensations Miami to expand further into organics, specialties and retail herbs while growing into new innovative retail packs of asparagus and other value-added products.”

Harvest Sensations facilities offer forced-air cooling, storage, shipping, consolidation, processing, repacking and local market logistics services while bringing to market amazing fresh retail and fresh food service produce products in the famous Harvest Sensations brand, Fresh Specialties brand and other premium quality brands from farms all around the world.

“We have put every detail and available innovation into this amazing facility,” Eduardo Campos, vice president of operations, added in the press release. “We are proud and excited to make this new facility available to our customers and suppliers.”

USApple brings new meaning to March Madness

What are your favorite apples? Tried-and-true champion varieties enjoyed by all? Or up-and-coming underdog apples known only by a few? Throughout March (National Nutrition Month), U.S. Apple Association is encouraging people to pick their all-time favorite apple by hosting the first-ever Apple Madness tournament, a five-week, five-round online competition spotlighting 32 apple varieties and fresh health facts.AppleMadness-URL1

Tipping off March 2, Apple Madness features USApple and apple industry members encouraging people to visit  USApple.org/AppleMadness to take part in a bracket-style tournament by voting for their favorite varieties. Among the 32 featured in Apple Madness are veteran varieties such as Empire, Fuji, Red Delicious and Granny “Slam Dunk” Smith; rising stars such as “Hoops” Honeycrisp and Pink Lady; and rookies to watch like SweeTango, “Jumpball” Jazz and SnapDragon.

The first-week round — The “Fresh 32”— (Tuesday, March 1–Sunday, March 6) features all 32 apples seeded in 16 match-ups. People can view and vote on each match-up while learning about healthy apple research. Top apples from week one advance to the “Vitamin-C Sixteen” round, which tips off Monday, March 7. The “Edible Eight” round starts Monday, March 14, with the “Fiber Four” round beginning Monday, March 21. Finally, the “National Chomp-ionship” round to determine the ultimate winner apple variety will be held Monday, March 28-Thursday, March 31.

Throughout the tournament, participants can enter to win a host of apple-related prizes from Borton Fruit, Chelan Fresh, Knouse Foods, Michigan Apples, New York Apple Association, Pennsylvania Apples, Red Jacket Orchards, Sage Fruit, Tree Top and Washington Apple Commission.

“It’s National Nutrition Month, so why not celebrate by combining two of our favorite things — apples and March Madness,” Wendy Brannen, director of consumer health and public relations for USApple, said in a press release. “With Apple Madness, we want to tap into the popularity of the pre-eminent cultural event that is March Madness to not only encourage people to share their favorite apple varieties, but also learn important health facts about apples along the way. We can’t wait to see which apples advance and which variety takes home the trophy.”

Freshway Foods to introduce fresh-cut root vegetables at Southern Exposure

Freshway Foods will introduce new fresh-cut root vegetables at the upcoming Southern Exposure food show, sponsored by the Southeast Produce Council. The new value-add root vegetables save time and money versus processing whole produce in-house.

“We have eliminated the time-consuming steps of peeling and cutting these root vegetables,” Chef Douglas Bond, new product development manager for Freshway Foods, said in a press release. “This reduces the potential for cutting injuries, helps prevent cross-contamination, and provides consistent quality and costs.”Image-1---Rainbow-Carrot-CoinsRainbow carrot crinkle cut coins.

The popularity of root vegetables has increased dramatically over the past two years. “We are excited about the resurgence of root vegetables,” Bond said in the release. “These vegetables were popular in the early 20th century, but interest waned mid-century. Thanks to new preparation methods that highlight the flavors of root vegetables, as well as a focus on healthy eating, they are gaining new acceptance.”

The new line of root vegetables includes rutabaga, turnips, parsnips, red and gold beets, watermelon radish, and rainbow carrots, available in diced and matchstick formats. The gold beets, watermelon radish and rainbow carrots are heirloom varieties. “Gold beets are sweeter and less earthy than red beets,” Bond said. “We have found that many consumers prefer the flavor over the traditional red beets.

“We pack our matchstick-cut root vegetables in a one-pound pack, which is perfect for salad bars,” Bond said. “The smaller cut releases more of the vegetable's natural sugar. All of these root vegetable varieties can be consumed raw, and they add flavor and texture to salads.”

Foodservice packs of the diced rutabaga, parsnip, turnip, red and gold beets, and rainbow carrot crinkle cut coins are also available. Both diced and matchstick formats will be on display at Southern Exposure.