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Kings Food Markets sees several executive promotions

Kings Food Markets has announced several executive changes at the company. Judy Spires, formerly president and chief executive officer, has recently been named chairman and CEO. Rich Durante will take on the role of president and chief operating officer. sprieseJudy Spires

Durante began his career with Kings in 1988 as a store manager. He has risen through ranks over the past 27 years, and has successfully led the merchandising, operations, marketing and engineering teams in the strategic positioning of the company for growth and innovation.

Additionally, Jessica Gasser has been promoted to senior vice president of talent and technology. Gasser joined the Kings team in 1998 as an assistant HR manager and over the past 18 years, steadily progressed through the various HR positions. Most recently she had taken on the additional oversight of the information technology group, providing strategic leadership to maximize company goals.

“At Kings, we place great value in our leadership,” Spires said in a press release. “We are so excited to recognize these leaders for their contributions and look forward to their success in driving the company’s key strategic initiatives.”

PAIA names co-chairmen for 2016-17 term

The Peruvian Asparagus Importers Association announced the recent election of new chairmen for the 2016-17 term. Elected by a member vote at the meeting in October were Walter Yager of Alpine Fresh in Miami and Jay Rodriguez of Crystal Valley Foods, also in Miami. 

Yager was re-elected to the post, while Rodriguez was newly elected. The two will serve as co-chairmen of the association for the term.Walter-YagerWalter Yager

“We are thankful to have a membership filled with many professional and capable men and women to represent our Peruvian asparagus industry with knowledge, zeal and efficiency,” Priscilla Lleras-Bush, coordinator for the Peruvian Asparagus Importers Association, said in a press release. “We are confident that we will continue to press forward strongly to achieve our association goals and advance the trade and the asparagus category to new heights.Jay-RodriguezJay Rodriguez

“Our chairmen are commissioned to help guide the association in our efforts to facilitate and further develop asparagus trade, address industry or category matters and assist in evolving the asparagus category as a whole,” Lleras-Bush added.

“PAIA is a very active association that is progressive at addressing any and all commerce and regulatory issues to advance the trade between Peru and the United States,” Yager said in the press release. “Our leadership and commitment to the Peruvian asparagus industry has proven effective and will continue to maintain its role within the industry and trade.”

“PAIA’s laser focus to detail and has played a crucial ongoing role in increasing fresh asparagus consumption within the United States,” Rodriguez added in the press release. “Being newly elected to this position, I look forward to further developing industry synergies within the asparagus industry.”

As an association, PAIA collectively works on all issues affecting the industry and has shared goals to advance the trade and succeed in importing the freshest products into the United States as well as meet consumer demand with the freshest supply of Peruvian Asparagus.  This benefits all who are involved from the grower to the retailer and to the end consumer.

Limoneira Co. completes $15 million acquisition of citrus orchards

Limoneira Co. has completed its acquisition of 757 acres of lemon, orange and specialty citrus orchards in the San Joaquin Valley. The purchase price was approximately $15.1 million, and the acquisition closed Dec. 2.

Since going public in 2010, Limoneira has acquired approximately 3,300 acres of agricultural property totaling approximately $48.5 million.

The orchards were acquired pursuant to purchase options contained in certain operating leases Limoneira has had since 2012 for approximately 1,000 acres of lemon, orange, specialty citrus and other crops, which the company refers to as the Sheldon Ranch leases.

The lease agreements included base rent of $500 per acre and contingent rent of 50 percent of the operating profit of the leased property as defined in the lease agreements. Total rent expense for fiscal year 2015 on the acquired property is estimated to be approximately $1 million and was approximately $1.4 million for fiscal year 2014.

“We are pleased to complete the acquisition of the orchards that were part of the Sheldon Ranch leases," Harold Edwards, president and chief executive officer of Limoneira, said in a press release. "We have recently acquired approximately 900 acres of land that was previously leased in the highly productive San Joaquin Valley, and this is expected to generate incremental operating results and cash flows resulting from the elimination of lease expense beginning in fiscal year 2016.

"As we begin to realize cash flow from our recent real estate development agreements, we remain focused on capitalizing on strategic and accretive acquisition opportunities to further expand our global agribusiness,” he said.

Florida strawberry study aims to help boost profits

Florida's strawberry industry continues to evaluate strategies to produce outstanding fruit of the highest quality while at the same time providing growers with the best return on investment.

According to a University of Florida study, Florida and California combined produce 99 percent of domestic strawberries.

“Florida ranks as the largest producer of winter strawberries, with a value of $366 million annually, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture,” the report states.StrawberryStudyOVVance Whitaker, a strawberry breeder with the University of Florida's Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences, is co-author of a study that encourages Florida's strawberry growers to plant and harvest earlier to maximize profits. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, strawberries are a $366 million annual crop in Florida. Photo courtesy of the University of Florida.

“Optimizing yield distribution under biological and economic constraints: Florida strawberries as a model for perishable commodities,” was authored by Feng Wu, Zhengfei Guan and Vance Whitaker, in association with the University of Florida's Gulf Coast Research and Education Center and Food and Resource Economics Department and was released Oct. 23.

The interdisciplinary study proposes “a modeling framework for deriving the optimal yield curve for strawberry production in Florida that maximizes the profit of growers given competition from California and Mexico and sensitive price responses to market supply.”

The results of the study can be used to guide efforts and make decisions in breeding and improvement of cultural practices and would assist growers in making informed decisions on cultivars and technologies/practices to adopt to maximize profit.

With Mexico emerging as a major competitor to the Florida strawberry industry, Whitaker recommended that Florida strawberry growers look to an earlier pick date in mid-November to remain competitive and maximize profits.

Kenneth Parker, executive director of the Florida Strawberry Growers Association, provided The Produce News with his insights about the study and the ways in which Florida strawberry growers are working to cultivate the best possible varieties while maximizing return on investment.

“Dr. Whitaker is a great friend,” Parker said. “The study shows what the growers know. We have a lot of confidence in our breeding program at UF.”

Hillsborough County, known as the Winter Strawberry Capital of the World, produces 15 percent of the nation's strawberries and virtually all of the berries grown during the winter months.

Parker said cost inputs continue to increase, and prices are typically higher at the beginning of the Florida season, which generally runs from Thanksgiving to Easter. “We always want to get better,” he stated. “Varieties grown in Florida are much better than they were five years ago.”

Much of the challenge Florida's strawberry growers face stems from the Sunshine State's multifaceted climate characterized by heat, rain, humidity and even seasonal cold spells. Plants currently in production in Florida don't fare well until Florida heat begins to moderate. Pest pressures are nothing new in Florida's warm, humid subtropical climate. “We need to increase early production and have predictable volume throughout the season,” he continued. “Having complementary varieties is what we're shooting for.”

Cold weather becomes a factor as production ramps up around the end of November, meaning growers must employ a variety of techniques such as use of rainbirds, row covers and newer coatings to protect the plants and their fruit.

“The growers have been good stewards of the land,” Parker continued, adding that Florida is not exempt from having to deal with its own water issues. “They are using less water today than a decade ago.” Use of drip irrigation in strawberry fields has had a positive impact. “The growers are using one-half less water today than they did a decade ago,” Parker added.

Florida has staked its reputation on the production of premium fruit with an outstanding flavor profile and longer shelf life. “We have a really good handle on this,” he said.

Parker said Sue Harrell, the association's director of marketing, has been working tirelessly to enhance brand recognition in the retail sector for the Florida strawberry industry. “Sue has done a great job promoting strawberries,” he said.

Harrell, who is also a strawberry grower, said the industry continues to seek out the perfect variety that will help growers check off all their production boxes. “We don't have the perfect one yet,” she told The Produce News.

A number of varieties, including the Sensation, have been patented and commercialized through the Gulf Coast Research and Education Center since 1992.

Strawberry cultivation is truly a hands-on industry. Harrell said plant runners must be trimmed, enabling the plants to produce more berries. “It's done by hand. So it's expensive,” she commented. But the intense works does pay off. “Our buyers at the retail level know our fruit is good through these varieties,” Harrell added.

The industry participates in the “Fresh From Florida” branding program which enhances product visibility on the produce shelf. “The campaign is really effective,” Parker said. “Mexico is our competition.” He said Harrell has developed a strong tagline for Florida strawberries that says it all: “You can have a taste of summer all winter long.”

Michael Jordan and Jewel-Osco settle lawsuit after $8.9 million decision against Safeway

jordeweJewel-Osco and Michael Jordan have reached a settlement in a lawsuit over the unauthorized use of his name in an ad that appeared in a 2009 issue of Sports Illustrated. Earlier this year Safeway was ordered to pay $8.9 million to Jordan for the unapproved and unlicensed use of his name in a Dominick's ad that ran in the same issue. Jewel-Osco and Jordan were expected to meet in court this month.jordMichael Jordan and Jewel-Osco reached a settlement over the unauthorized use of his name in this 2009 ad

"The terms of the agreement are confidential, but we are pleased to have reached a resolution of these matters," said Brian Dowling, vice president of public relations for Albertsons, which acquired Jewel-Osco in 2013.

Both ads were in a commemorative edition concerning Michael Jordan’s induction into the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame.

After the Dominick's case concluded in August, Jordan said, "No one — whether or not they’re a public figure — should have to worry about their identity being used without their permission.” According to Jordan, the $8.9 million was to be given to charity.

Financial terms of the Jewel-Osco settlement have not been made public.

Today, Jewel-Osco operates 184 stores throughout the Chicagoland area, Indiana and Iowa.