Kingsburg Orchard executive returns to retail with move to Sendik’s

Sendik's Food Markets, a 12-store family-owned grocery chain serving the Milwaukee area, announced the hiring of produce industry veteran Dan Spain, who most recently worked as vice president of sales and marketing for Kingsburg Orchard

As produce director for Sendik’s, Spain will use his wealth of experience to procure product, build grower relationships and set strategy for a company known throughout the industry for its best-in-class produce operations.spainDan Spain

“Dan is someone we have done business with, and admired, for many years,” Patrick Balistreri, a co-owner of Sendik’s, said in a press release. “He shares our passion for produce and is well respected by growers and partners throughout the country. Because of his experience and industry connections, Dan makes our strong team even stronger.”

In joining Sendik’s, Spain returns to his roots. He began his career in retail with Von’s Grocery Co., where his creativity, drive, leadership and coaching ability caught the eye of top executives. He was quickly promoted and held leadership positions within stores, as a produce manager and store manager, and throughout the company as field merchandiser and category manager.

“I could not be more excited to be joining the Sendik's family,” Spain said in the press release. “I've had the pleasure of visiting retailers in nearly every state, and Sendik's has as fine a produce operation as I've seen. I look forward to building on their well-deserved reputation.”

Prior to Kingsburg Orchards, Spain worked in strategic business development and marketing for Sunkist Fresh Fruit as the director of national accounts. Additionally, he has long-time professional produce industry associations with the Produce Marketing Association, United Fresh Fruit Association, Fresh Produce & Floral Council, Southeast Produce Council, Eastern Produce Council and the National Grocers Association.

First company certified to use government-verified non-GMO seal

WASHINGTON — The Agricultural Marketing Service has certified the first company, SunOpta Inc., to label its food-grade soybeans and corn with a new, USDA non-GMO seal.

News of the new label, which has yet to be announced by USDA, leaked last week when the Associated Press reported on a May 1 letter by Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack to employees explaining an unnamed company was the first to be certified for a new USDA seal and that he expected more companies to follow. Soon after, SunOpta issued a press release identifying itself as the first to participate in the voluntary, fee-based audit program.

Under the AMS Process Verified Program, products at the company’s Hope, MN, facility are verified as non-GMO by meeting SunOpta’s non-GMO/non-GE standard. Products from that plant would be shipped with the new label, but consumers would not see the process verified label on finished products at retail.

“Becoming the first PVP-verified non-GMO food manufacturing facility in the United States is a great honor for SunOpta and consistent with our commitment to non-GMO and organic food products, which are in high demand with today's consumers,” said SunOpta Chief Executive Officer Steve Bromley. “Having USDA verify that we are complying with our standards ensures that our customers can be confident that they are getting the highest quality non-GMO soybeans and corn. We look forward to implementing the USDA PVP program at other SunOpta facilities across our vertically integrated platform.”

Many companies use a private label created by the non-profit Non-GMO Project, which criticized the AMS process verification program as not transparent and not based on a third-party standard.

“For now, the only non-GMO label in the marketplace based on third-party verification to transparent, consistent standards continues to be the Non-GMO Project butterfly,” the group said in a statement last week. “This seal is your assurance that a product has met rigorous best practices, including ongoing testing, and has passed third-party audits and inspections for GMO avoidance. To date, the Non-GMO Project has verified more than 31,000 products.”

USDA would establish its own GMO-free standard under legislation introduced in March by Reps. Mike Pompeo (R-KS) and G. K. Butterfield (D-NC). Backed by the food industry, the Safe & Accurate Food Labeling Act of 2015 (H.R. 1599) would also preempt states from passing their own mandatory labeling laws for genetically engineered foods.

The United Fresh Produce Association said it supports a federal solution to the patchwork of states passing different laws on GM labeling.

"Any labeling standard — whether for labeling of GMO foods or non-GMO labeling — must be a national framework, not a state-by-state hodgepodge,” United Fresh said in a statement. “We encourage Congress to take steps to ensure that federal standards prevail in food labeling, and that FDA determine what labeling is necessary in accordance with its food-safety responsibility.”

Ocean Mist-Lakeside alliance extends organic offerings

Ocean Mist Farms and Lakeside Organic Gardens formed a strategic alliance to grow for one another and offer their customers wider organic product lines.

The strategic alliance will add organic artichokes to the Lakeside Organic Gardens product line. For Ocean Mist, the company’s organic product line will expand to include beets, broccoli, cauliflower, celery, cilantro, fennel, iceberg lettuce, kale, leeks, parsley, red leaf, green leaf, romaine and spinach.lakmis  Ocean Mist will market the items under the "Ocean Mist Organic" label.

Ocean Mist Farms and Lakeside Organic Gardens are both family-owned-and-operated. In business more than 90 years, Ocean Mist Farms is one of the larger grower-shippers of artichokes in North America.

Lakeside Organic Gardens, based in Watsonville, CA, is is one of the larger family-owned-and-operated organic vegetable grower-shippers in the country; the company grows and sells more than 45 organic vegetables year-round.

“The purpose of the strategic alliance between the two companies is to meet the increasing shopper demand for organic produce,” Ed Boutonnet, chief executive officer of Ocean Mist Farms, said in a press release. “It’s important to the future of our business that we respond to the changes in the marketplace and meet the needs of our end consumer; adding organic produce to our product list is part of meeting that need.”

Lakeside Organic Gardens grower owner, Dick Peixoto, said, “At Lakeside Organic Gardens, we’re excited to offer our customers organic artichokes year-round. We appreciate the commitment Ocean Mist has made to grow the best-quality organic artichokes. This is a win for both companies because both of our customers will have immediate access to wider organic product lines.”

The first products will ship in July from the Ocean Mist Farms cooler in Castroville, CA, and the Lakeside Organic Gardens cooler in Watsonville, CA.

Supreme Court could be final arbiter in California labor dispute

A California appeals court recently handed Reedley, CA-based Gerawan Farming a favorable decision in its ongoing battle with the United Farm Workers, meaning the issues at hand may just end up in the U.S. Supreme Court.

“This was a big win,” said Ron Barsamian of Barsamian & Moody, who was co-counsel on the case with David Schwarz of Irell & Manella, a Los Angeles firm. “Though it is only one victory and it will almost certainly be appealed to the California Supreme Court.”

If it gets there, the Fresno, CA-based attorney who specializes in agricultural labor law said the next step would be the U.S. Supreme Court. He added that is always a longshot, as the nation’s highest court grants very few petitions for hearing. But the concept of mandatory mediation is controversial and one that the highest court might want to tackle.

The case revolves around a 2012 law that basically allows the state’s Agricultural Labor Relations Board to impose mandatory mediation in labor disputes when an impasse has been reached between an employer and the bargaining unit that represents the workers.

When passed by the California Legislature, it was no secret that the law was designed to make it is easier for workers to achieve labor contracts.

With rulings made by the ALRB, the United Farm Workers has used that law in the past couple of years to resurrect decades-old labor disputes where no contract was ever negotiated.

The Gerawan case dates back to 1992, when the UFW won the right to represent Gerawan’s workers. The two sides failed to reach an agreement and Gerawan claims that the UFW abandoned the workers and basically stopped negotiating for two decades.

After this mandatory mediation and conciliation (MMC) law was passed, the UFW petitioned the ALRB to rule that an impasse had been reached 20 years earlier and that mandatory mediation should be imposed. The ALRB did just that.

Eventually, the appointed mediator did create a contract that was not to Gerawan’s liking and the grower-shipper took the case to the courts.

In this ruling, the court reversed the ALRB decision.

Barsamian said Gerawan won two key points in the court ruling last week. In the first place, the court ruled that in this case the contract was achieved without giving Gerawan due process by allowing the firm the opportunity to fully put its case on the record with regard to the UFW abandoning the contract. Gerawan believes that was a pertinent fact that should have been considered when granting an impasse. The court agreed.

In addition, Barsamian said the court questioned the entire constitutionality of mandatory mediation and conciliation because it basically allows the state, through the appointed mediator, to impose wage and working conditions on one employer. The attorney said the state does have the ability through wage orders to impose minimum wages and working conditions on an industry, but not necessarily one employer at a time.

The Appeals Court noted that the MMC law does not clearly spell out goals, such as raising workers’ wages or improving working conditions, that the mediator’s labor contract is supposed to achieve.

In writing the opinion in the 3-0 decision, Associate Justice Stephen Kane wrote, “The legislature has delegated broad legislative authority to the mediator and the board under the MMC process, but has not provided adequate standards to guide and direct the use of that delegated authority or prevent its misuse.”

Following the decision, the UFW said that this decision was in contrast to an earlier appellate court decision and the group would appeal it to the California Supreme Court.

In a companion court case concerning a decertification vote at Gerawan Farming in 2013, Barsamian said briefs are due this Friday, May 22, which should lead to a trial months down the road.

In that case, current employees voted in a secret ballot election as to whether they wanted to decertify the UFW as their bargaining agent. The ALRB impounded those ballots two years ago and they have yet to be counted, as there were allegations of election misconduct. Gerawan is arguing to have those ballots counted.

NatureSweet teams with Weber Grills for Glorys of Grilling contest

NatureSweet Ltd., a leading grower of premium branded fresh tomatoes based in San Antonio, TX, will join forces once again with Weber Grills to host a summer grilling sweepstakes.glor

Contestants are invited to visit NatureSweet Glorys of Grilling displays in participating retailers nationwide for money-saving coupons, great grilling ideas and instructions on how to enter for a chance to win weekly giveaways of Weber Q1200 Gas Grills or the Ultimate Weber Grill Prize Package, valued at $3,000.

Contestants can enter the Glorys of Grilling Sweepstakes by submitting a photo or video and description of their favorite grilled Glorys masterpiece on Once photos or videos are submitted, entrants are encouraged to share their entries across social media.

Judging of all photo and video recipe submissions will be based on relevance (aligning with the contest theme “Glorys of Grilling”), creativity (how compelling the image and description are and portray the theme), and audience support (votes, views, reviews and attention across the Internet).

The Glorys of Grilling promotion kicked off May 18 and will run until July 5. For a complete set of contest rules, more information, and to enter, visit