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Social responsibility key to Mexican growers

TUBAC, AZ — Leaders in Mexico's produce industry indicate that they -- and their counterparts -- fully recognize that matters of social responsibility are not only morally correct, but also important to the future of their business community.

Panelists spoke about this Oct. 30 during an educational session at the Fresh Produce Association of the Americas annual convention, here Oct. 30-Nov. 1, at the historic Tubac Golf Resort, which is a 20-minute drive north of Nogales, AZ. Moderating the educational sessions was Lance Jungmeyer, FPAA president.

Speaking on the panel were Guillermo Martinez, general manager of Del Campo Supreme in Rio Rico, AZ; Alicia Martin, an owner of Wilson Produce, based in Nogales; Juan Laborin, director general of the Hermosillo Grape Growers Association (AALPUM) in Hermosillo, Sonora; and Berenice Martinez, technical director-food safety projects and certification at Mexico Calidad Suprema, located in Mexico City.

Laborin indicated that AALPUM plays an active role in encouraging its grower-members to boost the lives, housing and health of its employees. Laborin later explained to The Produce News that his organization has no definitive authority over its members but very effectively uses its influence to highlight its most aggressive members as role models for the broad membership.

Laborin said that many AALPUM members offer medical and dental services to all of their employees. Some farms contain schools for workers' children, while other members help such children attend schools that are outside the farm.

Laborin noted that leadership in social responsibility is an opportunity at this time. "We don't want to wait and react," he said, adding that some members are already FairTrade certified, while others are focusing on minimizing the carbon footprint of their operations.  

"We want to see all of these things," he said. "We are working for the long-term."

AALPUM's work toward social responsibility includes cooperating with the Mexican government on available programs.

"You have no choice but to treat your people very well to have a good product," Laborin noted.

Martinez of Del Campo said his great-grandfather came to Mexico as a child stowaway fleeing China. The great-grandfather worked very hard to become a success. Thus, the legacy of respecting workers' lives has deep roots at Del Campo.

As he built his business, the great-grandfather "needed people to get things done and get things done right," Martinez said. "You need people to make things happen so you need to make things right for those people."

Thus, if workers are treated well and better trained, they will be more enthusiastic and more motivated. "We learned this over the years, said Martinez. "You have to be keeping up with change. It is a constant evolution to do things right."

Martin of Wilson Produce said her grandfather started Wilson Produce in the 1930s. The families of initial workers worked for "my parents and now me." Collectively, "We are a family of farmers, and taking care of our people is something my grandparents taught me."

Martinez said his firm, which employs 2,000 workers, enjoys a seasonal employee return rate of about 80-90 percent. Del Campo managers interview those workers to inquire why they return. They note it is a combination of benefits, including the school, childcare, housing and medical services.

"The people want to be there," said Martinez. "They know our practices and take more pride" in working for Del Campo. Four percent of Del Campo's annual sales income goes into social programs for its workers.

Such socially responsible practices are also important to Del Campo customers, but Martinez noted that his firm was socially responsible long before it was politically correct to be so.

The same is true in the Mexican farms of Wilson Produce. But Martin added that the high sophistication of social media enables concerned consumers to know a great deal about the practices of their produce sources. She said that consumers want suppliers to be transparent and be supportive of social responsibility, including children's and women's rights.

Martin believes that, more than retailers, "it is the consumer that tells us what we need to do. If we are not going to pay attention, then we shouldn't be in business."

Laborin noted that the evolution of business is not going to be based upon what businesses are the strongest today. Instead, success will come to the companies that "move and change. We have to move and act fast. All of this pays off, by far, just for the business part. But the business part doesn't come first."

Inaugural PMA Fruittrade Latin America to feature international retailers, Chile's minister of agriculture

The inaugural Produce Marketing Association Fruittrade Latin America will kick off shortly in Santiago, Chile, through the collaboration of PMA, Fedefruta (the growers association of Chile) and Yentzen Consulting Group. The first-of-its-kind event for South America is scheduled for Nov. 12-13 and will replace both Fedefruta’s and PMA’s long-standing individual conventions in the region.

“This new collaboration is part of PMA’s strategy to help the industry build consumer connections by linking members to the people, markets and insights needed to grow business and increase consumption,” Nancy Tucker, PMA’s vice president of global business development, said in a press release. “This event is designed to help industry members build connections — to experts, ideas, trends and talent — produce and floral companies can focus on building consumer demand for the products they grow, ship and sell.”

Business round-tables connect retailers, suppliers

A group of international buyers, including Associated Wholesale Grocers, Cencosud, Costco Wholesale Canada, Eurosupermercado, Grupo Éxito, Grupo Pao de Acucar/CBD, The Kroger Co., Sam's Wholesale Club, Save-a-lot Ltd., Spinneys Dubai LLC, Supermercados Tottus, Tesco and Walmart Mexico Inc. will participate in a unique “matchmaking” program, otherwise known as the International Business Roundtable. Attendees, including growers from South America and neighboring regions, will have an opportunity to schedule one-on-one meetings with the buyers thanks to software that will help match buyers and growers who are marketing a particular product.

“I am looking forward to participating in PMA Fruittrade Latin America," said Oleen Smethurst of Costco Wholesale Canada. "I expect to make new connections and that the program will be very enriching and give me the insight I need on key markets.”

Inaugural session to feature Chile’s Minister of Agriculture

Carlos Furche, Chile’s minister of agriculture, will join ProChile’s Director Roberto Paiva, Fedefruta President Juan Carolus Brown and Tesco Sourcing Manager Simon Mandelbaum for PMA Fruittrade Latin America’s inaugural session on Nov. 12. The session will focus on how each organization is addressing the needs of the industry and is one of seven educational workshops designed to assess key opportunities, challenges and trends within the fresh produce industry.

Turning trends into market strategies

Naturipe Vice President of Marketing Robert Verloop will join Nielsen Perishables Vice President Sherry Frey and Cencosud's Stephan von Meyenn for a session titled “Turning Trends into Marketing Strategies” on Nov. 12. The workshop will focus on consumer trends and how they differ around the world. It will also explore the ways Latin American companies can capitalize on opportunities to promote their brands.

"As a grower, the topic of global consumer trends can be so broad that it can be difficult to relate it back to what we grow today and what we should grow in the future,” Verloop said in the press release. “How does a grower in Chile respond to the consumer demand of healthier, convenient snacks? I think the answer is in rethinking your supply chain and business models.”

For more information, including the entire education programming for PMA Fruittrade Latin America, visit

Sunset Kumato named best tomato for men

Men’s Health magazine recently dubbed Sunset Kumato the best tomato for men. Introduced in 2010, "Sunset Kumato" brand tomatoes have quickly gained notoriety for their size, unique color and well-balanced flavor. These non-GMO verified tomatoes naturally turn a reddish-brown color at their peak ripeness.SUNSET--Kumato

“Kumato is one of Sunset’s best-selling signature brands,” Paul Mastronardi, chief executive officer, said in a press release. “We knew we had found an amazing product years ago because it was so unique looking and tasting. The Kumato is very balanced, not too acidic, with a mysterious and smoky flavor.”

In November’s issue, Men’s Health magazine published its picks for the 100 Best Foods for Men. The list includes healthy, flavorful and easy-to-prepare products that were all taste-tested by the team at Men’s Health. Sunset Kumato tomatoes were selected for their sweet and tangy flavor, non-GMO verification, and because they can be enjoyed on their own or in a variety of dishes.

“At Sunset, we search the world for flavor,” continued Mastronardi. “We want to ensure that consumers enjoy our tomatoes, peppers and cucumbers as healthy foods that don’t need to be covered in dressings or dips; their flavor is best on its own. Being recognized by Men’s Health for that is a great honor.”

Tomatoes are a natural source of lycopene, a powerful antioxidant that may help prevent certain diseases, such as prostate cancer. Movember, formerly known as November, is dedicated to raising awareness for men’s health, and is the perfect time to pick up a pack of Kumato tomatoes and try a new Sunset recipe. The November issue of Men’s Health is available on newsstands now.

Veteran retailer Mike O'Brien joins Monterey Mushrooms as VP of sales and marketing

Monterey Mushrooms Inc., a leading mushroom supplier based in Watsonville, CA, has hired veteran retailer Mike O'Brien as vice president of sales and marketing. He assumes the position Nov. 10 and will report to Shah Kazemi, president and chief executive officer.obrien

O'Brien recently retired from Schnuck Markets after a 42-year career, which included the past 14 years as vice president of produce and floral.

"Mike's unique skills and insight, ranking from extensive retail experience, category management, consumer trends to leadership qualities, will enhance our efforts to accelerate Monterey Mushrooms' growth," Kazemi said in a press release. "Mike will be an outstanding addition to our leadership team"

O'Brien was chairman of the Produce for Better Health Foundation in 2007, and chairman of the Produce Marketing Association in 2011.

At Monterey Mushrooms Inc., O'Brien will oversee the sales, marketing and customer research aimed at further developing the Monterey brand.

"I am excited about the opportunity to work for Monterey Mushrooms," O'Brien added in the press release. "I consider them a world-class company. Their values of quality, customer service, innovation and people are a perfect match."

Oregon, Washington state potato commissions tackle hunger

This year’s rivalry between Oregon State University and Washington State University will extend beyond the football field with the real winner being the local food banks. The Oregon Potato Commission and the Washington State Potato Commission are teaming up to tackle hunger via a friendly wager on the outcome of the Nov. 8 matchup in Corvallis, OR, between the Beavers and Cougars.sieoj

“We have been proud sponsors of OSU football for the past few seasons and each year we have one game where we set up a potato bar outside of the stadium and serve potatoes while collecting donations for Northwest Farmers Fighting Hunger,” Bill Brewer, executive director for the OPC, said in a press release. “This year we wanted to see if we could do a little more for our local food banks and so we extended the invite to Washington’s potato growers to see if they were up to the challenge and to test their confidence in their team’s abilities.”

In addition to once again having a potato bar and collecting donations for Farmers Fighting Hunger before the game, this year the action on the field will also determine whether a food bank in Washington or Oregon is also victorious. For every point scored in Saturday’s matchup, 500 pounds of potatoes will be donated to a food bank in the winning team’s state. The donation will be made by the commission and growers whose team ended up on the losing end.

“That could be a lot of potatoes going to food banks," Chris Voigt, executive director for the WSPC, said in the release. "The last three seasons when OSU and WSU have played the teams have combined to score an average of 55 points per game. So if that trend holds true then you would be looking at 27,500 pounds of potatoes heading to one of the states."

The organization from the winning state will select the food bank to send the potatoes to. The delivery will be made in the upcoming weeks just in time for the holiday season, one of the busiest times for food banks in the region.

“The need for food assistance in Washington and Oregon and beyond is real and even though this is a fun way to raise awareness, the opportunity to do our part and help with the demand food banks face this time of year is why we are most interested in having the wager,” said Brewer.

“Whether you are a fan of the Beavers, Cougars or any other team, everyone has the opportunity to root for food banks this weekend and hoping it is a high scoring game,” added Voigt. “And with potatoes being one of the best whole food sources of nutrition available that is a win-win for all.”

Fans who will be attending the game have the opportunity to stop by the potato bar served by local growers, make a donation and enjoy a great-tasting meal before kickoff. For those who are unable to make it to Corvallis but would still like to help, they can visit or to make a donation.