Southern Specialties names Sysco winner of its True Partner Award

Southern Specialties presented the company’s first “True Partner” award to Sysco produce at the Southeast Produce Council’s Annual Southern Exposure convention.sysc

Southern Specialties created the award to recognize the customer that best supports the sustainable efforts of the company.

“Our team has been working with Sysco for many years to drive continuous improvement at farm level, so it was a natural choice to recognize them for this important recognition,” Robert Colescott, president and chief executive officer of Southern Specialties, said in a press release. "Their commitment to enforcing the highest quality assurance standards, promoting sustainable practices within our company and exhibiting concern for the well-being of our farm workers in Central America and South America made them an excellent recipient."

“We have many amazing customers whose sustainability practices make Southern Specialties a better company. We look forward to recognizing the company that best exemplifies the 'True Partner' commitment each year,” Geno Valdes, vice president of sales and marketing for Southern Specialties, said in the release.

Retail View: Produce snack sales on the rise

The number and sales of produce items at retail that fit into the convenience or value-added category continue to grow, according to Galina Zelfond-Orlosky, category business manager for produce for Daymon Worldwide.

Zelfond-Orlosky is stationed in New England for Daymon, an international firm that specializes in representing branded product at the retail level.

“We are seeing significant growth in retail business for these items,” she told The Produce News.

Though much of the conversation revolved around the growth in snacking category for fresh produce, in many measureable ways produce snack items and value-added items are lumped together.

The Daymon expert said convenience and value-added items account for about 7 percent of retail vegetable sales and 9 percent of sales in the fruit category. And both are growth items, seeing sales increase in the 10 percent range in year-over-year numbers.

Zelfond-Orlosky said there are various reasons why this combined category is on the rise. She said there is a demographic shift with a younger population headed to the stores, smaller families, and the baby boom generation also shrinking in household size as it ages. All three of those groups are looking for more value-added and convenience food either because they don’t want to spend as much time in the kitchen, or they haven’t been brought up cooking meals from scratch.

As far as the growth in healthy snacks, she said the crusade being led by First Lady Michelle Obama is having an impact. More and more people are looking for healthier, more nutritious snacks for their children when they are in the grocery store.

Zelfond-Orlosky said the produce industry is responding with increased variety and increased options. Where once there was only fruit cups in heavy syrup and mini carrots with ranch dressing, there is now a wide array of options.

On the fruit side, she said packages of apple slices, cut mangos and pineapples, pomegranate arils and cups of fresh grapes are only the tip of the iceberg.  

Snacking vegetables have also progressed, albeit a bit slower. There aren’t as many options in the snacking arena, but value-added vegetables have exploded.    She said petite mini-peppers with dressing are just one example of the opportunities.

Even with whole produce, Zelfond-Orlosky said there is a trend toward more consumer- and kid-friendly options.

For example, in the apple category she said there are many options that go well beyond the apples of a generation ago, noting that the grape-flavored apple seems to do quite well among the younger set.

For the most part, she said retailers are well aware of this evolution and are participating, but Zelfond-Orlosky noted that “not all retailers are capturing the opportunity.”

While she is generally pleased with the space retailers devote to convenience and value-added produce options, she said there is room for significant increase in sales by using end displays and promotional bins for the movement of these items.  

She said there are also portable refrigerated or ice-cooled display cases that allow for the prominent secondary display of these items, which typically do need to maintain the cold chain.

“We are seeing more and more insulated coolers being used,” she said.

Zelfond-Orlosky said nutritious snacks targeting kids and convenient foods targeting on-the-go families should continue to be growth areas for the produce industry. Recently, she has seen vegetables already packaged in bags that can just be steamed and opened, which she believes is a perfect example of meeting a need.

Adding to the popularity of these pre-packaged foods, said Zelfond-Orlosky, is the food-safety benefit.  Consumers are clearly interested in reducing risk and these items do bring a perception of being properly handled.

The Daymon Worldwide executive did not have figures on actual fresh produce sales but she said her company is forecasting “constant growth” in 2015 and 2016 in the convenient and value-added produce sectors.

$150 million investment in Hunts Point

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio announced plans to invest $150 million to revitalize the Hunts Point Terminal Market in the Bronx, NY, over 12 years, "fortifying a vital aspect of our infrastructure: our food supply,” he said Thursday, March 5, at an Association for a Better New York event.

de Blasio said the plans will modernize the buildings and infrastructure that are currently at Hunts Point and open up new space for small businesses. "More than that, this is a bold vision, with a major financial commitment that will make the site resilient and sustainable, improving New York’s readiness for natural disasters like Superstorm Sandy,” he said.  

"It’s hard to overstate how important this facility is for our city,” the mayor noted.
The Hunts Point Terminal Market occupies 329 acres and supports 115 private wholesalers that employ over 8,000 people. "These are good, decent-paying jobs for New Yorkers at every education level,” de Blasio said. "Our plan protects those jobs and positions the site to create many more jobs for New Yorkers in the future."

The plan will also include dedicated space to better link New Yorkers to food that is grown and produced in upstate New York, strengthening the city’s partnership with upstate communities, farms and businesses.

Gourmet Trading Co. announces interim president

Gourmet Trading Co. announced that Peter Lineen, current executive director of Gourmet International Holdings, has been named interim president of Gourmet Trading.gourmet-trading

Lineen has vast experience in business advice and planning, and he is an experienced company director and board member, having been a CPA with his own firm for over 30 years. 

Lineen has been on the board of directors at Gourmet Trading with special responsibilities for new projects analysis and structuring for the past two-and-a-half years. The company said he has been instrumental in setting up joint ventures growing operations in Mexico and Chile, which will complement Gourmet Trading’s existing farms in Washington, California and Peru.

"Transitions such as this can be challenging, so it’s imperative to have the right people during these times," Paul Martin, owner of Gourmet Trading, said in a press release. "I've worked with Peter for three decades and am confident he will be able to guide Gourmet Trading Co. through this transition period."

Kristen Francisco, vice president of sales and marketing, said in the release, "The Gourmet team looks forward to working with Peter as we not only go on with business as usual, but also plan for the future. “

Scott Hulsey, vice president of procurement added, "Peter has been a great asset to Gourmet Trading Co. as a board member and we look forward to working with him in his new role."

Lack of snow and rain worries Californians

Even as a fast-moving front created the very rare sight of sleet on Southern California beaches, the March snowpack measurements in the high Sierras revealed a water content that was as low as the driest years in California’s recorded history.

A very wet December throughout the state has kept season-wide (July 1-June 30) precipitation totals at near-normal levels.

However, for the most part, those were warm storms that did not produce the all-important snowfall that California counts on to fill its reservoirs come spring and summer. The December rains were a welcome sight, as they did start the year off right, but December was followed by an extremely dry January and a February that was not much better — or wetter.

Unusual weather patterns have created some unusual storms, including sleet on Southern California beaches on March 2, but the idea that the drought is over or even anywhere near over is a mirage that is coming into focus as spring arrives.

The five-month period from December through April provides California with 90 percent of its annual rainfall and snowpack. With end of the season approaching, the hope of an above-average season is all but gone.

Prior to the start of the rainy season, experts estimated that the state would have to receive about 150 percent of normal precipitation to climb out of its drought or near-drought conditions. That has not happened.

Consequently, on March 2, the federal Bureau of Reclamation, which managers California’s Central Valley Project, announced an initial zero percent water allocation for farmers and cities in the San Joaquin Valley this summer.  The zero percent allocation could increase and will be reviewed monthly, but it basically tells growers that they aren’t going to get much federally controlled water this year.

The State Water Project forecast is not as grim, but it estimates deliveries at only 20 percent of contracted levels. Again that number could increase, but at its current level it would be the second lowest allocation to users since 1991. Last year State Water Project users received a 5 percent allocation.

In its regular newsletter to its members, Irvine, CA-based Western Growers Association decried the meager allocations, noting that the current drought conditions “are exacerbated by [Endangered Species Act]-based biological decisions that continue to restrict the delivery of water to farms and cities south of the Delta. Even when winter storm events provided opportunities to capture additional runoff, federal and state regulations have required much of the runoff to flow out to sea.”

WGA says it continues to press for action by Congress to mandate more reasonable policies. 

“It is imperative that Congress pass legislation to end the unreasonable implementation of ESA rules that force project operators to miss windows of opportunity even in the midst of drought,” WGA’s March 3 newsletter stated.  “Opportunities to store and deliver water to areas of the state where it’s needed have been once again lost.”

If the initial zero percent water allocation announced by the Central Valley Project holds firm through the current water year, it will mark an unprecedented event for water deliveries in California — a second straight year of no federal water for San Joaquin Valley farmers. 

The early-March electronic snowpack readings showed that statewide the measurement stood at just 19 percent of typical water content for this time of year. That snowpack typically provides about a third of the water people use in California each year.