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Lucky’s Market names Steve Black new president

Steve Black has been appointed as president of Lucky’s Market effective immediately. Black brings more than 38 years of relevant industry experience to his new role, having previously served as vice president of operations, chief information officer and chief marketing officer of Sprouts Farmers Markets.

Black’s experiences in key roles in the retail grocery space make him a natural to help lead the Lucky’s management team.luckySteve Black Prior to his roles at Sprouts, he was the vice president of operations, vice president of information technology and marketing at Sunflower Farmers Market and was the transitional executive leader during the Sprouts/Sunflower merger.

"Steve adds a wealth of experience and leadership to our team," Bo Sharon, chief executive officer and founder of Lucky’s Markets, said in a press release. "His knowledge and passion will allow us to further execute our core mission of making a positive impact in the lives of others through food. In his new role as president, he will be responsible for leading the teams that will deliver our updated 2015 and beyond expansion plans, developing other leaders, and being a critical member of our executive team. His results-oriented people-centric approach and ability to think strategically will play a pivotal role in our company becoming the customer service driven retail grocery store of choice in the areas we serve.”

Black has also served as senior vice president of center store purchasing and pricing at Bruno’s Supermarkets in Alabama, and spent the majority of his career at United Supermarkets of Oklahoma, where he held various store level management roles along with headquarters IT, marketing and buying positions.

“I’m thrilled to be joining Bo, Trish and the team at Lucky’s Market,” Black said in the press release. “There are several team members there that I’ve worked with in the past and look forward to the amazing milestones we’ll be able to accomplish together in the coming years. The biggest single element to success is people, and I plan to focus on helping everyone there be all they want to be in business and life. And have a little fun along the way.”

Lucky’s Market will open its eighth store nationwide Jan. 7.

Southeast Produce Council will have A Whole Lotta Produce Going On in 2015

Starting with 2015 Southern Exposure in Orlando, FL, then heading to Atlanta for the Terry Vorhees Charity Golf Classic, and rounding out the year with the newly named fall conference — Southern Innovations Symposium in Charleston, SC — the Southeast Produce Council has a great lineup of locations and events planned to bring the industry together in 2015.2015-SEPC-Southern-Exposure-Gator-Logo

"We are looking forward to a record-setting year across all events that will provide our members with exceptional networking opportunities, the latest educational information in the industry, and a continued effort to give back to communities and students in the southeast," SEPC Executive Director David Sherrod said in a Jan. 5 press release.

The council invites all retail and foodservice, as well as SEPC members, to attend this year's conference and trade show — 2015 Southern Exposure: Feb. 26-28, Caribe Royale Resort in Orlando, FL — and join in the fun of "A Whole Lotta Produce Going On" as attendees will travel back in time to the 1950s. With 267 exhibitors, over 300 retail and foodservice attendees, and offering the most quality networking opportunities in the industry, Southern Exposure is on track to be the best industry conference of 2015. On Thursday, Feb. 26, the Tom Page Golf Classic at Reunion Resort will be held, as well as the Southern Roots luncheon with special guest speaker Olympian Picabo Street. On Friday, Feb. 27, there will be Educational Workshops: "The Plight of the Honey Bee" and 'Ask A Retailer," as well as the Opening Gala: Drive In Movie: A Whole Lotta Produce Going On. On Saturday, Feb. 28, the following events will take place: there will be a Keynote Luncheon with keynote speech delivered by football great Archie Manning; the Lifetime Achievement Award will be presented to the family of Terry Vorhees; Exposition - Drive-in and county fair themed; and Gator Moon Closing Reception (dueling piano bar theme).

In addition to the main events listed, some of the new conference highlights this year will be the introduction of the 2015 STEP-UPP class and the 2015 STARS scholarship recipients, both of which will be in attendance.TV-SEPC-Charity-Golf-Logo-FINAL-5-29-14 The council is also continuing its community outreach efforts with Sneakers for Charity, a new program inviting attendees to wear their sneakers to the expo for a donation that will go back to the Society of St. Andrew to feed the hungry. To register for 2015 Southern Exposure, visit

The Southeast Produce Council's new women's leadership program, Southern Roots, will make its official debut to the industry by hosting a luncheon that features Olympian Picabo Street as a special guest speaker. Southern Roots, chaired by SEPC board member Teri Miller of Delhaize, offers meaningful connections among women working in the produce industry through events, education and mentoring. By sharing values, contributions and experiences, members will have an opportunity to improve leadership skills individually and collectively, and will then positively affect organizational effectiveness at all levels. Southern Roots is open to all women working in the produce industry that are members of the Southeast Produce Council.

The second annual Terry Vorhees Charity Golf Classic will be held May 4- 5 this year at the Atlanta National Golf Club in Alpharetta, GA. The tournament will honor Terry Vorhees, the council's past Executive Director. The tournament will benefit one of the council's supported charities, Children's Healthcare of Atlanta, and invites all retail and foodservice personnel, as well as SEPC members, to participate in golf, networking and giving back. The event will host a silent auction and dinner on May 4 and provide a day of golf on May 5. Registration for the Terry Vorhees Charity Golf Classic will be open in mid-January at

The Southern Innovations Symposium will be held Sept. 17-19 at Wild Dunes Resort in Charleston, SC. The council's newly named Southern Innovations Symposium will offer all of the old favorites of the fall conference, but with a fresh new look and name. The conference will be held on the beautiful beaches of Charleston, SC, in 2015, offering attendees a true feel of southern hospitality. Golf, educational workshops, a keynote luncheon and the President's Dinner Dance will be on the agenda, along with a variety of networking opportunities. Registration for the Southern Innovations Symposium will be available in mid-January at

‘Healthy Living’ is always an apropos theme for Michigan apples

At the beginning of each year, many Americans pledge themselves to healthy living. It’s no coincidence, then, that for many years the Michigan Apple Committee has made “Healthy Living” the theme of its winter promotions, which launch each January.

Treadmills are a consumer favorite in the direction of healthy living, and Diane Smith, executive director of MAC, said her group is remaining on target in early 2015 by increasing its giveaways for treadmills.  MAC-PMAExhibiting Michigan apples at the PMA Fresh Summit in October were Michigan Apple Committee staff members Diane Smith, Michael Bardon and Gretchen Mensing. 

Each year, MAC hosts a sweepstakes, giving away three treadmills nationally in a Healthy Living promotion. But this year, MAC, which is based in Lansing, MI, is more directly involving retailers by having consumers enter the sweepstakes to indicate where they shop for Michigan apples. One customer for every retail chain participating in the contest will also win a treadmill in 2015.

MAC provides participating retailers with Healthy Living local advertising and promotional materials tailored to the retailer's specific produce merchandising materials. Smith said 150,000 consumers entered the contest last year.

Each entrant provides an email address, which MAC uses to provide ongoing information about Michigan apples.

In December, MAC completed its annual “local” promotion program targeting consumers in and around Michigan.

Starting in fall of 2015, MAC will apply funds from a USDA Specialty Crop Grant to produce educational YouTube videos and will use its various social media outlets to promote the videos.

Smith said the videos will inform consumers about how Michigan apples are produced and the nutritional benefits of apples. These videos now garner more consumer interest than the traditional merchandising technique of offering recipe ideas. This meets a driving consumer interest “on where their food comes from,” Smith said. “Not everyone lives near an orchard or a cider mill,” but consumers are still interested in the origin of their foods.

In another effort to promote Michigan apple movement, MAC has a group to develop export sales.      

ProPapaya bringing the goodness of Mexican papayas to North America

The North American market for papayas has been growing steadily for the last 10 years, and the majority of that growth is due to Mexican production, which now represents 72 percent of the papayas sold here.

Gustavo García Cuevas is president of the National Papaya Board of Mexico, commonly referred to as ProPapaya, headquartered in Zapopan, Jalisco, Mexico. The organization represents Mexican papaya growers, packers and shippers.Gustavo-GarciaGustavo García Cuevas

Cuevas questions the U.S. produce industry’s awareness of the strong and growing papaya market.

“Mexican papaya growers and ProPapaya are acutely aware of this powerful market,” said Cuevas. “And we believe it will continue to grow. The papaya is a super-fruit because of its high-nutrient content. Papayas contain 22 times the amount of vitamin A than apples and six times that of oranges. And they provide 17 percent more vitamin C than lemons, 15 percent more than oranges and 9 percent more than pineapples.”

Additionally, in folic acid, calcium and potassium content, papayas far exceed the levels of some of the most popular fruits, such as apples, pineapples, mangos and other fruits.

“Consumers are reacting to these attributes,” Cuevas noted. “It is therefore time for all of the retailers, distributors, wholesalers and foodservice operators to be offering papayas on their portfolios, and to make them more visible. This visual concept is the only barrier between consumers and this fruit.”

He stressed that the produce trade in North America can find papaya supplies directly through ProPapaya, which will attend to customers’ specific requirements by connecting them with growers and packers that can address and fulfill special needs, thereby eliminating middlemen and increasing efficiencies. It gathers more than 7,000 Mexican growers that work together in the development of this popular crop for Mexico and for its international markets.

Cuevas pointed out that Mexican papayas are not only the most sold in North America, but that Mexico is also the leading source in the international market.

“This is because of the outstanding quality and freshness of our papayas, and also because of the high level of service that we and our growers provide,” he said. “Mexican papayas are closer to the end user in North America than fruit from any other country.”

Mexican growers produce primarily two papaya varieties: the Maradol and the Royal Star, each with its own distinct profile.

The Maradol papaya averages between three and five pounds. When unripe the skin is green, but it turns a vivid yellow-orange when mature, when it’s also common for them to have a few freckles. The flesh is soft and juicy when ripe, with a sweet flavor and slightly fruity but pleasant aroma.

The Royal Star papaya has a distinct flavor and aroma of sweetness. It is named for the star-shaped core when the papaya is cut open. It is smaller in size -- between one to three pounds -- and was created to suit the needs of smaller families. It is somewhat rounder at the ends than the Maradol, and can be nearly symmetrical from end to end. The flesh is red-orange and is very sweet.

ProPapaya is also a strong-arm in promoting and marketing Mexican papayas, which is funded through Secretaria di Agricultura, Ganaderia, Desarrollo Rural Pescay Alimentación, or SAGARPA.

The ProPapaya web site,, was developed specifically for the trade. It helps to guide and direct all buyers -- importers, brokers, distributors, wholesalers, retailers and foodservice operators alike -- with all the necessary details, as well as the advantages of carrying Mexican papayas in their portfolios.

Its direct and strong promotion to retailers is in an effort to get them to purchase more papayas and to increase sales by promoting the fruit in their ad circulars and flyers.

The agency is also marketing directly to consumers in an effort to educate them on the high nutritional value and wonderful flavor of papayas. And it provides handling tips, recipes and more. Cuevas said its consumer promotional initiatives span far beyond technology.

“We will be launching a campaign on CBS,” he explained. “Some of our spots will be on morning news shows, and Mexican papayas will be featured on the ‘Dr. Phil’ show. On Dec. 22, on the Dr. Oz show, the portal helped to educate consumers on the health benefits of papayas. We are also engaging social networks like Twitter and Facebook.

“Mexican papayas are available year round,” Cuevas continued. “And they provide a delightful ‘taste of the tropics and exotics’ when promoted during colder months. Papayas are a treat any time of the year, and the nutritional benefits are an outstanding addition.”

ProPapaya helps thousands of growers share their passion for this fruit with buyers on all levels. Cuevas said that ProPapaya is a bridge that connects them to papaya sources, ensuring that only safe, fresh, healthy and high-quality product is shipped.

“Our more than 7,000 Mexican growers work together in the development of this popular crop for Mexico and for the international markets,” he pointed out. “Our mission is to make sure that all of the papayas that Mexico ships abroad fulfill each and every norm, regulation and standard in terms of quality and safety required by authorities in each market. And we service clients in ways that provide them with full satisfaction.”

Nature’s Way Farms to expand, add $2 million facility

FAISON, NC — Nature’s Way Farms began as a brokerage company in 1979. Murray and Ann Crawford initially operated out of their home here, but the company, which now involves about 100 employees, has expanded several times into packaging and shipping operations — and it is about to expand again. Murray G. Crawford, owner and chief executive officer, told The Produce News that the company will begin construction on a new $2 million facility in late January. He hopes to have it completed and operating by mid-July 2015.

“Business is good, real good, and we’re ready to expand,” Crawford said.NATURES-WAY11214-MURRAY-G.-CRAWFORDMurray G. Crawford The new facility will be located next to the current facility and contain an additional 15,000 square feet of packing space and 29,500 square feet of sweet potato storage space and employ an additional 20 to 25 people, he added. “The new packing facility will have state-of-the-art equipment for sizing and grading, which will ensure customers of more accurate counts and grading techniques than can be offered by many other modern facilities.”

This technology will be of great benefit to foodservice customers as well as retailers who demand consistent counts and increased quality standards, Crawford added. “With the new building, we will have a total of 135,000 square feet of refrigerated storage space,” he added. “That’s 300 tractor-trailer loads under refrigeration,” he concluded.

Originally established as Murray G. Crawford Produce Co., the company merged into Nature’s Way Farms and expanded into vegetable packing and logistics services. “This merger made Nature’s Way Farms a fully integrated company — grower, packer, shipper and sales,” Crawford said. It has its own brand of Honey Drop and Nature’s Way sweet potatoes, sold in bulk, cartons, and microwavable singles, bags and tray packs.

The best-selling product for Nature’s Way is russet potatoes, Crawford noted, sold in bags, cartons, tray packs and microwavable singles. It also packs red, white, Yukon Gold and fingerling potatoes, as well as onions, cabbage, turnip roots, beets, peppers and squash. Additionally, the company sells a full line of tropical fruits year-round, as well as all melons and carrots. Sweet potatoes are locally grown, but other products are sourced from Colorado, Florida, Washington and other states as well as Canada and Mexico.

Nature’s Way customers include several North Carolina supermarket chains, one dating back well over 20 years. “We pack private label brand potatoes for several chains, many of them out of state,” Crawford said. “We also pack private label for many foodservice companies, some in state and many out of state.”

Crawford’s son, Mark A. Crawford, is president of the family-run company. The Crawfords say they have been ahead of the curve with food-safety standards. They began employing full-time food-safety team members well before it was a required standard and feel their food-safety team plays a huge role in their success at Nature’s Way Farms. Both father and son have this maxim on the back of their business cards: “You will like potatoes and onions better when you buy better potatoes and onions.”