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New Jersey designates Horticultural Therapy Week

Just in time for spring, the state of New Jersey has designated the week of March 20-26 as Horticultural Therapy Week, inaugurated in ceremonial Senate resolution on Monday March 14.

New Jersey is the first state in the nation to formally designate that week, initially established by Congress in 2006, to celebrate the endless benefits of connecting people and plants in vocational, social and therapeutic programs in a peaceful non-threatening environment using horticulture modality to improve the quality of life, according to a March 15 press release from Final Touch Plantscaping LLC.Caption-Horticultural-WeekNew Jersey Sen. Tom Kean, New Jersey Senate President Stephen Sweeney, Laura DePrado of Final Touch Plantscaping LLC, New Jersey Sen. Christopher (Kip) Bateman and Michael DePrado. Photo courtesy of the New Jersey Senate.

"Horticultural therapy is a time-proven practice," state Sen. Christopher (Kip) Bateman said in the press release. "Designating a week each year to raise awareness of horticultural therapy in the Garden State will hopefully expand opportunities for more people to take advantage of the many benefits it offers."

Paul Hlubik, New Jersey's executive director of the USDA's Farm Service Agency, said in the release, "As a farmer and as the spouse of a horticulturalist, I recognize first hand the healing powers of working with one's hands in the soil and with plant life. As a public advocate for every segment of New Jersey agriculture through my work with growers and my colleagues in DC, I commend such awareness and unyielding support of the horticultural industry here in the Garden State."

New Jersey Secretary of Agriculture Douglas H. Fisher added in the release, "Growing a garden and working with plants provides many benefits to people, such as physical activity, concentration and a sense of accomplishment. All people benefit from learning how to work the land and how hard work pays off in the form of beautiful flowers, decorative landscapes and food to eat."

EPC announces third annual James and Theresa Nolan Family Foundation Scholarship

The Eastern Produce Council announced that applications are now being accepted for a $5,000 scholarship from the James and Theresa Nolan Family Foundation Scholarship.

The scholarship is open to EPC members in good standing that have been a member for at least six months preceding the date of the application. Selection is based solely on a 500-word essay on ethics; specifically, applicants need to cite an example of how they faced an ethical challenge in their life and dealt with it.

For more information and to secure an application, visit the Eastern Produce Council website, Essays should be typed, should have a separate cover page that includes a title, name of the applicant, address and telephone number. The essay itself should have only a title with no other personal information to allow for anonymity in judging.

Representatives of the James and Theresa Nolan Family Foundation, not the Eastern Produce Council, will do judging. Completed applications and essays can be sent to Eastern Produce Council, P.O. Box 514, Short Hills, NJ 07078.

The deadline for submission is Friday, April 15, and the winner will be announced at the annual EPC barbecue May 24 at Demarest Farms in Hillsdale, NJ, sponsored by The New Jersey Department of Agriculture.

Sunkist's diverse varieties plentiful at height of peak citrus season

Peak citrus season is in full swing, and with it a number of Sunkist citrus varieties are at their prime. Cara Cara, Navel and Blood oranges as well as Meyer lemons are full-flavored with strong supplies and superior quality, and late-season specialties like Gold Nugget variety Mandarins and Ojai Pixie tangerines are ramping up now. Additionally, the California Star Ruby grapefruit season is kicking off with excellent flavor and color.sunkistlogo

“With consumers’ growing desire to eat seasonally and so many citrus varieties at their best, now is the optimal time for retailers to show off these items with in-store displays and educational signage,” Joan Wickham, director of communications for Sunkist, said in a press release. “Sunkist is seeing increasing demand for peak season specialties, and consumers are more confident in their purchase decisions when retailers communicate the nuances of these unique varieties.”

Sunkist offers retailers a wide array of packaging and point-of-sale materials to help retailers build consumer awareness and demand and drive sales on these peak season varieties.

“Sunkist provides many tools to promote the unique attributes of citrus varieties and pique consumer interest with usage and recipe ideas, flavor profiles and nutrition information,” Julie DeWolf, director of retail marketing at Sunkist, added in the press release. “We work closely with our customers to create customized materials and programs that help educate consumers and drive demand. And now, due to new digital printing capabilities, we can customize bins and other point-of-sale materials with a one week lead time, allowing retailers to quickly execute promotional programs in a way that fits their stores’ unique formats and needs.”

What’s in season?

Providing 150 percent of daily vitamin C requirements, Sunkist has dubbed Cara Cara Navels as “The Power Orange.” They may look like Navel oranges on the outside, but the seedless interior has a rich pink hue due to the natural presence of lycopene. Known for being extremely sweet with slightly lower acidity than regular Navels, Cara Caras are available through May.

Navel oranges, the most popular and widely known citrus fruit, are also in peak season. Seedless and sweet, Navel oranges are a delicious snack and also a great addition to recipes. Sunkist Navel oranges are available through June.

Retail sales and volumes of Meyer lemons have increased significantly in the peak season period over the last 18 months, making them one of the fastest-growing varieties in the citrus category.

Sunkist offers Meyer lemons year-round, with strong supplies available now. Thought to be a cross between a regular lemon and a Mandarin, Meyer lemons have a smooth rind, are a bit sweeter and less acidic than conventional lemons and have a refreshing herbal scent.

“Consumer demand for lemons continues to rise, and with lemons coming into peak production, this is a great time for retailers to leverage point-of-sale materials and secondary displays to promote lemons throughout the store,” said DeWolf.

Blood oranges get their name from the maroon color of their interior, which can vary in intensity. They offer a distinct, rich orange taste with a hint of fresh raspberry. The peel, orange in color and often also showing a red blush, helps to distinguish it from other oranges. Blood oranges are available through early April.

“Easy-peelers also continue to grow in demand due to their convenience and great taste,” added Wickham. “As we enter the spring months, Gold Nugget variety Mandarins and Ojai Pixie tangerines are two late-season easy-peelers with distinct flavor profiles and growing popularity among consumers.

Gold Nuggets are known for their sweetness and shiny, bumpy rind. A professional taste panel even deemed Gold Nuggets to be one of the best-tasting citrus varieties. Sunkist plans to ship them through May.

Ojai Pixie tangerines, also available through May, are named for the lush Ojai region of Southern California where they’re grown. They are small in size, seedless and intensely sweet. Their pebbly, light orange skin is easy to peel, making them a favorite among citrus lovers.

“Additionally, California Star Ruby grapefruit is a springtime variety that is beginning to ship now,” said Wickham. “With its unique tangy-sweet flavor, grapefruit is trending among millennial consumers who are experimenting with consumption in beverages, ranging from nutrient-rich smoothies to creative mixology.” 

With its rich pink flesh and distinct sweet-tart flavor, California Star Rubies are a go-to choice, perfect for breakfast, a healthy snack, a zesty addition to a salad or freshly squeezed to brighten up a cocktail. This variety offers numerous health benefits, including weight control, cholesterol management and added boosts of vitamins A and C.

In the Trenches: Produce managers deserve more labor in their departments

Most senior management members, supervisors and productivity directors don’t like to hear this, but I will say it anyway. Produce managers are understaffed and overworked. That’s a fact. But is anyone listening?

Just before Thanksgiving last year, I was invited to take part in a produce manager training seminar. The marketing vice president not only wanted the seminar for training, but also for motivational purposes. It was primarily to energize everyone prior to the upcoming holiday season to aggressively boost sales.Produce-Manager-Stocking-Product-3Insufficient labor in retail produce departments, especially during the holiday seasons, can have a bad effect on morale and result in poor sales.

We began our seminar training in one of the stores where the produce managers toured the department and studied all the various displays. Everyone followed us from one display to another as we explained how and why specific items were to be set according to the company’s merchandising program. The group showed enormous interest in learning all about holiday display strategies in the produce department.

Afterwards, we all gathered into a meeting room where we discussed the holiday items and displays. The company president joined the marketing vice president in the meeting, which I felt was a demonstration of the needed support for the produce managers and the merchandising plans.

During my closing comments to the group of produce managers, I reviewed and summarized some of the primary topics for the holiday selling period. All plans were in place and everyone was eager to roll up their sleeves and get to work.

In the midst of all the hoopla and high fives of motivation, I dared to ask one of my favorite questions: “Now that we have our plans in place, how much added labor will you be getting to assist with all of the merchandising areas we showed you today?” All the produce managers in the room erupted in laughter.

The laughter is a normal reaction to express that extra labor is a joke and wishful thinking. Most produce managers hardly ever get those extra labor hours that are necessary to keep pace with increased sales, whether it’s during the holiday season or any other time of the year.

The main reason I bring up that question at meetings is to try to send a message to senior management that produce managers need an extra hand or two during busier sales periods, especially holidays. Without it, the staff becomes overworked, stressed and burned out. The sad part of this dilemma is that the sales will likewise suffer in the process. This is unfortunate for the simple reason that produce returns the dollars back into the system more rapidly than other departments. And fast cash pays the bills fast.

With produce sales consistently increasing year after year in the industry, the required labor does not keep pace. The most unpopular subject in weekly staff meetings is labor and productivity. We’ve all had that sudden depression set in when hearing the boss instruct the operating crew in a demanding voice to cut and control the labor for the week.

That cut-the-labor command by the boss always reminds me of one of those Three Stooges skits. The boss yells at Moe to get the job done. Then Moe turns around and yells at Larry to get the job done. Larry turns around and yells at Curley to get the job done. When Curley turns around, there’s nobody there. The result is that Curley alone has to get the job accomplished.

Labor control works the same way as the Stooges parody. Upper management sends it all the way down to the produce manager at the store level. No one in the management level gets his or her hours cut along the way, rather it trickles down to the sales floor where all the action takes place.

In almost every single produce department I step into, the most common produce manager complaint is that the department is understaffed and the time to accomplish all the work is spread extremely thin.

Operating a produce department these days with all of the new programs involves of a long list of tasks. Being understaffed and making every effort to handle all the jobs in a department only harms sales.

A produce manager’s duties are numerous and essential to a profitable operation. The work list is far too long to include in this article. If you want to know what they are, call me. But be prepared to pack a lunch, as the list is overwhelming and will take time to explain.

In the end, most of the labor and productivity that is ever successfully achieved eventually begins to erode when the sales and gross profit also disintegrate.

Senior management often uses a hackneyed motivational phrase at the end of meetings. One I’ve heard repetitiously to employees is, “Be pleasant, smile and be proud.”

Try telling that to a hard-working, understaffed and burned out produce manager.

Bard Valley Date Growers flourishing with expansion

YUMA, AZ — The Medjool date industry here is thriving thanks in large part to the dominant player, Bard Valley Date Growers Association.

This grower-owned association owns its entire Medjool date supply chain, from the groves to the fruit to the packing facilities, the largest of which is Datepac LLC, located here.  

Datepac will pack and ship an anticipated 20 million pounds of Medjool dates harvested in 2016, which represents over 20 percent growth over the 2015 crop.DateNightErin Hanagan-Muths (seated, left), director of marketing for Bard Valley Date Growers, was joined by 40 guests who attended Date Night on May 11.

Erin Hanagan-Muths, director of marketing, said that Bard Valley Date Growers expects increasing production from young palms in the group’s 8,000-plus acres will continue to reflect 20-30 percent growth year over year for the next five years.

Each acre contains approximately 60 date palms.  

Because dates hold perfectly well in a deep freeze, Datepac ships Medjool dates 12 months a year. The new crop is harvested from the first of September through mid-October each year.  

Hanagan-Muths said that in the produce world, dates are a unique crop requiring extremely hot weather, extremely low humidity and an abundance of water. Coachella and Bard, CA, and Yuma, AZ, are places in North America that offer those ideal conditions.

Coachella growers produce the Deglet Noor date, which is largely dried. Medjool dates are sold in fresh produce departments at retail.  

This year, Datepac is utilizing brand-new computerized grading and packing technology, which has enabled the company to increase productivity dramatically.

Alfredo Sotelo, Datepac’s director of operations, said the Elisam brand equipment places dates in weight-sizing cups that also photograph and sort each date to assure a very high level of quality and consistency.    

Hanagan-Muths said that beyond utilization of the most modern and efficient technology, Bard Valley is equally dedicated to maintaining the top food-safety compliances for food handling and manufacturing.

Datepac has also invested in manufacturing equipment and staffing expertise to bring its date roll production capabilities to a state-of-the-art level as well.  

Datepac develops new flavors of date rolls and plans regular seasonal special promotions to help retailers maximize date sales throughout the year.