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Whole Foods Market acquires four New Frontiers Natural Marketplace stores

New Frontiers Natural Marketplace and Whole Foods Market Inc. announced that Whole Foods Market will purchase four stores from New Frontiers. The stores average 22,000 square feet in size and are located in Flagstaff, Prescott and Sedona, AZ; and San Luis Obispo, CA.

The two companies expect the transaction to be finalized in the next few weeks. The stores will continue to operate under the New Frontiers Natural Marketplace banner until they are re-signed as Whole Foods Market stores.

"Over the years, when I have at times wondered if our stores would someday merge with a larger strategic partner, Whole Foods Market has always been my premier choice," Jonathan King, president of New Frontiers, said in a press release. "We are very enthusiastic about their ability to take our stores into a successful future.  We know they will provide growth opportunities for our exceptional team members, and continue to bring retail excellence and outstanding service to our local communities."

"As New Frontiers has done so well, Whole Foods Market also has a long history of supporting the communities we serve," Patrick Bradley, Whole Foods Market Southern Pacific regional president, said in the release. "We are excited to expand our presence to new markets in Arizona and Central California, bringing our fresh, delicious and competitively priced products with the highest quality standards in the business to these vibrant communities."

As part of the agreement, Whole Foods Market will offer jobs to the team members at the four acquired locations.

"We want to extend our heartfelt appreciation to the wonderful team members in the four locations who have provided extraordinary service to our loyal shoppers for so many years," said King. "We also want to express our gratitude for the customers who have embraced New Frontiers as their trusted grocer. We are confident Patrick and his Whole Foods Market teams will continue to take great care of everyone."

Fresh Insights: Building a brand requires healthy roots

Consistent quality, supply and service over time are keys to building a true brand. When these healthy brand “roots” are in place, consumers begin to view a brand positively, enabling the brand to roll out new offerings. A brand’s growth happens because of healthy roots, including quality, supply and service.

It’s easy to make a comparison with how healthy tree rootstock is used by fruit and nut growers to establish superior orchards.

Roots keep the plants stable, and provide access to moisture and nutrients from the soil to feed the plants, trees and or vines that produce the fruit or nuts.

After rootstock suited to the orchard’s site, soil conditions and disease pressure is established, the scion of the desired cultivar can be grafted onto the healthy, competitive rootstock.

Certain types of rootstock may be used to produce different types of fruit. Sour orange rootstock, for example, has been used for grapefruit in Texas and oranges in Florida, as well as other citrus varieties worldwide.

High-yielding, healthy trees depend on healthy roots. So, too, does the growth of a company’s brand depend on the healthy roots of product quality that is consistently high, supply volumes that are constantly available and brand service that is consistently superior.

Consumers are looking for consistent brand quality and supply. Mediocre brand quality and supply are not going to attract more sales; they will cannibalize other brand categories.

And customers will be quite opposed to trying new product offerings if they haven’t already had experience with “healthy roots” from the brand.

So how are your brand’s roots? Are they healthy enough to keep building a true brand?

In my view, growing healthy roots for your brand means the following:

  • Healthy means giving customers what they want. Be a good listener, and communicate with your customers in the ways they want. If consumers want to give feedback on Facebook, make it happen. If distributors prefer face and phone time, keep it happening.
  • Healthy means delivering superior products, not only to distribution facilities but to the restaurant unit or retail grocery store. Keep taking pride in the condition of your product throughout the supply chain, and leverage a track record of high product quality to roll out new product offerings.
  • Healthy roots deliver a pleasurable eating experience enjoyed at the consumer level. Loyal customers appreciate what you have to offer, want to repeat their positive experience and are more open to trying new products carrying your brand.
  • Healthy roots emphasize customer service. This means making your brand all about the product and customer, and not about your ego.
  • Healthy roots mean people are your greatest asset. People and relationships with employees, vendors and customers are all equally valuable to building a reputation for superior brand service.

Remember, even the best brand can be susceptible to forces outside its control. As I write this, citrus rootstock in Florida faces new diseases, forcing growers to make hard decisions about what to do with their old roots.

As in any business, those businesses able to adjust and adapt — perhaps even establishing new kinds of roots more resilient to a changing environment — will continue to be successful in the long run. But no matter how your market environment changes, quality, supply and service are essential when rooting your brand for sustained growth over the long run.

Successful South African citrus export program heads into 15th year

Representatives committed to the success of South Africa’s summer citrus export program to the United States gathered in the heart of one of South Africa’s citrus-growing regions in late March. The annual planning session included growers, exporters, U.S.-based importers, shipping partners, receivers and service providers, and government representatives from the U.S. Department of Agriculture and South Africa’s Department of Agriculture, Forestry & Fisheries, as well as Vangile Titi-Msumza, South Africa Minister of Agriculture to the U.S., and Erica Barks- Ruggles, the U.S. Consul General to Cape Town.Release-4-2-14 Erica Barks-Ruggles (second from left), consul general of the U.S. in Cape Town, joined by Michael Guidicipietro, deputy director of the USDA APGIS; Johan Mouton, chairman of the Western Cape Citrus Producers Forum; Vangile Titi Msumza, minister of agriculture to the embassy of the Republic of South Africa in Washington, DC; and Gerrit van der Merwe, founding director of the Western Cape Citrus Producers Forum.

“Each entity represented is vital to the success of the program,” Suhanra Conradie, chief executive officer of the Western Cape Citrus Producers Forum, said in a press release. “We get together here to listen to one another and address questions and concern and avoid potential problems before the season gets started.”

This will be the 15th year for South Africa's export of citrus to the United States. The market opened to South Africa in 1999 and was enhanced with the signing of the Africa Growth & Opportunity treaty in 2000. A.G.O.A. is in consideration for renewal in 2015.

In remarks to those in attendance, Consul General Barks-Ruggles lauded the WCCPF for the growth in the program since it began.

“South Africa’s agricultural citrus exports are one of the country’s largest success stories for increased access to the United States under the Africa Growth and Opportunity Act," she said. "Just to give you one example of the growing benefits A.G.O.A. confers on South Africa, consider fresh oranges. Exports of oranges from South Africa to the United States hit a new record in 2013, with nearly $57 million in sales or over 39,000 metric tons in exports. This is a 40 percent jump in value and a 25 percent increase in quantity compared to 2009 and two orders of magnitude (nearly 800 percent) increase since the program started in 1999. Do you know what else grew along with those numbers? South African jobs — new exports mean new jobs. It is estimated that the development of the U.S. market for summer citrus has generated 20,000 permanent jobs in those areas approved for shipment to the United States and up to 80,000 temporary positions supporting as many as 120,000 South Africans families. Citrus exports put South Africans to work: that is the real benefit of programs like this one.”

“The A.G.O.A. treaty has been very beneficial to Africa as a whole and especially here in South Africa,” Conradie said. “The return has enabled the creation of jobs here and in the U.S. Further, the expansion of the citrus program over 15 years has enabled us to reinvest in our Harvest of Hope program for formerly disadvantaged here in South Africa. As a result, better healthcare and education as well as job advancement opportunities are available and supported by the citrus program. But it is only a beginning and it is crucial that A.G.O.A be renewed so that we can continue to create opportunities for all of South Africa’s citizens.”

In preparation for the upcoming season, DAFF has been in the citrus region inspecting farms to assure ongoing regulatory compliance. In feedback to the growers, DAFF reports being very pleased with the consistent efforts the citrus growers make to reduce the occurrences of false codling moth. The number of infested fruit has fallen consistently to less than 0.05 per tree in 2014 as compared to 0.48 in 2012 and 0.19 in 2013. Controlling FCM includes raising and sterilizing male moths, and releasing them for mating when no offspring are produced.

“Our program to the U.S. is successful in large part due to the collaboration of DAFF and the USDA Animal & Plant Health Inspection Service division,” said Conradie. “Working together and with the growers, we are able to assure compliance and avert issues before they become problems.”

South African citrus sold in the United States comes primarily from the region near Citrusdal about two hours northwest of Cape Town, the Northern Cape near Kimberly, and the northwest along the Orange River, near Upington. The WCCPF facilitates logistical, marketing and sales support coordination of products for its members.  Its mission is to maintain and expand its role as the preferred and reliable supplier of fresh and safe summer citrus for the U.S.

IPO’s second Global Conference

The Second meeting of the International Pineapple Organization Global Pineapple Conference March 19-20, hosted by the Port Tampa Bay and sponsored by Ports America & CSX Railroad, was an opportunity to showcase the expansion plans and the interest by Port Tampa Bay and its partners. Among the Port Tampa Bay’s plans is a multimodal refrigerated Rail Trans shipment project that is currently in its design stage.

“This was a hands-on opportunity for the shipper and importer community to visit a port, very unusual in today’s world, on such a personal level was very enlightening for shippers and importers,” said IPO Executive Director Will Cavan. “The IPO encourages other ports to do the same for the entire produce community in general and the pineapple supply chain in particular.

“Port Manatee has offered to do the same with the IPO in the near future,” he said.

The potential for a proposed USDA/AMS Pineapple Research & Promotion Board was the hot topic at the conference.

Other attendees included representatives from Maersk Lines, Altamar Shipping and ZIM Integrated Lines, which are major carriers on the North-South pineapple trade route. Shippers and importers were able to interact with these carriers, as well as homeland security officials. The IPO has offered to help spearhead the petition process, hoping to achieve a referendum and a vote for the proposed research and promotion board.

Cavan announced that the next IPO meeting will be June 16-21 in Oahu, HI. Visits are planned to the ULUPONO Initiative, Maui Land & Pineapple Co. and the original Pineapple Research Institute. The location should draw pineapple producers from Australia, Malyasia, the Philippines and Thailand. On Nov. 5-6, the IPO will hold another meeting in Costa Rica.

FPFC board approves 2014 charitable contributions

The board of the Fresh Produce & Floral Council has approved charitable contributions for 2014 totaling $24,200.

The largest contribution was made to United's Let's Move Salad Bars to Schools initiative. The council's $11,300 donation will provide for four salad bars to be installed in California schools. Contributions the FPFC made in 2012 and 2013 provided for 16 salad bars.

A contribution of $2,500 was also made to Common Threads, a program designed to teach disadvantaged children how to cook wholesome, healthy meals in professionally led after-school programs, with a focus on world cuisine. Well-established in Chicago, with programs in Washington, DC, and Miami, the FPFC's contribution will support Common Threads' fledgling Los Angeles program.

"The board is very interested in any program that encourages increased consumption among children," FPFC President Carissa Mace said in a press release. "Not only do these programs benefit our communities by improving the health of children, they also develop kids into our future consumers."

The FPFC will also provide a $2,500 grant for the Fresno Arts Council's Arts Alive in Agriculture program. During 2014, Arts Alive in Agriculture will celebrate the Central Valley's rich agricultural tradition through art displayed at Fresno City Hall.

"Arts Alive in Agriculture caught the board's attention because the FPFC is interested in helping to bridge the gap that has formed between people and their food," Mace said in the release. "Using art to appreciate the source of our food and the people who produce it will contribute to that effort."

The FPFC has also renewed its support of both the Produce Marketing Association Foundation for Industry Talent and the Produce for Better Health Foundation.

"All of the programs that the board elected to support meet the demands of our Direct Monetary Contributions Policy," Mace said.  

The policy allows the FPFC to only fund projects and programs that directly support the FPFC mission statement of promoting and advancing the industry.