Freska kicks off mango season with Disney designs

This month Freska Produce International LLC is launching fresh mangos featuring beloved Disney characters on display-ready boxes, stickers and in a mango recipe and activity eBook.SL0A4492 Four varieties of Mexican mangos — Tommy Atkins, Kents, Keitts and Ataulfos — will be available at grocery retailers nationwide now through August.

The campaign launches with the Mickey Check-approved mango recipe and activity eBook, which promotes nutritious eating as a key component to building a strong, healthy body and mind. The kid-friendly pages filled with Mickey and Friends characters feature 11 mango recipes, fun facts and activities, including a maze, word find and coloring page.

“The mango recipe and activity eBook is a great tool showcasing the delicious flavor, nutritional value and versatility of mangos,” Gary Clevenger, managing member and partner at Freska, said in a press release. “The appeal of Disney characters on our product packaging in stores and online further promotes a healthy lifestyle for families in an exciting way.”

National Watermelon Association has eye to the future

The National Watermelon Association believes the future success of the industry lies in developing the talent and interest of its younger members.

In fact, NWA is so passionate about this belief that it is gearing its five-year plan around building value for members of Generation Y.nwalogo

At the NWA’s annual convention in February, NWA Executive Director Bob Morrissey announced the formation of a Generation Y working group, along with a new, contemporary logo, a revamped Internet domain and new social media platforms.

“We have been working with some of the premier experts on Generation Y to try to get a better understanding about what they like and how best to use their talents,” said Morrissey. “As a demographic, Generation Y is more than 80 million strong, so it is important to include them in our planning for the future.”

Morrissey said that the current environment of agriculture makes it especially challenging to attract and retain Generation Y, whose members range in age from 19 to 32. Among the issues he cited were the need for immigration reform, and the burden of FSMA and food-safety audits.

“We have to ask ourselves, ‘How much can they take before they leave the industry,’” said Morrissey.

One of the ways the NWA is working to maintain involvement of Generation Y is by implementing a future farmer program, whereby two or three young farmers will be invited, via scholarships, to the NWA convention in order to give them exposure to the industry.

“Research has shown that Generation Y members have a great spirit of volunteerism, which we hope will translate into service of the industry,” he said. “But members of Generation Y want to see a value proposition, such as how it will help the organization or the planet, or what it means socially or environmentally. We believe that if we expose them to the industry through the convention, we will be able to show them many of the great parts of the industry.”

Morrissey said another strategy is to simply ask them pointedly what is on their minds and what they would like to see happen in the industry.

“We’re constantly on the lookout for new members, and they are extremely excited when we ask them their opinions,” he said. “It goes a long way to engaging them and making them feel like part of the industry.

“We constantly refer to ourselves as a ‘watermelon family’ rather than a ‘watermelon association,’ and I think that resonates with these younger members,” Morrissey added.

Morrissey said he is convinced that the association today will be “vastly different” than the association five years from today, and the NWA board wants to keep pace with the changes.

“Everything we are doing for the next five years will be focused on building value for Generation Y,” he said. “I think that will pay dividends for our industry in the long run.”

Whole Foods shows customers what its salad bar looks like without pollinators

Salad Bar without pollinators

Pollinators play a vital role in producing one-third of the world’s food crops, but they are disappearing at alarming rates. Whole Foods Market and The Xerces Society are joining forces to “share the buzz” about the plight of pollinators and empower shoppers to “bee” part of the solution.

To kick off the two-week campaign, Whole Foods Market’s Gilman store in Berkeley, CA, demonstrated what shoppers’ salad bar choices would look like if pollinators vanished.Salad Bar without pollinatorsWhole Foods Market’s Gilman store in Berkeley, CA, showed shoppers what its salad bar choices would look like without pollinators. The before-and-after photos are startling — as are the findings:

  • Avocados, tomatoes and berries are just a few of the favorite offerings that would become scarce or disappear from the salad bar without the help of pollinators, which play an integral role in more than 100 types of crops in the United States.
  • Only about 40 percent (26 of 63) of the store’s original salad bar offerings remained. In addition to produce options, shoppers would have to give up salad toppers like almonds, macadamia nuts and sunflower seeds, too.
  • Beef and dairy options would be scarce. Pollinators are vital to crops that feed cattle, which means no more yogurt, cheeses or other dairy options on the salad bar.

Whole Foods Market will be hosting a “Party for the Pollinators” event in stores nationwide on Saturday, April 18, with fun, family-focused activities that highlight ways shoppers can help protect pollinators, like planting organic wildflowers, choosing “Responsibly Grown” produce or buying organic.

“With nearly one-fourth of America’s bumble bee species now at risk for extinction, it’s time to get serious about saving our pollinators,” Eric Mader, pollinator program co-director for The Xerces Society, said in a press release. “But it’s not too late. With the support from Whole Foods Market and its shoppers, our organization is working to turn this situation around. We’re creating and improving thousands of acres of pollinator habitat in the U.S., reducing the use of agricultural pesticides and training people in pollinator conservation techniques that can save these unsung heroes of our food chain.”

In addition to attending in-store events, shoppers can purchase pollinator-friendly products that support The Xerces Society’s goal of planting 100,000 acres of pollinator habitat within the next 12 to 18 months.

To further showcase the vital link between pollinators and food, Whole Foods Market created a series of short cooking videos illustrating how classic recipes like apple pie, marinara sauce and guacamole would turn out without pollinators. The grocer also created a series of short animated videos (narrated by Jaden Smith) spotlighting how lesser-known pollinators like moths, butterflies, fireflies and hummingbirds play their part. Find these videos, kid-friendly, educational activities and more information on how to help pollinators at


New studies show growing appetite for organic exports, continued jump in U.S. demand

WASHINGTON — A new study released Wednesday finds a global appetite for organic food in foreign markets and suggests U.S. farmers should take better advantage of the rising foreign demand as well as growing U.S. demand for organic produce.

At the Organic Trade Association policy meeting in Washington, DC,  the new study, conducted by Pennsylvania State University's Edward Jaenicke, associate professor of agricultural economics, found exports of U.S. organic foods as well as imports have risen significantly in the past few years.LauraBatcha2014Laura Batcha The OTA-commissioned study analyzed trends in international trade for the organic products the U.S. government currently tracks: organic products that have been assigned a harmonized tariff schedule code.

Apples, lettuce, grapes, spinach and strawberries are the top five organic products exported by the United States. Exports of organic apples alone jumped 40 percent in 2014 from the previous year, compared to a  small 3 percent growth rate for non-organic apple exports, the report said. In fact, the pace of growth for the exports of almost all of the 26 organic products tracked was markedly higher than that of their non-organic counterparts.

The report also found exports of organic produce account for an increasingly greater proportion of total exports. Of all the cherry tomatoes exported by the U.S., for example, 42 percent are organic; 33 percent of the spinach exports are organic, along with 27 percent of the onions and 23 percent of the carrots.

“We found that many of the American-grown organic products are really out-performing in the export market,” Monique Marez, OTA's associate director for international trade, said in a press statement. “This shows a thirst for organic products — and specifically for U.S. organic products — that is resonating around the world.”

On the import side, the top five organic imports are coffee, soybeans, olive oil, bananas and wine. Imports of organic products outpaced exports, amounting to nearly $1.3 billion in 2014.

"Going organic is not easy, but this report identifies that there is opportunity for U.S. farmers in both the domestic and global organic market,” said Laura Batcha, OTA's CEO and executive director. “This study provides critical new data not only for farmers, but for the industry, lawmakers and other policymakers to design programs and supply chain partnerships that will encourage more organic production and help our farmers make the transition to organic.”

Meanwhile, OTA released another study today that found sales of organic food and non-food products in the United States broke through another record in 2014, totaling $39.1 billion, up 11.3 percent from the previous year.

Organic fruits and vegetables continue to be the biggest-selling organic category in 2014 with $13 billion in sales, up 12 percent from the previous year, and making up more than 36 percent of all organic food sales, OTA reported.

Of all the produce now sold in the United States, 12 percent of it is organic, a market share that has more than doubled in the past 10 years when organic produce sales accounted for only 5 percent of the fruit and vegetable market.

Board is on fire with juicy watermelon promotions

The short list of big items that have coalesced into campaigns promoting watermelon consumption is impressive. “We significantly restructured at the end of 2014 and created a new primary focus on foodservice,” said Stephanie Barlow, senior director of communications for the National Watermelon Promotion Board.

“We hired Megan McKenna, who had previously worked with mangos, and shifted budgets around to make room for her to really make a move for watermelon in the foodservice arena.PromotionsOverviewAs one promotion by the National Watermelon Promotion Board states, ‘There is no wrong way to cut a watermelon.’ (Photo courtesy of the National Watermelon Promotion Board) To get watermelon on more menus, we have a strategic program grounded in research, talking to decision makers through media and meeting contacts at events to get watermelon menu promotion and permanent menu items. We are starting with a cutting, yield and storability study to benchmark our standards and address the cheeky consumer statement that ‘there is no wrong way to cut a watermelon.' ”

A media blitz is getting the word out. “The annual watermelon media kit distributed to over 2,000 consumer media contacts looks like a gossip magazine meets foodie magazine to sensationalize watermelon as a trend setter and taste icon,” she told The Produce News.

Supported by NASCAR, watermelon racecar driver Ross Chastain will participate in five races during which his car will be wrapped like a watermelon. Watermelon queens will also be available at retail promotions and media, giving away watermelon in the pits. The first event is in Richmond, VA, April 24, followed by NASCAR events in Dover, DE, Daytona, FL, Indianapolis and Darlington, SC.

The board recently rolled out its new website. It is “extremely cutting-edge design on the back end, on the front end it will have an editorial focus highlighting all of our programs, featurettes and pop-up promotions in an elegant organization,” Barlow said.

The younger set has not been neglected. Barlow said the Jump with Jill in-school rock star nutritionist partnership and tour sponsorship “includes watermelon-wrapped vans for three touring casts nationwide and a new 'Sweet Beat' interactive music video series promotion in school and online.”

Another in-school program, Watermelon, Wondermelon, will be promoted via Learning Magazine and The Mailbox. “NWPB is sponsoring a writing and art contest for the 2015-2016 school year where students will submit slogans, ads, posters and commercials for how to sell more watermelon,” Barlow noted.

Watermelon salad will be featured at the Epcot Flower and Garden Festival at Walt Disney World in Orlando, FL. “Watermelon salad is a major seller at this 75-day in-park event that attracts millions of guests,” she went on to say.

Returning to its largest consumer promotion, the association will participate in the Marine Corps Marathon with every state chapter and NWPB staffers giving out free watermelon to athletes, their families and supporters, and attendees of the events during MCM weekend. Associated events begin on May 17.

The board will do a reboot of its watermelon-carving contest that occurs in July. “Last year, we more than doubled the entries which requires of us a significant reorganization of the contest, one which we’re very excited about,” Barlow said.

“As far as retail promotions, we are continuing with our team of retail merchandising representatives who work for watermelon as well as other commodities bringing our messages of health, value and versatility year-round to retail accounts, providing them with updating training materials such as animated short videos in an effort to get more retailers to offer more watermelon more frequently throughout the year. Also returning is the summertime Watermelon Display Contest for retailers,” she added.