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Freska expands scope of avocado representation

Oxnard, CA-based Freska Produce International LLC, a leader in the mango business, has expanded its footprint in the avocado industry with its acquisition of California avocado packer Harvest Time Produce Inc., located in Oceanside CA.

Freska has been importing Mexican avocados into the United States for the past three years, and with the new California program complementing that deal, it will now have a year-round avocado program to offer its customers.

Chief Operating Officer Gary Clevenger said the company currently imports 12-14 containers of avocados per week from the Mexican state of Michoacán. He anticipates packing about 8 million to 12 million pounds of California avocados at Harvest Time for the 2016 season.

“We will start packing sometime in early January,” he said.

Harvest Time Produce was formed in 1985, packing mostly Hass avocados from growers in San Diego County, but also handling other commodities such as citrus. Over the years, the Hass avocado business dominated the company’s activities and it began importing from Mexico and Chile in 2002. Further expansion followed in 2010 with the installation of a larger packingline and the introduction of bagging equipment.

Clevenger, who founded Freska along with Jesus (Chuy) Loza as a mango importer more than a decade ago, said Harvest Time has had financial difficulties in recent years. He said the purchase by Freska will allow the avocado packer to be financially solvent and make better deals with growers.  

“We will be able to make it right with growers and the community,” he said. “We will be able to pay growers on a timely basis and even offer advance payments.”

The company mostly represents San Diego County growers, but Clevenger noted that both he and Loza live in Ventura County and will be making a pitch for growers in the northern districts as well as the south.

“We look at this as a tremendous opportunity,” he said. “We see avocados as a real complement to our mango business. The [retail] buyers for avocados are often the same people buying mangos.”

He said both mangos and avocados are tropical fruits with tremendous upside potential, and both have registered substantial volume increasers in recent years. With the expected expansion of approved packingsheds in more Mexican states for the shipment of avocados to the United States, Clevenger believes Freska’s avocado volume will continue to expand.

And he said California’s 2016 crop appears to be significantly higher than 2015, meaning Harvest Time’s volume might also jump substantially.

“We may do a lot more than 12 million pounds,” he said. “That’s the most they have done before, but we might do much more.”

The avocado packing operation will keep the Harvest Time Produce name and pack under both its own moniker as well as the Freska label.

Stemilt launches Apple Gridiron promotion

appCompetition is heating up and not just on the football field. Stemilt has launched a new football-themed promotion that helps retailers pit two apple varieties against one another to find out which one comes out on top in consumer shopping baskets.Apple-Grdiron-2

The Apple Gridiron promotion asks consumers the question, “What is your favorite apple variety?” and encourages voting by purchasing their preferred apple variety. According to Roger Pepperl, Stemilt marketing director, it’s a fun way to engage the consumer and bring football into store displays and apple ads. The Apple Gridiron promotion can coincide with any upcoming college bowl games, the NFL playoffs, and of course, the biggest game of the year, the Super Bowl.

“Super Bowl is right around the corner and an important time to promote apples in the produce department," he said in a press release. "Not only does this fruit make a great addition to party platters, but apples are an important item in the produce department in February, contributing 6.8 percent of total produce department dollars on average over the past two years. The coming months are the ideal time for multi-variety ads on apples.”

The Apple Gridiron promotion helps retailers promote three to six apple varieties at a time, with two of the varieties being featured as the two teams for the voting contest. Retailers can opt to run bulk apple ads or feature Stemilt’s popular Lil Snappers kid-sized fruit in a promotion. Lil Snappers are three-pound pouch bags of smaller-sized fruit and marketed to kids and parents for school lunches and snacks.

“Lil Snappers are a brand that consumers recognize and work well for in-and-out promotions like the Apple Gridiron because of the grab-and-go style of the bag. Lil Snappers are available in the select apple varieties that kids favor,” Pepperl said in the release.

To support the Apple Gridiron promotion, Stemilt can provide retailers with customized postcards for the two apples in the competition, as well as social media programs that highlight that an Apple Gridiron is going on in their market area. The football-theme works well for retail display or sales contests, and the Stemilt team can assist in setting those contests up to give the Apple Gridiron promotion an added boost.

“The Apple Gridiron promotion is a great way to continue momentum on apples through the late winter months. It’s a fun way to get people excited about apples and the Super Bowl, which is the most watched sports event of the year,” said Pepperl.

2015 watermelon retail display contest winners announced

Celebrate the summer with the sweet taste of watermelon — and a fun display. That is what the National Watermelon Promotion Board and the National Watermelon Association encouraged retailers, including grocers and commissaries, in the United States and Canada to do to celebrate National Watermelon Month throughout the month of July.nwwaaThe Key West NAS Commissary was named the 2015 grand prize winner.

Entries were judged based on a display’s overall appearance, creativity, shopability and use of point-of-sale materials, such as recipes cards, posters, stickers, or selection tips.

This year’s grand prize winner was Key West NAS Commissary, which embraced the judging criteria by showcasing watermelon’s versatility with fresh-cut samples, artful carvings and fresh watermelon juice featured among whole watermelons in a festive star-spangled display.

“We were so impressed with the enthusiasm and creativity of the all the entries,” Juliemar Rosado, director of retail operations and international marketing for the NWPB, said in a press release. “Key West NAS Commissary did an amazing job of educating consumers about all the different ways watermelon can be enjoyed in an innovative and engaging way.”

The retailer received a $1,000 prize and the opportunity for two representatives to attend the 2016 National Watermelon Association convention in New Orleans Feb. 25-27, 2016.

Additionally, NWPB and NWA awarded first, second and third place to the Star-Spangled Watermelon category as well as the nine states/regions represented by watermelon associations. For a complete list of regional winners as well as contest rules, visit

Brookshire Grocery Co.'s CEO retires, successor named

Brookshire Grocery Co.’s board of directors announced that Rick Rayford has retired as president and chief executive officer, and that Chairman of the Board Bradley W. Brookshire will serve as the company’s chairman and CEO.brookshiereeeelijeBradley W. Brookshire

“We appreciate Rick’s 44 years of service to this company and the legacy he leaves behind," Brookshire said in a press release. "Hundreds of employees were promoted to leadership positions during his tenure, some directly through his mentorship and others through the many career development and education opportunities he so strongly supported.”

Bradley W. Brookshire is the grandson of the company’s founder, Wood T. Brookshire, and has served as chairman of the board since 2007. He is part of the third generation of the Brookshire family to lead the company. He has 38 years of service and has served in various leadership roles, including store director, director of distribution and executive vice president of corporate development.

In a statement to the company’s employees, Brookshire thanked them for their support, particularly in recent months as the board evaluated a range of strategic alternatives for the company.

“Times of change are also times of great opportunity and growth, and I am excited about all that the future holds for Brookshire Grocery Company," the statement from Brookshire read. "My challenge to each and every one of our 14,000 partners is to remain focused on our common goals of taking great care of our customers, uniting as a team and making our company the very best it can be."

PACA division gets new director

Judith Rudman joined the Specialty Crops Program leadership team as the new director of the Perishable Agricultural Commodities Act division, effective Dec. 14.

With over 20 years of government service, Rudman has a long history of administering the Mexican Tomato Suspension Agreement, which includes PACA enforcement provisions. She has administered cases on other agricultural products, including lemon juice from Argentina and Mexico. 

Most recently, Rudman collaborated with USDA’s Farm Service Agency and Foreign Agricultural Service on the suspension agreements on sugar from Mexico.

"She brings diverse expertise in trade and compliance to support the mission of ensuring fair trade in the produce industry," Charles Parrott, deputy administrator, Specialty Crops Program, said in an announcement on the U.S. Department of Agriculture's website.

Rudman has a bachelor's degree in international relations from Knox College, a master's degree in political science from Tulane University, and a master’s degree in education from Marymount University.