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The grocery industry is in a state of flux. Everybody is talking about online shopping, even though very few consumers are doing it. Actual stores are getting smaller, and there seems to be fewer of them — at least in Chicago.

According to an urban grocery report by retail brokerage Mid-America Real Estate Group, there are 262 grocery stores in the Chicagoland area, the least since 2009.  blue skyline chicago illinoisThe Chicagoland area currently has fewer grocery stores than any other time since 2009.

“It's certainly a sign of the times," Dan Tausk, a principal at Mid-America and the report's co-author, told the Chicago Tribune on Aug. 12. "The market is changing, and I would expect that to continue.”

Bankruptcies, and store shutdowns in the area have been factors. “In the past you'd see a grocer go out and another grocer go in," Tausk said. "Now we're lucky if half is backfilled by a grocer.”

The Tribune reports that much Chicago’s declining grocery industry can be traced back to Central Grocers cooperative, which filed for bankruptcy in May. Central Grocers was the parent company of Strack & Van Til and Ultra Foods stores in addition to operating as a wholesaler for more than 400 independent stores in the Chicago area.

Amazon’s pending acquisition of Whole Foods will likely upset the apple cart further, not only in Chicago, but also across the country.

Matt Seeley, co-founder and chief executive officer of the Organic Produce Network, will speak next month on the topic of organic merchandising at the New England Produce Council's annual expo.Matt-Seeley-headshot

The workshop, titled Excellence in Organic Merchandising and Trends in the Floral Industry, will take place from 3 p.m. to 4 p.m. on Tuesday, Sept. 12. The expo will take place Sept. 12-14 in Boston.

Seeley, who is also well known for his many years at The Nunes Co., will speak on the "state of the organic produce industry" and will "give an overview of sales, trends and opportunities" in the organic produce field, NEPC Executive Director Laura Sullivan told The Produce News.

Seeley will be joined at the workshop by Kevin Barry of Big Y Foods Inc. and Denise Dryzga of Hannaford Bros. Co., which is now part of Ahold Delhaize.

For more information about the NEPC expo, contact Laura Sullivan at 781/273-0444.

Online sales continue to soar, yet cyberspace still has very little impact on the retail grocery industry. According to Gallup's annual Consumption Habits survey, conducted July 5-9, only 9 percent of adults said their household orders groceries online at least once a month. Just 4 percent said they shop online weekly. Comparatively, 83 percent said somebody in their family shops in person at least once a week.

Not surprisingly, the highest rate of online shoppers were aged 18 to 29, as 15 percent of that age group said they make online grocery purchases at least once a month. Twelve percent of those aged 30 to 49 and 10 percent of those aged 50 to 64 make online grocery purchases at least once a month. Age had little affect on those shopping in store, as all age groups make regular in store visits.

Regionally, consumers in the East were most likely to shop online at least once a month (16 percent). Followed by the West (11 percent), South (8 percent) and Midwest (5 percent). Fifteen percent of city dwellers shopped online at least once a month compared to 8 percent of suburbanites.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s August crop production forecast for 2017 declares New Jersey’s peach production will rise to second in the United States. The forecast, which is based on phone calls, mail, Internet and personal interviews with farmers in New Jersey and around the country, predicts state peach farmers will produce 48 million pounds of peaches this year.

“Conditions in New Jersey have been perfect for growing peaches this season, allowing farmers to have an extremely high yield of the juicy, sweet tree fruit,” New Jersey Secretary of Agriculture Douglas H. Fisher said in a press release. “We want people to know Jersey Fresh peaches are plentiful and available at supermarkets, farmers markets and roadside stands. We appreciate the work the USDA does to keep produce buyers and consumers up to date on the current trends in the industry.”

New Jersey is on track to harvest approximately 8 million more pounds of peaches in 2017 than it did last year, and is behind only California in peach production.

The first peach variety of New Jersey’s season is the Sentry. The crop is now moving into the Crest Haven variety, which also includes the Gloria variety of peach, followed by Jersey Queen and Fayette varieties. The Encore and Laurol varieties will wrap up the season sometime in mid- to late-September, when the last of New Jersey’s peaches should be picked. White peaches are available now and are expected to continue through mid-September.

The USDA surveyed approximately 21,700 producers for the crop production report. The producers were asked questions about probable yield. These growers will continue to be surveyed throughout the growing season to provide indications of average yields.

The August crop production report also forecasted a crop of 44 million pounds of apples for the Garden State, also up from last year. New Jersey cranberry producers expect to harvest 590,000 barrels, which would rank New Jersey third in the U.S. in cranberry production.

Aug. 15, marked the last day of a very sweet 2017 cherry season for Oneonta Starr Ranch Growers, and according to Oneonta Marketing Director Scott Marboe, this year’s crop “surpassed our highest expectations.”Starr-Ranch-cherries

The last of the season’s fruit is from Halverson Ranch orchard, the company’s highest at an elevation of 3,400 feet. “It is among the highest elevation cherry orchards in the state, but it still matured earlier than we expected due to the warm weather we’ve had in the Northwest for the last few weeks," Marboe said in a press release. "So we’re bringing in the last of this exceptional crop, and Aug. 14 will be our final day.”

Summing up the excellent 2017 season, Marboe said demand and movement were strong from start to finish.

“We had several of our retail partners hit record sales in both volume and retail dollars,” he said. And working with its retail partners to provide consumers with outstanding quality, the Oneonta production and packing teams “did an excellent job at keeping our fruit fresh and moving through the system.

“The cherries were very well-received, and the retail displays were fantastic this year,” he said. Demand was also very strong for export fruit.

“Although size was somewhat of an issue in the June period, we really saw it pick up once we hit the newer varieties,” Marboe continued. “And the Unitec optical sorting lines did everything we hoped they would once again. They are changing the way our industry gets cherries through the system.”

With summer cherries now officially a sweet memory, Oneonta Starr Ranch Growers is gearing up for what Marboe said is the “start of an exceptional apple and pear crop, picking our first Bartletts this week and apples right behind them.”

The pear crop is showing excellent quality, and in the apple category new varieties are being offered in commercial volume for the first time.