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Milton, NY-based Hudson River Fruit Distributors Inc., a leading producer, marketer and shipper of a full line of high-quality apple varieties, continues to evolve and grow. It is a prime example of a family-owned company that is living out the American dream.

The company is now benefiting from the newest generation that brings new technology and added energy.image004A view of the new property from Hudson River Fruit Distributors' current farm.

Alisha Albinder Camac, fourth-generation family member and operations manager, works side-by-side with her father, Daniel Albinder, and grandfather, Harold Albinder, in overseeing the company’s operations. She told The Produce News that the most recent exciting news at the company is its new farm.

“We bought a 50-acre farm in February,” said Albinder Camac. “It sits between two farms that we already owned. When planted, it will be one entire uninterrupted orchard.”

She explained that the newly purchased farm had been abandoned for almost five decades.

“We have been clearing out old trees and preparing the land for new apple tree plantings, which is scheduled for next spring,” added Albinder Camac. “We’ll be planting Pink Lady and Fuji apple varieties on the orchard, which will be ready for harvesting in about four years from planting.”

Hudson River Fruit Distributors had its start in 1932 when Isadore (Izzy) Albinder immigrated to the United States from Russia. As he arrived in New York he recognized an opportunity to broker fresh produce. He bought a pushcart and began selling fresh produce on the neighborhood streets of Brooklyn.

After some time, he began having trouble finding apples that he considered high enough quality, and so decided to venture up to the Hudson Valley to source the produce directly. He began fostering relationships with apple growers, some of whom Hudson River Fruit Distributors continues to work with still today. The company bought its first orchard in 1967 in order to have better control of the apples it sold.

Izzy’s son, Harold (Chief Dog) Albinder was persistent in all his endeavors and took many calculated risks to build the business to what it is today.

“My grandfather turned 80 in the spring, and is still active in the business,” noted Albinder Camac. “My father, Daniel, joined the company in 1980. Over time he learned every aspect of the business from the ground up.”

The company has recently added to its staff to keep pace with its growing business. Albinder Camac’s cousin, Kevin Albinder, joined its team in January as logistics’ coordinator.

“We also recently hired Marcela Juarez as food safety and quality control administrator,” noted Albinder Camac.

Today, Hudson River Fruit Distributors owns five of its own farms, and it works with approximately 80 growing partners throughout New York.

“This year’s crop is looking great so far,” added Albinder Camac. “It was extra heavy but has thinned out nicely because of the great weather we’ve had. We’re looking forward to a great harvest in the fall, which will be here before you know it.”

Dole Food Co. Inc. announced the appointment of Michael H. Solomon as the new president of Dole Fresh Vegetables effective June 18. As Dole Fresh Vegetables president, Solomon will have responsibility for all of the division's operations across North America. He will report directly to Dole Food Co. President and Chief Executive Officer Johan Linden.dole

With 30 years experience, including within the food and beverage industry, Solomon has a proven success record of taking high-performance brands to the next level, increasing performance and margins in sales, plant operations, and profit growth.

Among other positions, Solomon has held roles of president of POM Wonderful and President and CEO of Ready Pac Foods Inc. prior to joining Dole.

“Michael has built an impressive track record of strategic, operational and commercial accomplishments,” said Linden. “He has considerable experience and knowledge of the fresh salad business segment. His wealth of experience will be a valuable asset as we continue to accelerate Dole’s growth and innovation in our vegetable and salad products. I am very excited about Michael’s addition to our team.”

Ritter Agribusiness, which owns 27,000 acres of farmland in northeastern Arkansas, producing cotton, wheat, rice, corn, soybeans and flowers, and also manages 20,000 acres of farmland for other landowners, recently completed the purchase of Gillam Farms in Judsonia, AR.

Ritter Farms will continue operating the property, which produces blackberries, blueberries, strawberries and pumpkins. It is the largest blackberry producer in Arkansas. 

“The purchase of Gillam Farms is a tremendous opportunity to diversify our operations while continuing the legacy of our company,” Ritter Agribusiness President Kevin Wright said. “We are focused on growing our business and this acquisition is a perfect fit for the long-term vision of our company as well as a platform for future growth and acquisitions in specialty crops.”

Like Ritter Agribusiness, Gillam Farms was family-owned.

“We are very happy the farm will continue to be run by a family-owned, Arkansas company with a strong commitment to Arkansas agriculture,” Jeremy Gillam said. “Those were very important factors when we sought a buyer.”     

Ritter Farms’ entry into the berry business is the company’s second major diversification move. In 2017, Ritter Farms began growing fresh flowers to supply grocery stores, retail florists and e-commerce floral companies. 

“As with all of our business, we are committed to providing safe, high-quality products to our customers,” Wright said. “Ritter Agribusiness still owns the original parcel of land we purchased in 1893. However, the industry has dramatically changed over the years, and we are thrilled for this opportunity to grow and change with it.”

In an undated letter to its “Valued Suppliers,” which was received this week by many produce shippers, The Kroger Co. announced a new 90-day payment policy that would effectively cause produce suppliers to waive their PACA Trust rights.

The brief letter, signed by four Kroger executives, began by informing suppliers that changes would be enacted unilaterally within 60 days. It stated, “I’m writing to inform you that as of August 1st, 2018, The Kroger Co. will standardize its payment terms to Net 90 (bold face in the letter) across all aspects of our business effective immediately.”krolog

The giant retailer explained, “We are making this change to (a) smooth our cash conversion cycle, (b) more efficiently manage our working capital in order to re-invest in our business, and (c) harmonize our terms with industry peers.”

Disbelief, then anger
Initial produce industry response was disbelief followed by anger. Matthew McInerney, senior executive vice president of Western Growers Association, said his phone and email accounts were ablaze with activity as many shippers received the letter on Monday, June 18. He said acceptance of those terms by any produce supplier would result in a waiving of the PACA Trust rights, as that law has specific rules with regard to terms of payment.

Basically if a supplier agrees to terms beyond 30 days, Trust rights are no longer applicable.

“We are advising our members that waiving their PACA Trust rights is not a good business practice,” McInerney said.

He explained that the Trust provision of the Perishable Agricultural Commodities Act was passed by Congress and enacted into law in 1984 as a way to ensure that produce suppliers would be first in line to receive the receipts from their sold produce in the event of a bankruptcy.

Congress reasoned that produce is different than other consumer goods, as its perishability means it is sold into commerce soon after production. It does not linger on a shelf for months, or even weeks, awaiting final sale.

As a buyer and then reseller of that produce, any company along the supply chain is required to pay the invoice in a prompt manner. When the act was first passed more than a half century ago, prompt pay meant within 10 days. Those were also the terms when the Trust provision was added, though subsequent regulations allowed for expanding those terms to as long as 30 days.

Any supplier that extends terms beyond that point is no longer protected by the provisions of the Trust. The reasoning is that a supplier extending terms beyond customary practice could be considered complicit if a bankruptcy subsequently occurs.

While no one suggested that financial trouble is the reason Kroger is instituting this new policy, McInerney said “no one ever needs PACA Trust protection … until they do.”

Ripple effect
There is also the ripple effect that could be created by the policy. Major suppliers of product to Kroger anywhere along the supply chain could have their own cash flow problems if they have 90 days of invoices waiting to be paid.

McInerney said fresh produce is unique in that it turns over quickly and provides funds to retailers and other sellers in very short order. “Fresh produce does not languish on a shelf causing cash flow problems,” he said. “It is not the problem. It’s just the opposite.”

While Kroger pointed to the desire to “harmonize our terms with industry peers,” McInerney said his conversations with multiple shippers revealed no industry peers with a similar policy for fresh produce.

One industry source had heard of a similar policy for consumer product goods by at least one or two of the giant retailers, but it did not apply to fresh produce.

Kroger’s letter did note that it was offering a quick pay solution to its suppliers through Citibank. Its letter said this service was available “at a very small discount. It relayed that a sample discount on a $1 million invoice paid on the 10th day would be less than 0.72 percent or $7,200. Presumably, discounts would be at a higher percentage rate with a smaller invoice amount.

Kroger made it clear that the new policy was not negotiable, as it stated that while the early payment plan was optional, it was being offered “to help our long-term business partners with the migration to our new standard payment terms, which are not considered optional to Kroger.”

McInerney said the existence of the letter does not violate PACA Trust provisions nor does it allow the unilateral changing of contracted terms. He said that legally, suppliers will be operating under the terms of their current contract until such time that the contract expires or they sign a contract that supersedes it.

The Tomato Capital of Canada, Leamington, ON, hosted its 11th annual Greenhouse Vegetable Awards this past weekend at the Leamington Fair. Showcasing the best greenhouse-grown produce from leading North American growers, family-owned NatureFresh Farms was awarded many top accolades, including People’s and Kids’ Choice awards for 2018’s Hottest Tomato, the Tomberry.NFF Matt Quiring Awards-17June2018Matt Quiring with the company's four new awards.

On Saturday evening, NatureFresh Farms took home awards in the following categories:

  • People’s Choice Award for Hottest Tomato – NatureFresh Tomberry Tomatoes
  • Kids’ Choice Award for Hottest Tomato - NatureFresh Tomberry Tomatoes
  • Kids’ Choice Award for Coolest Cucumber – NatureFresh Mini Cucumbers
  • Kids’ Choice Award for Perfect Pepper – NatureFresh Yellow Bell Pepper

Matt Quiring, executive retail sales accounts manager at NatureFresh= Farms, was especially excited that NatureFresh took home the coveted Kids’ Choice Awards in the tomato, Bell pepper and cucumber categories. “The People’s Choice and Kids’ Choice awards are such impactful awards to win because they have everything to do with the end consumer. They’re also incredibly important because children are the buyers of tomorrow — knowing that they choose NatureFresh-grown products above every other label is a huge testament to what we do and what’s in store for the future.”

At the awards, the Tomberry Tomato was chosen by both adults and children as this year’s Hottest Tomato. Benny Teichroeb, a member of the trial development team at NatureFresh Farms, was confident after his experiences with the Tomberry that it would perform well at the Awards this year. “The Tomberry is definitely one of the most unique tomatoes we have ever trialled in the Discovery Center," he said. "It performed beyond our expectations from the start, and due to its small size and sweet flavor, it tends to draw a lot of positive attention. People of all ages love the World’s Smallest Tomato, and we are very excited to now have it in our program full-time."

The NatureFresh Farms team is looking forward to watching this little tomato do big things within the tomato category.

All funds raised from the Greenhouse Vegetable Awards go to R.E.A.C.H. International.  This local charity has raised hundreds of thousands of dollars to build clinics and schools, drill water wells, and sponsor and care for impoverished children in Uganda, Africa.