Western vegetable supplies remain tight, with no relief in sight

A week before Thanksgiving, vegetable grower-shipper giant Tanimura & Antle announced, “The West Coast is officially sold out for the weekend.”

In the firm’s regular supply outlook newsletter, T&A wrote:  “We knew it was going to be tough to meet Thanksgiving demand this season, but never in the history of our company have supplies been so limited. Typically, the week of Thanksgiving is slow on the demand side, but since not all orders were filled there may still be some business. It will take until the middle of December to possibly fill the pipeline. Happy Thanksgiving!”

These comments were echoed by others in the Western vegetable industry.

“I’ve been doing this for 30-plus years,” said Douglas Schaefer, president of EJ’s Produce Sales Inc. in Phoenix. “I do not recall there ever being a time when everything was in short supply.  Cauliflower is $40, broccoli is $25-30, strawberries are $36 a box. I don’t know if anyone is carrying enough insurance to cover a load of strawberries if the truck tips over.”

At that market price, a pallet of strawberries is worth over $3,600 f.o.b. and a full truckload would be in excess of $100,000.

Mark McBride, sales veteran for Coastline Family Farms in Salinas, CA, agreed that he has never seen lack of supplies cut across every crop like it has this year.

“I don’t think that there is one commodity that has dodged the bullet,” said McBride.

He said the warm summer weather in Salinas ended that deal on a low supply note, and the switch to the desert districts has not eased the supply situation. Typically, he said a switch in areas is accompanied by a slow start as the earliest fields work through expected lower yields.

“But that gradually improves as you move into other fields,” said McBride. “That hasn’t happened this year and I don’t see anything changing before we get into the new year.”

Coastline transitioned to its Yuma, AZ, production in mid-November and is expecting to start cutting its Brawley, CA, lettuce and other vegetable fields around Dec. 7. “But I don’t think it’s going to change,” McBride added. “We are just moving from one desert area to another. They’ve all got the same issues.”

Schaefer said so much of the lettuce, and other items, is now grown on contract and the lower yields means it takes many more fields to fill those contracts.

“There is just very little left for the spot market,” he said.  

The Tanimura & Antle newsletter painted a slightly more optimistic picture, as it reported that several items would be at budgeted supply levels by mid-December.

However, that newsletter was written around the third week in November and couldn’t take into account late-November and early-December weather patterns.

During Thanksgiving week, a rainstorm from the north was heading through California and expecting to drop some rain as well as some cold temperatures through California and Arizona. While it was pushing 80 degrees in Brawley on Nov. 23, by the end of the week it was expected to drop below 70. That might be warm by Northeast standards for this time of year, but too many days of those temperatures will slow down the growth of vegetables in the desert.

And lurking on the horizon is the El Niño situation, which is expected to start bringing above-average rains to the Southwest by the end of December or early January. Forecasters are predicting a 95 percent chance that Southern California will have a wetter-than-usual January through March. Each of those rainy days will make it more difficult to harvest and potentially create supply issues.

For more than 18 months, vegetables supplies, on average, have been tight and the market price has been up. More of the same is expected for the foreseeable future.

USDA restricts PACA violators in seven states

The U.S. Department of Agriculture has imposed sanctions on seven produce businesses for failure to pay reparation awards issued under the Perishable Agricultural Commodities Act. The USDA announced the PACA sanctions Nov. 24.

The following businesses and individuals are currently restricted from operating in the produce industry:

  • Hong Phat Produce Inc., operating out of Portland, OR, for failing to pay a $62,233 award in favor of a California seller.  As of the issuance date of the reparation order, Que Mai Dinh was listed as the officer, director and major stockholder of the business.

  • Melonhead LLC, operating out of Boulder, CO, for failing to pay a $44,366 award in favor of a Colorado seller.  As of the issuance date of the reparation order, Michael S. Joseph was listed as a member of the business.

  • Hector Avila, doing business as Cal Fruit Co., operating out of Chula Vista, CA, for failing to pay a $43,717 award in favor of a Washington seller.  As of the issuance date of the reparation order, was listed as the sole proprietor of the business.

  • Mega Fresh LLC, operating out of Branford, CT, for failing to pay a $28,438 award in favor of a Florida seller. As of the issuance date of the reparation order, Gary L. Connolly was listed as a member of the business.

  • American Hydroponics Inc., operating out of Hopkinton, MA, for failing to pay a $10,162 award in favor of a Florida seller.  As of the issuance date of the reparation order, Jeffrey H. Barton and Phillip J. Todaro were listed as the officers, directors, and/or major stockholders of the business.

  • Alfred Huebinger, doing business as Cowboy Sales, operating out of Edinburg, TX, for failing to pay a $5,534 award in favor of an Idaho seller.  As of the issuance date of the reparation order, Huebinger was listed as the sole proprietor of the business.

  • August Battaglia, doing business as QMP Sales, operating out of Westmont, IL, for failing to pay a $3,080 award in favor of a Florida seller.  As of the issuance date of the reparation order, Battaglia was listed as the sole proprietor of the business.

In the past three years, the USDA resolved approximately 3,700 PACA claims involving more than $66 million. Its experts also assisted more than 7,100 callers with issues valued at approximately $100 million.

First lady joined by celebrities, new partners in support of #TeamFNV

FNV, a cutting-edge brand focused on increasing consumption and sales of fruits and vegetables among teens and moms, on Nov. 20 brought together celebrities, companies, athletes and social media superstars at the Ted Constant Convocation Center on the Old Dominion University Campus in Norfolk, VA, for FNV Live, a one-of-a-kind celebration of fruits and veggies.

The event featured live musical performances by Estelle, Jordin Sparks and Ashanti; stunts and challenges led by some of the nation’s top social media creators, including Paul Rabil and the Cowie Sisters; local celebrities, including radio personalities Shaggy and Dominique, and up-and-coming musician Jackson Breit; and remarks from Jessica Alba, Gabrielle Union and first lady Michelle Obama, who officially joined Team FNV, all in an effort to get local teens excited about fruits and vegetables.

“I love it that FNV is about making fruits and vegetables fun,” said singer and actress Jordin Sparks. “Anything I can do to make people aware of their daily food choices in a fun way, I’m all for. Especially now that I have a niece, it’s opened my eyes open even more to the importance of eating fruits and veggies.”

Two new FNV partners also were announced Nov. 20: Anthem Blue Cross & Blue Shield and Spartan Race, a leading obstacle race company. They join Team FNV’s founding members, which include Avocados From Mexico, Bolthouse Farms, the Honest Company, Produce Marketing Association, Produce for Better Health, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, sweetgreen, Victors & Spoils and WWE.

Event sponsors included Anthem Blue Cross & Blue Shield, Avocados From Mexico, Sunsweet Growers, Aquafina and Garmin.

“FNV is all about getting people excited about fruits and vegetables in a whole new way,” Lawrence A. Soler, PHA chief executive officer, said in a press release. “Thanks to the members of Team FNV, demand for fruits and vegetables is on the rise and this is only the beginning.”

Led by the Partnership for a Healthier America and a collaboration of companies, celebrities, athletes and foundations, FNV uses disruptive marketing, bold creative and a no-holds barred attitude to give fruits and veggies the attention they rightfully deserve. Since launching in Norfolk this past June, FNV has inundated a select number of local markets, spreading the word through television commercials, radio ads, billboards, bus-wraps, in-store advertising, community activations and more.

Stemilt takes the Windy City by storm at BlogHer Food 2015

Family-owned-and-operated Stemilt Growers hosted a special breakfast event Nov. 6 at the BlogHer Food annual food blogging conference. Stemilt’s breakfast event was attended by 25 top food bloggers who often feature fresh fruit on their blogs through recipe creation.2015-9-25-Miky-Marina-and-Pope

During the private breakfast event, Merchandising Manager Jocelyn Gerard educated bloggers on Stemilt’s history, the company’s ongoing mission to grow world famous fruit and its four proprietary products: Fresh Blenders, Lil Snappers, Skylar Rae Cherries and Piñata Apples.

Gerard conducted a comprehensive apple taste test, which showcased varieties such as Gala, Honeycrisp, Piñata, Pink Lady and SweeTango. Following the taste test, she prepared Stemilt’s signature Simple ABC Smoothie, featuring Tart Fresh Blenders for guests to enjoy.

“This was our first time at BlogHer Food, and we were very impressed by the caliber of media who traveled from all over the country to come to the event, all for the love of great food,” Roger Pepperl, Stemilt’s director of marketing, said in a press release. “We love that we were able to show the attendees a bit of our Pacific Northwest apple traditions. Our Piñata apples were the biggest hit with the bloggers, who admired the profile of the apple for its culinary distinctiveness. We are looking forward to growing relationships with some of the top bloggers in the food industry who attended our event.”

Among the national food bloggers at Stemilt’s BlogHer Food event were Lauren Allen of Tastes Better from Scratch, Jen Rattie of My Crafty Life, Echo Blickenstff of Favorite Family Recipes and many more. Following the event, a number of the bloggers expressed interest in working with Stemilt’s apples and pears for their upcoming holiday recipes, showcasing Stemilt as a go-to resource for culinary and quality fruit this season.

BlogHer Food also gave Stemilt the opportunity to tout Lil Snappers, Stemilt’s kid-sized fruit, and Fresh Blenders, Stemilt’s packaged apples, which are great for juicing and blending. Bloggers were enthusiastic to learn more about Lil Snappers and Fresh Blenders and were excited to hear about its convenience factors. Many of the parenting and mom bloggers were quick to inquire about the products, proving a demand for Stemilt’s proprietary products that will only increase across the country as Fresh Blenders and Lil Snappers grow in popularity.

NatureSweet unveils limited-edition winter packaging

NatureSweet, a leading grower of branded premium tomatoes, has revealed its limited-edition seasonal packaging featuring a cheerful snowflake pattern and festive gold foil labels for Cherubs, Glorys and SunBursts products.green

The San Antonio, TX-based company’s greenhouse-growing practices enable tomatoes to be cultivated and hand picked year-round, ensuring premium freshness and consistently superior taste even in the winter months.

All NatureSweet tomatoes start with using the best seeds. From there, they are brought to the perfect climate in the company’s greenhouses. Associates coax vines from seed, graft them onto strong rootstock and cultivate vine-ripened tomatoes until they are ready to be hand picked.

Prior to being placed in NatureSweet’s iconic packaging, all tomatoes are Brix-tested for sweetness and are shipped in temperature-controlled trucks. This constant attention to detail at every stage of the growing process helps NatureSweet control quality so consumers can enjoy delicious tomatoes in December just as easily as they can in July.

“The secret to our growing success is simple,” Mike Joergensen, vice president of marketing, said in a press release. “We take great care of our tomatoes from seed to shelf. This is how we’re able to consistently offer the best-tasting tomatoes in the world, every day all year round. We hope that our consumers revel in the spirit of the season with our tomatoes gracing their tables, whether it’s set for a special family gathering or a simple meal on a cold winter night.”

The winter packaging promotion runs through Dec. 18. Colorful three-case shipper displays and mini pallet wraps sporting a festive, seasonal look will be sent to retailers ordering these tomatoes. POS cards and recipe tear pads will also be included to catch the eye and encourage shoppers to add NatureSweet tomatoes to their seasonal menus.