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Lime market remains hot, but relief on horizon

If they were available, large limes (175 size and greater) could return a shipper $110 or more for a 40-pound box.

"That's what you could get if you had any," said Ronald Cohen, vice president of sales at Vision Import Group LLC. in River Edge, NJ. "The trouble is, there aren't any."

The lime market has been red hot for more than a month because of bad weather in Mexico's lime-producing regions in December. Very cold temperatures and wet weather reduced the bloom and even damaged some trees.

That lack of December bloom created the short supplies in March. Chasing the hot market, growers have been stripping trees, which has prolonged the shortage, according to Cohen.

That explanation makes sense because if limes are allowed to stay on the tree and size, it takes fewer to fill a carton. But instead there are fewer and fewer limes available to get the added size because of the stripping.

Cohen said the result has been quite a price differential between large and small limes, though all the sizes are trading at well-above normal pricing.

On April 16, he said 175s and larger were $110; 200s were $100; 230s were returning mostly $80 per carton; and 250s were $60-65. Cohen told buyers to beware of bargain limes, as there is some improper sizing going on to capture the hot market. He said if a carton of 200s is priced too low, it's probably filled with 230s.

Rosbel Ruiz, operations manager for Limex Sicar Ltd. in Mission, TX, concurred that the lime market is the strongest he has ever seen and it will remain strong for several more months. He said the hot market has led to increased supplies from non-traditional sources.

"We are sourcing some limes from Guatemala bringing them into Mexico and then into the United States," he said. "And there are some limes in Texas from Florida, which came from Colombia."

Ruiz said the firm's Mexican sources are telling them that there is more tree damage than initially indicated, so that it might take several months for the supply-demand curve to get in sync.

Cohen is a bit more optimistic that the hot market will subside a bit in the near term, though he still sees a pretty strong market through May.

He reasoned that several factors are influencing both the demand and supply sides of the equation, which will bring them closer together. The high prices are causing some to use lemons instead of limes or to just forego the lime slice altogether.

And he said suppliers from Honduras, Colombia and Guatemala are trying to capitalize on the hot market. Increased shipments from those non-traditional supplies should also put a downward pressure on the price.

In addition, speaking just prior to the Easter break, he said that holiday will close the packingsheds in Mexico for about five days until April 22. That should allow some limes to size a bit on the tree and change the size profile for the following week.

"I think the market will start coming down in $5 increments and by June it should be in the $30s," he said.

Reichel Foods expands the Dippin’ Stix line

Reichel Foods, a fresh‐cut produce snack producer, is introducing four new single-serve products to its line of Dippin’ Stix: Apples & Caramel with Greek Yogurt chips; Apples & Caramel with Peanuts & Chocolate; Sweet Gala Apples & Caramel with Peanuts; and Celery Stix & Ranch Dip. The new Dippin' Stix will be available to retailers and distributors nationwide in late April. diaps

“Innovation is very important to consumers,” Craig Reichel, president and chief executive officer, said in a press release. "For instance, we’ve seen Greek yogurt drive sales in other categories. We’re proud to be the first to bring this component to the single-serve produce snacking category.”

Reichel Foods, Inc. was founded in 1997 after recognizing the need for an easy, quick snack alternative in today’s grab-and-go world. For 17 years, Reichel Foods has been the category leader in providing top-quality, fresh‐cut healthy snacks for sales nationwide.

The Dippin’ Stix line already features these other flavors: Apples & Caramel, Apples & Caramel with Peanuts, Apples & Yogurt Fruit Dip, Apples & Peanut Butter, Apples & Peanut Butter with Chocolate; Gala Apples & Caramel, Carrots & Ranch Dip, Carrots & Hummus, and Pickles & Bacon Ranch Dip.

Many of the products are gluten free and fewer than 100 calories. All of the products have sustainable packaging. More information is available at www.reichelfoods.com.

April watermelon movement higher than last season

On April 8, the Agricultural Marketing Service of the U.S. Department of Agriculture reported on daily shipments and crossings in the United States for watermelons for the first week of April. The report broke down movement for seeded and seedless watermelon and also provided some data on imports. Units are comprised of a total of 40,000 pounds each.

This season, a total of 7,154 units were imported into the United States through ports in Arizona, Texas, Mississippi, California, Delaware and Florida.CrosdfpOVThis season, a total of 7,154 units of watermelon were imported into the United States through ports in Arizona, Texas, Mississippi, California, Delaware and Florida. Countries exporting watermelons to the United States were Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua and Panama. This figure compares to 7,555 units imported at the same time last season. Of this total, 30 units were during the first week of April. This volume represents an increase over the 16 units moved during the same time frame in 2013.

AMS reported 74 units of seeded watermelons entered the United States at Nogales, AZ, during the first week of April. Guatemala exported 94 containers of seedless watermelons during the first week of April. Volume of seedless watermelons from Honduras was 94 units, and Mexico exported 9,699 units for that same week.

Florida districts had moved 49 units of seeded watermelons by truck as of April 7, surpassing the 15 units moved from Florida at the same time during 2013. Florida also moved another 107 units of seedless watermelons, an increase over the 55 units moved at the same time in 2013.

Weather has been a factor during the 2014 domestic growing season. Matt Solana, vice president of operations/supply chain with Jackson Farming Co., said rainy conditions made it difficult for growers to get into the field and get soil prepared in North Florida and Georgia.

Jackson Farming expected production to begin in Sarasota, FL, at the beginning of May. Production in McAlpin, FL was anticipated to begin in June. Soldana said retailers could expect good volume for the July 4 holiday coming from Florida and Georgia.  Watermelons are also produced in Autryville, NC, with production beginning around July 4 and running through September.

If dry, sunny days are coupled with some occasional rain showers, Soldana expects a good season in 2014.

The Agricultural Marketing Resource Center provided some historic data about the dynamics of watermelon production during 2012. “U.S. watermelon production in 2012 totaled more than 39 million hundredweight, up from 2011,” the center stated. “The value of fresh market watermelons that year was nearly $520.8 billion, also up from the previous year.”

According to AgMRC, Florida and Georgia led in domestic production followed by California and Texas.

Most watermelon is consumed fresh, and AgMRC noted that per capita consumption was 15.5 pounds in 2010. “About 85 percent of watermelons are purchased at the retail level for home consumption,” the center stated in its report. “Other processed products include roasted seeds, pickled rind and watermelon juice.”

On June 28, 2012, USDA’s Economic Research Service issued its Fruit and Tree Nuts Outlook, further discussing production and consumption trends. According to ERS, the United States ranked fifth among the world’s top watermelon producers. “Over the past 10 years, watermelon was consistently the third-most-produced [commodity] by weight for the fresh market in the United States, behind onions and head lettuce,” the report stated. “Between 1990 and 2010, while the number of acres harvested contracted 3.5 percent, production rose 29 percent to a record high of 4.1 billion pounds.”

Data concerning seeded vs. seedless varieties is revealing. “In the past decade, the share of seedless watermelon of total U.S. watermelon shipments jumped from 51 percent in 2003 to 83 percent in 2011,” the report stated. “Rising demand for watermelon has been mostly due to the production of varieties that are seedless or are smaller in size combined with increased marketing of pre-cut half or quarter-melons, offering value-added convenience to consumers.”

And consumers are becoming increasingly familiar with the nutritional qualities associated with watermelon consumption. “As watermelon is 92 percent water, many people eat it to help quench their thirst,” ERS wrote. “Watermelon juice is even now available at some retailers. Lycopene, found in other produce such as tomatoes, is present in watermelon at higher concentrations than any other fruit or vegetable and is believed to reduce the risk for heart disease and some cancers.”

Save-A-Lot to open new distribution center in Colorado

Save-A-Lot, one of the nation’s leading hard-discount, limited assortment grocery chains and a wholly owned subsidiary of SuperValu, announced plans that will allow it to more efficiently bring fresh quality food options to local neighborhoods with the development of a new 140,000-square-foot food distribution center in Aurora, CO, in June 2014.

Save-A-Lot currently services its stores in this market out of the company’s distribution center located in Dallas. The addition of the new facility in Aurora will dramatically reduce transportation expenses, shorten delivery times and better position Save-A-Lot for future growth.

“This project represents a significant investment in Denver and the surrounding markets,” Ritchie Casteel, president and chief executive officer of Save-A-Lot, said in a press release. “We are excited about the opportunity to more efficiently serve our current stores as well as opening up the area for growth possibilities in the future.”

Save-A-Lot currently operates more than 1,300 stores across 39 states. Currently, there are 15 Save-A-Lot stores in the Denver market. The new distribution center will help support the company’s growth plans in Denver and the surrounding states.

With help from Genpro, Bartolotta sees success in third annual charity fundraiser

Kevin Bartolotta, president of Bartolotta Inc., headquartered in Torrington, CT, held his third annual fundraiser, which ran from Feb. 10 to March 1.

The annual project has grown consistently each year since its inception. This year, Bartolotta partnered in the project with Rob Goldstein, owner and president of Genpro Inc. headquartered in Rutherford, NJ. Goldstein's human resource director also became involved in organizing the fundraiser.

"We raised $36,150, about $4,000 more than what we raised in 2013," Bartolotta told The Produce News. "That number is short of the $40,000 we were hoping to raise, but we feel good about the fact that the donations increased over last year."

Bartolotta and Goldstein plan to partner again in future annual fundraisers and they hope that they will be joined by other companies. Bartolotta remains faithful to his favorite charity group, Friendly Hands Food Bank, also in Torrington. The organization works year round to help people, and is especially helpful during the holidays.

But Bartolotta also chooses other groups in need to split the money raised, and he feels it's important that he consult with other produce companies across the country for suggestions on nonprofit organizations that the fundraiser can help.

This year two additional beneficiaries were chosen. One is Dorothy's Place in Salinas, CA, a day center that provides meals, a health clinic, after-school child care, emergency walk-in shelter for homeless women and much more in community aid.

The third beneficiary is the Wounded Warrior Project, an organization with centers across the country that work to honor and empower wounded military people and in raising awareness for the needs of injured service members.

"Each of the three groups will receive $12,000 this year," said Bartolotta. "While we had many new donors this year, some companies that donated heavily in the past two years had to pull back a little this year. We appreciate every dime that we receive."

Bartolotta also digs deeply into his own pockets. He donated 7.5 cents per package that his company sold during the fundraiser, in addition to $50 per truckload.

"We raised $10,000 and the remainder came from donors," he explained. "And the donations came from all over the place -- not only produce people -- which tells us that word is spreading each year. Even Rob Goldstein's three kids dug into their personal bank accounts to make a donation."

Employees of Genpro also reached out to help. The company is a leading truck brokerage operation that provides produce-specific end-to-end, technology-driven service with continuous systematic shipment visibility.

Stacy Petriello, Genpro's human resource manager, put the fundraising information on the company's website, which brought awareness to many more people.

"In my past job, I focused a lot on fundraisers and I know that people are more prone to offer up a credit card number when they're donating," said Petriello. "In the past, Kevin was having checks sent in to him. We believe that in the future the fundraiser can be organized so as to make it more streamlined and efficient."

Bartolotta concurs, noting that he was still waiting for some checks to arrive in early April.

"I learned a lot this year, and Rob and Stacy really helped with their suggestions for the future," he said. "We are now planning to establish a 5.03 non-profit organization to help us be better organized."

Petriello also developed a letter for Bartolotta to send out announcing the fundraiser, "and as best as I could I collected money to pass on to Kevin," she added.

The annual fundraiser also includes an incentive award program for donors. Based on the amount of money a company donates it is put into a category for a prize drawing.

This year the grand prize, a seven-day vacation for two to Villa del Palmar Beach Resort & Spa in Cabo San Lucus, Mexico, which was donated by Van Solkema Produce in Byron Center, MI, was won by Richard Cochran, president of Robt. T. Cochran & Co., a full-line produce distributor located in the Bronx, NY.

Lance Dichter, general manager of LD Logistics LLC, a truck brokerage company also in the Bronx, won the second prize, which is a trip to Las Vegas.

"Several gift cards were also awarded," said Bartolotta. "Bobby Peraza, a sales representative for J&J Family of Farms at the company's Nogales, Arizona office won a $250 gift card. He plans to use the money to hold a party with fellow employees."

Other gift cards were also presented, including one for $500, but the winners chose to remain anonymous. One of Bartolotta's New England customers, who also wishes to remain nameless, won four tickets to a Boston Red Sox' game.

"Special thanks for the success of the fundraiser are also extended to my own staff -- Becky Helterbran, my administrative assistant, and Lisa Zampaglione, my officer manager," Bartolotta said. "They, like so many others, were a tremendous help.

"We look forward to next year's fundraiser, and we'll be implementing all of the lessons we learned from the three we've held so far in an effort to streamline it, market it more heavily and make it an even greater success," he added. "And we hope to partner with at least one more produce company next year. It's a very rewarding thing to be able to help people in need, and anyone who would like to join our effort is welcome to contact me."