Peruvian asparagus already ahead of projected volumes

As Peruvian asparagus growers move into their peak season, members of the Peruvian Asparagus Importer's Association are set to deliver top-quality product to their customers. “We are already ahead of the projected volumes for 2015,” said Coordinator Priscilla Lleras-Bush. “We expect to continue to be steady throughout the peak season with abundant supply to retailers and foodservice.”CropOV

Peru enjoys a marketplace advantage of being able to produce asparagus throughout the year owing to its favorable climate. Production areas are situated both in the north and south of Peru, allowing for a marketplace timing that infuses the American pipeline with asparagus after domestic production has finished.

“Peruvian asparagus complements the U.S. growing regions and allows retailers to shelve asparagus year-round,” Lleras-Bush said. “Quality Peruvian fresh asparagus is our standard. Exporters and importers strive to exceed their customers’ expectations with the quality asparagus from Peru. We hold to a very precise cold chain management program along the logistics chain that ensures the freshest quality of asparagus.”

Consumption of fresh asparagus continues to grow in the United States. Lleras-Bush was asked what factors are fueling this interest. “We believe that, with the amount of television marketing for cooking at home, these types of shows inspire home chefs to create their dishes at home and even motivate home chefs to create their own recipes to match their families' flavor palettes,” she replied. “For example, many consumers are looking for healthy and easy-to-prepare vegetables for their families, and there are numerous recipes for Peruvian asparagus that are easy to prepare and provide families with creative, delicious and beneficially nutritious meals.”

She said the fact that consumers have increasing opportunities to use technology to obtain detailed information quickly has been a benefit to the industry. “The natural movement/trend for asparagus will be to increase in consumption due to the healthy, nutritious and flavorsome characteristics of Peruvian asparagus,” she observed.

Statistics from Agrodata show that Peru exported a total of 99.9 million kilograms of fresh asparagus in 2014, which represented an increase of 6.84 percent over export volume in 2013. The United States was the chief destination for fresh Peruvian asparagus at 60 percent of total volume. The value of the 2014 asparagus exported to the United States was $176 million.

Mushroom Council continues its promotional stronghold with variety of marketing

As always, the Mushroom Council, headquartered in San Jose, CA, plans strong promotional initiatives in conjunction with National Mushroom Month in September.

The mushroom industry has rallied around the council for its ongoing and highly successful promotions that have resulted in increased consumption across North America.criminiCrimini mushrooms. (Photo courtesy of the Mushroom Council)

Kathleen Preis, marketing coordinator for the council, said the publicity this year will be strongly connected to The Blend promotion through traditional public relations outreach and Mushroom Month-themed social media posts.

“The council plans to partner with a well-known YouTube personality to create a series of videos highlighting The Blend,” said Preis. “And we will promote the five winners from the summer’s Better Burger Project campaign with the James Beard Foundation. The five chefs with the most Instagram tags will be invited to prepare their burgers at the annual James Beard Foundation conference in New York City at the historic James Beard House in October.”

The winners will also be announced via traditional and social media.

The partnership with the James Beard Foundation in the Better Burger Project has been a huge success. Nationwide, 222 restaurants have participated in the campaign by menuing creative takes on mushroom blended burgers. The council has garnered more than 32 million media impressions with articles published about the project in various consumer media outlets.

The Mushroom Council recently exhibited at the School Nutrition Association’s Annual National Conference in Salt Lake City, UT. At the show the council sampled blended products as well as individually quick-frozen diced mushrooms, which, due to popularity of The Blend, are now available to districts for direct delivery as well as for diversion to processing into blended products.

“There are now over a dozen blended products available for school districts to purchase, including mushroom blended burgers, tacos and meatballs,” said Preis. “Dozens of districts menu The Blend to their students.”

The Mushroom Council launched a Mushroom Harvest of the Month Kit for schools to incorporate mushrooms into their farm-to-school programs. The kit includes everything needed to promote mushrooms as a produce item for students. San Diego, Philadelphia and Dallas are all incorporating mushrooms into their Harvest of the Month program.

Preis pointed out that total mushroom shipments have increased by approximately 2 percent for the 52-week period ending April 2015.

The council will continue its streamlined marketing strategy to promote The Blend and the Better Burger Project.

“The Blend is still in the early phases of adoption in the market,” noted Preis. “The council will continue to promote and partner with strategic organizations to grow awareness and acceptance of The Blend, and we will continue to expand it into retail with pilots at select chains across the country.

“To expand the foodservice segment, the council will continue to work with strategic partners, chains, foodservice management companies, schools and universities to assist in menu development to add The Blend to menus,” she added.

The council will also once again promote its Pink campaign and breast cancer awareness promotion in October as mushroom shippers change to pink mushroom tills to signify the annual $50,000 donation to City of Hope research from the mushroom industry.

Preis offered updated statistics on mushroom sales. She said that white button mushrooms continue to hold the largest share with 62 percent of mushroom sales.

“Brown mushrooms, including Portabella and Crimini, represent 33 percent of total mushroom sales,” she added. “Specialty mushrooms hold approximately four percent of sales, but are the fastest growing category with 7 percent growth in total dollar sales for the 52 week period ending June 14.”

Whole Foods names executive vice president

Whole Foods Market announced that Jason Buechel has been promoted from global vice president and chief information officer to executive vice president and chief information officer, becoming the newest member of the executive team effective immediately. whoefl

Buechel retains responsibility for all aspects of information technology at Whole Foods Market.

“Technology is essential to our customer experience, our team member experience, our ability to compete, and our ability to effectively deliver return on invested capital,” Glenda Flanagan, executive vice president and chief financial officer of Whole Foods Market, said in a press release. “Jason has made significant contributions to improve our front- and back-end technology, and we believe it is essential for this vital element of our business to be represented at the executive decision-making level.”

Since joining Whole Foods Market in 2012, Buechel has continuously improved the company’s information technology infrastructure, launching several new major platforms and initiatives such as Workday, One POS, the Company’s pilot Affinity shopper rewards program, and delivery partnership with Instacart.

Prior to joining Whole Foods Market, Buechel spent 12 years at Accenture, where he was most recently managing director and partner in that company’s retail operations practice, leading the retail channels practice for North America.

Peruvian avocado demand increasing

By all accounts, the Peruvian avocado industry has had a very good season exporting avocados to the United States and elsewhere, and the group’s top U.S. representatives believe it is a harbinger of things to come.

“The question for the future is how are we going to keep with demand,” said Xavier Equihua, president and chief executive officer of the Peruvian Avocado Commission.pac-packaging

He said the marketing of avocados has truly become a global endeavor with consumption increasing faster than production on many different fronts. U.S. consumption is expected to top 2 billion pounds in 2015 with Europe consuming about half that much. Equihua expects consumption in both of these major markets to double in the foreseeable future. And he said Asia, particularly China, is a total unknown that could move demand off the charts.

In the summer of 2014, Peruvian exporters sent many more avocados to the U.S. market than they had the year before. The result was an unsettled market that did produce some lower prices. This summer a totally different picture has been painted.

In mid-July, Equihua said high demand from the European market was the chief reason that exports to the United States were less than expected. With about a month left for Peruvian imports, he estimated the total volume sent to the United States this year will be roughly 120 million pounds. At the beginning of the season, estimates were that closer to 200 million pounds would be sent to the U.S. market.

The Peruvian Avocado Commission executive said Peru is the No. 1 supplier to the European market so as that demand increased this year, Peruvian exporters filled the gap. He noted that the 1 billion pounds of consumption in Europe is happening with virtually no promotion. “Peru has proposed the establishment of an inter-European promotion program," he said. "It is currently under discussion, but with promotion, I believe Europe would be a two billion pound market very quickly.”

Equihua said a 40 million euro promotion program could definitely move the consumption needle very quickly. He reiterated that even though Peru’s production is expanding quickly as young trees mature, the biggest challenge is keeping up with demand.  “Avocados are the next tomato,” he said, referring to how widespread their consumption will be in his estimation.

He said 2015 has been a very good year for Peru because the crop was excellent in terms of quality, and his group led the way with regard to promotion in their core markets. He noted that the promotions were very well received by retailers. “Our core market is the East Coast and the South but we are also seeing Peruvian avocados in western markets. California does not have enough fruit to even fill California’s demand.”

He said domestic production will have an effect on some consumers, especially with the pushing of the locally grown angle, but again he said demand is increasing beyond the current ability to keep up. He clearly believes all avocado producers are going to continue to do quite well in the near future.

This summer he said Peru conducted a couple “waves of demos at Walmart” that resulted in huge sales.  Over the Fourth of July, demos were conducted in 1,600 stores, and in mid-July another demo was set to include 1,000 stores. “We used radio advertising in 23 markets and we are holding an event at a New York baseball stadium this week (July 23) to promote the ‘avo-dog,’” he said July 21. “Right now we are driving the market.”

On that date, Equihua said Peruvian avocados will be shipped for about another month with some of the fruit marketed into September. But he said the volume on a weekly basis will drop significantly by mid-August.

Cilantro may be culprit in cyclospora outbreak totaling 358 illnesses

WASHINGTON — The Centers for Disease Control & Prevention is reporting that, as of July 30, there are 358 people confirmed with cyclosporiasis across 26 states in an outbreak that may be tied to fresh cilantro.

Most of the illnesses began around May 1, and health officials have been investigating clusters of illnesses in Texas, Wisconsin and Georgia.

“Cluster investigations in Wisconsin and Texas have preliminarily identified cilantro as a suspect vehicle,” CDC said.

FDA, along with Texas and Wisconsin officials, found that cilantro from the state of Puebla, Mexico, was supplied to restaurants where some of the victims ate, and tainted cilantro from the region has been suspected in previous outbreaks.

“The investigations are ongoing, and a conclusive vehicle for the contamination has not been identified,” FDA cautioned.

However, FDA and Mexican officials are “enhancing the safety of fresh cilantro with produce-safety controls on both sides of the border,” FDA said.  Mexican officials are instituting export controls for cilantro from Puebla, and FDA issued on July 27 an import alert that detains shipments from April through August each year, unless they’re on a Green List of approved companies.

“Shipments of fresh cilantro from other states in Mexico will be allowed to enter and to be released into the United States if sufficient documentation is submitted with at entry demonstrating that the cilantro was harvested and packed outside of Puebla,” FDA said.

Signaling growing concern about the latest development, the United Fresh Produce Association, Produce Marketing Association, Fresh Produce Association of the Americas and the Texas International Produce Association scheduled a briefing July 31 with FDA officials on the effect of the import alert.