Former Chiquita CEO named Castellini Group's COO

The Castellini Group of Cos., one of the larger fresh produce distributors in the United States, announced the appointment of Brian Kocher to a newly created position of chief operating officer.

“As chief operating officer, he will help us continue to focus on growth, operational efficiencies and effectiveness and adding customer value,” Bill Schuler, Castellini Group of Cos. president and CEO, said in a press release. “Brian’s extensive operations and sales experience combined with his financial acumen will help the Castellini Group of Cos. continue its success as we move to new markets and pursue new business opportunities. We are excited to have Brian join our team.”

Kocher most recently was interim CEO of Chiquita Brands International. Prior to that he held a variety of positions at Chiquita, including chief operating officer, chief financial officer, president of North America operations and president of Europe and the Middle East operations. Kocher is the incoming chairman of the United Fresh Produce Association.

Weis breaks ground on distribution center expansion

weisgr The ceremonial groundbreaking at Weis Markets' distribution center expansion in Milton, PA.

Weis Markets held a ceremonial groundbreaking April 27 to mark the beginning of a project to expand its 1.1 million square-foot distribution center in Milton, PA.

The project will expand the facility’s cold storage capacity by 100,000 square feet. The company expects to complete construction in February 2016.

“Our expansion will enhance our distribution center’s long-term productivity and viability," Jonathan Weis, chairman and chief executive officer, said in a press release. "It will also improve our overall competitiveness and help ensure the economic prospects of a facility employing 750 Weis associates — our company’s single largest location. In the years ahead, as we expand our distribution center, we expect to hire additional associates and create new opportunities at our facility.”

Weis also thanked Sen. John Gordner and Rep. Lynda Culver for their help in securing a $1 million state Economic Growth Initiative grant for the project.

Weis also spoke about the expansion’s conservation features. “Our expansion is also a sustainable project," he said. "When completed, our new facility will have the latest in energy efficient equipment and lighting and will use significantly less refrigerant. The addition will allow us to consolidate our delivery schedule. Consequently, we will use 23,000 fewer gallons of diesel fuel in a year’s time and our trucks will travel 144,000 fewer miles.”

Early Northwest production to fuel retail sales

Retailers and consumers can expect to see some of their favorite commodities from the Pacific Northwest hitting the produce department earlier than normal in 2015. The reason can be summed up in two words: wonderful weather.

Alan Schreiber, executive director of the Washington Asparagus Commission, said crop movement began on March 23, a start date that he said is exceptional. “Some people who have been in the industry for decades say this is the earliest they've gone,” he told The Produce News. “Anything before April 5 is early.”CommoditioesOVWarm weather during production is having a positive effect on commodity production in 2015, with producers reporting that crops are generally two to three weeks ahead of typical timetables. (Photo courtesy of Pixabay)

Although clipping started earlier than normal, Schreiber said daily production was temporarily affected by some cool weather. “We started so early because it was so warm,” he stated. “But [when the cool weather hit] we didn't stop. We went to every other day. Asparagus likes cool weather. Quality is great.”

Volume is light at the current time with production still in its initial stages. But Schreiber said activity will hit its stride soon. “Supplies will decline by June 15,” he stated.

Ninety percent of Washington's asparagus volume is sold to the fresh market.

Cherries, a summertime darling, are primed for quick distribution beginning in June. “This year we may already have a million boxes down the road by June 1,” said James Michael, vice president of marketing-North America for the Washington State Fruit Commission/Northwest Cherry Growers. “With the speed of our crop, retailers will have little time to respond in stores.”

He summarized the current status in more detail this way: “On average, we're running about two weeks ahead. We've had great weather for bloom, with temperatures averaging in the 60s. This great bee weather is important for pollination. Assuming that the weather pattern continues, we firmly expect to begin harvest in late May. Last year, the Northwest shipped 10 million boxes in June — almost half of our total crop. With an even earlier start to harvest, we could surpass that number.”

Jon DeVaney, president of the Washington State Tree Fruit Association, provided some additional insights. With cool nights, he said, producers “have been out with frost protection measures. I have not had reports of damage during bloom, however.”

The Pacific Northwest is known for production of quality tree fruit, including peaches, nectarines and apricots. “Most of the fruit crops are starting out a couple of weeks early,” he said. “But those like apples and pears that have longer growing seasons have enough time ahead that they can either stay early or slow down if we don't get continued warm temperatures. For example, a few weeks of cool weather in early summer could put things back on a more typical timeline.”

Kevin Moffitt, president and chief executive officer of the Pear Bureau Northwest, said it is too early to predict the state of pear production at this time. “I can tell you that bloom was/is two to three weeks early depending upon the location,” he said in mid-April.

BC Greenhouse Growers sponsors second annual BC Veggie Day

A retail display contest and media campaign are lead-ins for British Columbia's second annual BC Veggie Day, a May 23 celebration of greenhouse-grown product that traditionally begins to arrive in Canada's westernmost province stores around that time.

According to Linda Delli Santi, BC Greenhouse Growers' Association executive director, point-of-sale materials have been distributed to retailers across BC to engage consumers in the buy-local campaign. The retail display contest runs May 16-22, and the media campaign, which includes radio and television and is receiving support from the British Columbia government's Buy Local Program, runs May 18-23.bcgreenhouseveggiedayBC Veggie Day in 2014 drew a good crowd to festivities in downtown Vancouver. This year the event is being celebrated at multiple venues throughout the province, thanks to the participation by major retailers. (Photo courtesy of BC Greenhouse Growers' Association)

“Last year our inaugural event was for consumer awareness, and we had a gathering in downtown Vancouver. This year's BC Veggie Day has a retail focus, with incentives for a display contest,” she said.

Major retailers involved in the effort include Loblaws and Save-On-Foods, Delli Santi said.

In addition to the displays and multi-media coverage of the event, select greenhouse facilities in British Columbia will be holding open houses for consumer visits, and some retailers will have greenhouse growers on hand during the May 23 observance to meet with shoppers.

“Also, on May 14, there will be a provincial proclamation, and we will meet with government leaders,” Delli Santi said.

Some 42 greenhouse growers are members of the BC Greenhouse Growers' Association and produce more than 95 percent of the province's greenhouse vegetables. Farm gate sales for BC greenhouses is approximately $200 million, and the sector brings more than $600 million to BC's economy. The number of people employed in the greenhouse industry in British Columbia total more than 3,200.

More than five varieties of tomatoes are grown under glass in British Columbia, along with sweet Bell peppers, hot peppers, mini peppers, long English cucumbers, mini cucumbers and butter lettuce.

While most BC greenhouses are in production for 10 months out of the year, some produce year-round.

“Greenhouse vegetable growing is for B.C.’s future food supply,” the association's website at says. “We can grow 10 to 20 times the amount of vegetables on the same area of field, feeding millions of people healthy, fresh vegetables virtually year-round.”

Kroger acquisition about innovation and growth

The Kroger Co. has acquired certain assets of dunnhumby Ltd, a leading customer science company, to create substantial opportunities for innovation and growth. A new business called 84.51° will operate with those assets as its foundation. Financial terms of the new arrangements were not disclosed. The new businesses was set to commence operations April 27.krolog

"Kroger and dunnhumby revolutionized retailing in the U.S. by focusing on the customer, and we intend to do it again with 84.51°," Rodney McMullen, Kroger's chairman and chief executive officer, said in a press release. "We are launching 84.51° with a powerful foundation, including a decade of experience and a team of incredibly talented associates from both dunnhumbyUSA and Kroger. The ability to combine what we already know with other partners is exciting and will speed up innovation. We expect these innovations to grow our business and deliver a world-class customer experience. We will continue to utilize data science for the benefit of the customer and to deliver a personalized experience, both in store and online. Doing so will continue to differentiate Kroger and create value for our shareholders."

Under the new arrangements, Kroger will retain dunnhumby Ltd's technology and the talent to continue developing Kroger's leading customer insights and loyalty programs for the benefit of its customers.

More than 500 of dunnhumbyUSA's employees will become associates of 84.51°, a wholly owned subsidiary of The Kroger Co.  84.51° will also have the benefit of a perpetual license to use dunnhumby Ltd's analytical tools to find customer insights in Kroger's data. dunnhumby Ltd will provide service and maintenance on those tools for a period of five years, but will no longer have access to Kroger's data. Stuart Aitken, who previously led dunnhumbyUSA, will become CEO of 84.51°.

dunnhumby Ltd will continue to operate in the United States as dunnhumby, expanding its client base and accelerating the growth of its business through the greater flexibility of the new arrangements with Kroger. dunnhumby will now have the ability to use its insight products and data expertise to capture the substantial, previously unavailable potential of the North American market through working with new retailers, consumer brands and media partners.

In addition, 84.51° will have the flexibility to accelerate future innovation by working with new partners and new tools, always toward the goal of engaging customers where, when and how it matters most to them. Where previously Kroger was restricted to working with dunnhumby only, the new non-exclusive arrangement now makes available to 84.51° the use of innovative tools from other companies to analyze its data. 

"We are excited to bring our insights and capabilities to more of the American market and to continue our relationship with Kroger over the next five years," Simon Hay, CEO of dunnhumby Ltd, said in a press release. "The wider U.S. market is a fantastic opportunity for dunnhumby to help more retailers and brands undertake a similar journey using data-informed insights to delight their customers and earn their loyalty."