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Following a year that saw all kinds of El Niño-related weather events — from floods to droughts to tornados — that wreaked havoc on a number of crops, members of the U.S. garlic industry are anxious to move forward with more predictable weather and production.

“Harvest has begun and the crop is looking much better than last year,” said Bill Christopher, owner of Christopher Ranch in Gilroy, CA. “We had 30-40 percent less product than normal last year partially because of drought and a mild winter that prevented the bulbs from developing.”KEN--BILL-CHRISTOPHERKen and Bill Christopher of Christopher Ranch.

To service its customers, Christopher Ranch also sources garlic from its growing partners in Mexico, Argentina and Spain. The company’s California harvest will run through September and store for the coming year.

Christopher added that with tariffs still in place on Chinese garlic, prices are almost as high as domestic garlic.

“There is still a world shortage,” he said. “Last year China was short and Argentina did not plant as much as usual. To fill the hole the demand on Mexico was strong. Now we’re selling the 2016 crop as fast as we can pack it, and we expect the market to stay strong going forward.”

Despite higher prices, Christopher pointed out that the cost of production has risen considerably, meaning that domestic producers aren’t benefiting from the higher prices.

Jim Provost, owner of Kelton, PA-based I Love Produce, said the company produces some garlic domestically and it works with partners worldwide to meet the year-round demand of its customers.I-live-produce-1I Love Produce offers a wide range of garlic and ginger products.

“Our garlic supply from Spain has grown in importance in the past three years and we have broadened the product line,” said Provost. “Spain grows excellent-quality product.”

Provost said that Spain, California and China are all major Northern Hemisphere garlic production areas, and their respective seasons overlap or run close with each other.

“Harvest is now under way in all production areas,” said Provost. “China has some earlier garlic varieties, but with transit time the first new crop will hit the U.S. in mid-July — about the same time that California and Spain will be available.”

He added that stored garlic supplies are at an all-time low, pointing the finger directly at El Niño.

“El Niño wreaked havoc on world garlic production for the 2015-16 crop,” said Provost. “Consequently the market has been very tight in the past year. As the new crop is coming on we’re down to the bottom of the barrel with stored product.”P1040870Spice World’s offerings include squeezable garlic.

Some relief will come from the three major production areas now harvesting, but Provost put that in perspective.

“Although Spain and California have good crops, China’s new crop will be less than normal,” he said. “Given that China produces 70 percent of the world’s garlic, its supply has the single greatest impact on the world market. Its reduced yield combined with the low levels in storage will mean the world garlic market will remain firm for 2016-17. Garlic prices are currently at an historical high, and will continue until new supplies begin hitting the market in earnest.”

Louis Hymel, director of purchasing and marketing for Spice World, headquartered in Orlando, FL, concurred that this year’s California crop looks very nice this year. The company produces in California and Mexico.

“Mother Nature has been kind to garlic producers the past few months, especially compared to last year when global inventories reached some of the lowest quantities in years,” said Hymel. “Many areas of the world are coming out of short supplies and are expediting shipments immediately after harvest. Now that Mexico and Spain are in full production, and with California starting up, the past limited availability is easing.”

He added that markets reached record levels during the shortage. And although it is still uncertain, prices could remain firm in the future.

“Recognizing that it’s impossible for all growing areas to be 100 percent problem-free, with minimal exceptions the current new crops around the world have had only minimal issues this year,” said Hymel.

If there were any positives resulting from El Niño, one would be how worldwide shortages opened a door for garlic producers in Spain.

Paul Auerbach, president of Maurice A. Auerbach Inc. in Secaucus, NJ, said that although Spain has had a presence in the United States off and on for many years, last year it made a sizable contribution to the U.S. demand.

“Prior to the past year there simply wasn’t a need for garlic from Spain, but shortages from other growing regions in the world gave them a strong foothold,” said Auerbach. “Once formed, healthy relationships tend to last, so I expect Spain to maintain a presence on some level in the future.”

In addition to Spain, the company is currently sourcing its garlic from Mexico and China, and Auerbach was looking forward to shipments from California as harvest was starting there.

“Indications we’ve received are that this year’s California crop is looking good,” he said. “This is good for the overall industry as it comes on the heels of last year’s weather issues.

“Markets were strong for almost a year because of shortages,” Auerbach continued. “Reports from China indicate it will be about 30 percent short this year, and without the larger size bulbs the U.S. prefers. This leads me to believe that markets will remain strong for some time.”

Auerbach added that he’s looking forward to a good season with high-quality product from its California partners.

“California having a healthy crop in quality and volume is very important to our domestic market, and important to our company,” he said. “We feel strongly about our relationships on both ends; procurement and our customer base. Our wish is for California to have a good crop for its welfare as an industry, and we look forward to supplying California garlic to our retail and foodservice customers.”

With another four Detroit area stores unveiling Meijer Curbside in the past few weeks, Meijer is continuing a big push this summer to increase locations that allow customers to shop online and enjoy the convenience of picking up their groceries curbside without leaving their vehicles.meijer

The Grand Rapids, MI-based retailer just added four supercenters as Meijer Curbside locations and plans on completing its southeastern Michigan plan in October, bringing the total number of stores offering the popular shopping option in the Detroit and Ann Arbor areas to 14. By year end, Meijer Curbside will be offered at 33 stores in Michigan, Indiana, Ohio and Illinois.      

“The way customers shop for food continues to change and our efforts to expand the number of stores where Meijer Curbside is offered is one more way we are bringing more convenience to our customers,” Michael Ross, vice president of digital shopping and customer marketing, said in a press release. “Providing an all-encompassing service that offers grocery, health and beauty and general merchandise items, and allows customers to pick up orders in as little as a few hours is a game changer for many of our shoppers.”

Since launching the program last year, Ross said that popular demand in Detroit has seen the number of orders more than double in the weeks following most store launches, and expects that number will eventually grow to 100 per day at some stores. He said more than 80 percent of weekly orders come from repeat customers, which demonstrates how quickly the shopping option of picking up their groceries curbside is gaining popularity especially among busy parents and young millennials.

The Meijer Curbside program enlists 15 specially trained team members at each store to hand select every item in a customer’s order, choose best available produce and meats, and shop according to special instructions and personal preferences. Orders are shopped prior to pick-up and dedicated refrigerators and freezers are used to keep grocery items fresh.

WASHINGTON — Senate leaders said June 23 that they reached a compromise on labeling legislation just days before the controversial Vermont law requiring the labeling of foods with genetically modified organisms takes effect.

Starting July 1, Vermont’s 2014 law requires on-package labels for GMO-containing products, and the food industry has been pushing Congress ever since to pass a bill to nullify that law while several trade associations fight the measure in court. The House passed a GMO labeling bill last year, but the Senate has yet to act.

Senate Agriculture Committee Chairman Pat Roberts (R-KS) and Ranking Member Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) released a bill that would set up a national standard for mandatory disclosure of GMOs and allow food companies the option to use a smartphone code, on-pack labeling or a symbol to inform consumers. Small firms could use websites or telephone numbers to satisfy the law.

“I will not ignore the overwhelming science that has determined biotechnology to be safe, but with the implementation of Vermont’s disruptive law on the horizon, it is our duty to act,” Roberts said.

He noted the new bill would require the U.S. Department of Agriculture to write a rule with a uniform national standard for human food that is or may be bioengineered.

Stabenow said the compromise bill also ensure organic producers can clearly display a “non-GMO” label in addition to the organic seal, providing additional information to consumers.

Food retailers praised the Senate compromise.

“FMI commends the bipartisan Roberts-Stabenow agreement on biotechnology labeling and hopes that all senators will vote in favor of the compromise,” Food Marketing Institute President Leslie Sarasin said in a statement. “A national standard for GMO labeling is essential if we are to avoid the economic costs incurred by a patchwork of differing state laws.”

The National Potato Council said the agreement, which would immediately pre-empt all state laws, uses a definition of genetically engineering that potato growers support.

“We thank the senators for their hard work on this bipartisan legislation and urge the Senate to vote on it next week,” NPC Chief Executive John Keeling said.

The House has already adjourned until July 5, but the industry group, the Coalition for Safe & Affordable Food, said it hopes Congress can pass a national solution “before the negative impacts of Vermont’s law become pervasive.”

The Center for Growing Talent by PMA’s mission to attract, develop and retain industry talent will be on full display during PMA’s 2016 Foodservice Conference & Expo set to take place July 29-31 at a new location: Hyatt Regency Monterey Hotel & Spa, in Monterey, CA.

“In order for our industry to grow, it’s critical to support its most important asset — its people,” said CGTbyPMA Chairman Elect Leonard Batti, president of Taylor Farms Florida Inc.

CGTbyPMA’s Career Pathways attracts the best and brightest university students to pursue careers in the fresh produce and floral industries. Students from Hartnell College, California State University, Chico and San Jose State University will attend this year’s foodservice conference. The students will be paired with industry mentors and will participate in customized education sessions and activities, to get immersed in the industry and its potential careers.

“My interest in the produce industry sparked during my Introduction to Plant Science class,” Kaeli McCarther, one of this year’s Career Pathways students, said in the release. “Through my garden plot for my lab, I felt this wonderful connection to the earth that I have never felt before. It really gave me a greater appreciation for the produce I eat, and I am endlessly curious about how it all is grown.”

Saturday evening, July 30: CGTbyPMA’s Women’s Fresh Perspectives Networking Reception will provide an opportunity for women and men in the produce industry to connect. The reception is just one of the many offerings in the Women’s Fresh Perspectives portfolio that delivers strong business connections through passion for the industry and shared lessons learned.  The reception will be held at the Hyatt; this event is included in conference registration.

Supporting CGTbyPMA:

  • Wednesday, July 27: The industry is invited to participate in CGTbyPMA’s Bocce for Talent Tournament to socialize and compete. This event will be held at the Custom House Plaza. Separate registration is required.

  • Thursday, July 28: Industry professionals who enjoy golf and wish to support a good cause in the process can participate in the Joe Nucci Memorial Golf Tournament at Bayonet & Black Horse Golf Course. Players will have the opportunity to compete in a variety of contests and participate in specialty holes. Separate registration is required for this event.

  • Saturday morning, July 30: CGTbyPMA will host its 5K Race for Talent, which is a 3.1-mile course that travels along the scenic Monterey Bay Coastal Trail. The race will begin at 6:30 a.m. Separate registration is required; this event typically sells out, plan ahead to register.

All CGTbyPMA activities at PMA’s Foodservice Conference & Expo will include an extra surprise to celebrate its 10th anniversary. Attendees can also show their commitment to talent and celebrate CGTbyPMA’s 10 years of success by taking the 10 for talent challenge.

CGTbyPMA operates a total of eight Career Pathways programs at various industry events throughout the year, including PMA’s Fresh Summit in October.

Recent survey findings about brand recognition of some up-and-coming food brands was music to the ears of the senior leadership of the Wonderful Company, which is based in Los Angeles.

Three of the firm’s produce industry brands — Wonderful pistachios, Wonderful Halos mandarins and POM Wonderful juice and fresh pomegranates — ranked very high in the newly released 2016 Nielsen Harris Poll EquiTrend Study.WP14883 4thJuly InSitus F

Adam Cooper, vice president of marketing and insights for the company, explained that the survey examined the shopping habits of millennials, Generation Xers and baby boomers, and the Wonderful Company was the only firm with top 10 finishes in each category and recognized by consumers as “on the way.”

About 100,000 consumers took part in the survey evaluating the brand health of more than 2,500 brands covering key metrics, including overall equity and momentum.

“We are thrilled that this study confirms what our strong sales have consistently shown — that Wonderful Company products are highly desired and valued by consumers across all generations,” Cooper said. “Having multiple brands within our family find appeal across the generational gap is proof of the increasing importance of healthy, real food in the American diet. Our products clearly resonate well with consumers of all ages.”

In further analyzing the results, Cooper said the Wonderful Company is capitalizing on the unmistakable trend that sees snacking as an increasingly important element of the American diet. He noted that 50 percent of all eating occasions are now identified as a snack, and each of these Wonderful-branded products fits into that category.  

Specifically, these three Wonderful brands were called out as up-and-comers multiple times in the survey: Wonderful pistachios by millennials and baby boomers; Wonderful Halos mandarins by Generation Xers and baby boomers; and POM Wonderful juice and POM Wonderful fresh pomegranates by baby boomers.

According to Nielsen, brand momentum is a good indicator of future equity growth and closely related to positive sales trends. Of the brands on the EquiTrend top 10 list, the vast majority have experienced sales gains in the past year, with over half posting double-digit growth.

Cooper believes that the excellent products of the firm have combined with its aggressive marketing and advertising campaign to achieve these results.

He said the Wonderful Company has spent more than $100 million promoting these brands in recent years. While that number pales in comparison to what the huge multi-national food companies spend, it is quite significant in its own right, and puts it at the top end of the scale for produce-centric firms.

Cooper said the advertising campaigns, which tend to be a bit off-beat, clearly grab the attention of consumers of all ages. The company also utilizes in-store point-of-sale material, coupons, attractive display bins and trade promotions to both pull and push the products through the system. More than 200 people are involved in sales and in-store merchandising for the brands. The Wonderful Company utilizes television advertising as well as print media and billboards to deliver its message. Cooper quipped that the focus is on “inside the box.”

Cooper said there is some merchandising synergy among the brands and the company does encourage multiple product merchandising under the Wonderful label. But each brand and product also stands on its own with its own specific story to tell.  

He said Wonderful Halos are the No. 1 mandarin brand, having a market share that is more than 50 percent larger than its closest competitor. Cooper said the category is “on fire” with tremendous sales gains in recent years. Mandarins have become the most popular citrus item and have become a billion dollar category. The California-grown item is typically shipped from November through May. As this interview was being conducted in mid-June, the end of the 2015-16 crop was hitting the marketplace.

Wonderful pistachios enjoy an even greater retail dominance with a 60-70 percent market share. Pistachios have become the ultimate snack and have benefited greatly by the display bins that the Wonderful Company offers to its customers. The bins make it easy to display and promote the nuts throughout the produce department and the store.  The nuts are typically harvested in the August-September time frame.  The company also grows, packs and sells Wonderful almonds.  

POM Wonderful juices and fresh pomegranates actually predate the rebranding and renaming of the company under the Wonderful moniker. Wonderful is the name of the world’s most popular pomegranate variety. That is what gave birth to the POM Wonderful name and ultimately led to the firm renaming itself and its brand just over a year ago.

Cooper said it has been “an exciting first year” with great sales gains and very impressive growth in brand identity as the Nielsen Harris survey revealed. He reiterated that the company does look forward to continue to push its brands and cross-promote when the opportunity arises. Besides these produce brands, the Wonderful Company is also involved in other consumer products, including Fiji bottled water, Justin wines and Teleflora bouquets.

The company also has a longstanding commitment to corporate social responsibility, including more than $100 million invested in environmental technologies and sustainability research; nearly $50 million in charitable giving and education initiatives in 2015 alone; $30 million toward the construction of a new charter school campus in California’s Central Valley; and innovative health and wellness programs.