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Double-digit increase anticipated for Chilean cherry imports

The Chilean Cherry Committee, an entity associated with the Chilean Fruit Exporters Association, commonly referred to as ASOEX, expects total exports of fresh cherries from Chile to reach 100,000 tons this year. As the second-largest export market for Chile, North America anticipates a 45 percent increase in volume over the 2013-14 season.

To support this dramatic growth, the Chilean Cherry Committee is pursuing a targeted promotion campaign across the United States and Canada, with increased funding earmarked for retail promotions.312-CHERRIES

“Thanks to an extraordinarily successful harvest, we’re going to see increased volume and promotions in North America,” said Karen Brux, North America managing director for the Chilean Fresh Fruit Association. “The Chilean Cherry Committee is committed to expanding the North American market for Chilean cherries, and we have promotion funding available for retailers to make that happen. We’re in the process of meeting with retailers to confirm holiday promotions.”

This year’s strong harvest is great news for the Chilean cherry industry, which was hard hit in 2013 by a devastating freeze. Brux said the initial estimate for 2013-14 season was 85,000 tons, but after the freeze, this dropped to 68,000 tons. With Chile on track to export at least 100,000 tons during the 2014-15 season, this is a significant step for the industry.

“It’s also great news for North American retailers who want to offer their shoppers a beautiful, premium, great-tasting fruit over the holiday season,” Brux added.

Chile is one of the largest cherry exporters in the world. Fresh cherries from Chile are available in December and January, with export peaks expected from weeks 49 through 51. The Chilean Cherry Committee is offering holiday-themed point-of-sale merchandising materials that encourage shoppers to “bring home the cherry best,” which is its marketing call to action for holiday promotions. Supporting recipes, images and other materials are available for both in-store and online marketing.

The Chilean Cherry Committee was formed under the auspices of the ASOEX, which is based in Santiago, Chile. The Chilean Fresh Fruit Association is its North American counterpart and directs all marketing and promotional activities for fresh Chilean fruit in the U.S. and Canada. More information about cherries and other fruits from Chile is available at

Record sales and revenue for Blue Diamond

Blue Diamond Growers' global almond sales soared to $1.2 billion, up $189 million in fiscal year 2012-13. Value-added sales volume increased by 14 percent, even with a crop that was 7 percent smaller, according to Mark Jansen, president and chief executive officer, who addressed the cooperative's grower owners at the 103rd annual meeting. Value-added sales now represent more than 60 percent of the co-op's revenue, including manufactured ingredients and consumer retail products.bludia

"We accelerated our transformation into a global branded food manufacturing company, while making significant investments to ensure continued profitable growth," Jansen said in the release. "In April we opened our Almond Innovation Center on our Sacramento campus followed by the June grand opening of our Turlock plant, the largest single investment in the history of the California almond industry. We will lead the world tree nut industry in almond product innovation and double our capacity with cutting edge plant technology designed for producing the highest quality almond products in the world."

"There's no other way to express the 2012 crop results than to say, 'excellence delivered,'" said Chairman of the board Clinton Shick, a grower from McFarland. "This is the third year in a row for returning record revenue per acre to Blue Diamond growers. The 2012 crop exceeded the 2011 record by 21 percent, making the final total grower payment of $828 million the largest single payment ever made to almond growers."

Margin enhancement projects included improved manufacturing yields and faster processing lines, resulting in cost reductions of $11.3 million, for a three-year compounded savings of $38 million. "Margin enhancements fuel our investments in new facilities, breakthrough advertising, and global markets," Jansen explained. "It also allows us to pay our growers industry-leading returns."

Energized by enhanced advertising investments and new products, sales thrived in 2012-13. In North America, the branded consumer business increased 30 percent to $469 million. Over 15 new products emerged that included Iced Coffee Almond Breeze, Artisan Nut*Thins and coffee- and fruit-flavored snack almonds. Snack Almond sales jumped 22 percent versus prior year, while Chilled Almond Breeze sales skyrocketed 74 percent and Aseptic Almond Breeze climbed 40 percent. Artisan Nut*Thins were up 38 percent over the same period.

Sales are expected to stay firm as Blue Diamond partners with the U.S. Ski & Snowboard Association to be the official snack nut of the U.S. ski, snowboarding and freeskiing teams as they prepare for the Winter Olympics Season in 2014. Blue Diamond Almonds will be integrated into the athletes' nutritional meals at the USSA Center of Excellence and on the road at training camps, competitions and the U.S. Team's mobile kitchen in Europe.

Internationally, Blue Diamond's branded sales were up 90 percent in volume versus the prior year, while net sales were up 95 percent. For the first time in the cooperative's history, branded advertising aired on three continents: North America, Australia and Europe.

Blue Diamond Global Ingredients sold fewer commodity almonds in a short crop but still managed to grow its manufactured ingredient business volume by 14 percent. This business has doubled in size over the last four years.

"I am most proud of the employees of Blue Diamond," said Jansen. "We often use the metaphor of a duck on the water. Above the water or outside the organization, the changes they execute may look easy. Under the water, or inside the organization, their feet are vigorously paddling. The fact is they work hard delivering the benefits of almonds to the world."

C.H. Robinson collaboration results in Twin Cities Food Fight

C.H. Robinson has teamed up with Twin Cities NBC affiliate KARE 11 to create a one-day food and fund drive called the KARE 11 Food Fight. The unique collaboration aims to fight hunger in Minnesota with all donations benefitting Second Harvest Heartland. During the 2013 event, more than 860,000 pounds of food was collected.chrob

The Food Fight, which takes place on Tuesday, Nov. 25 from 7:30 a.m. to 7 p.m., pits four KARE 11 anchors — Belinda Jensen, Julie Nelson, Eric Perkins and Randy Shaver — against each other in a friendly competition to see who can collect the most food.

As a co-creator of the event, C.H. Robinson staffs each location throughout the day and provides the transportation needed to collect the donations and deliver them to Second Harvest Heartland. Since 1905, C.H. Robinson has served the food industry through the company’s logistics services and produce business brand, Robinson Fresh. In addition, preventing hunger and providing food assistance are charitable priorities of the C.H. Robinson Foundation. By staffing the Food Fight, and providing employee donations and a monetary gift from the Foundation, C.H. Robinson will donate over 200 volunteer hours and more than 25,000 pounds of food for the event.

“The Food Fight is a creative, fun and festive way for local residents and companies to give back to their own community,” Angie Freeman, vice president of human resources at C.H. Robinson, said in a press release. “Each donation, large or small, allows us to take another step forward in preventing hunger, especially during the holiday season.”

As one of the nation’s larger food banks, Second Harvest Heartland serves more than 530,000 people each year, 33 percent of which are individuals younger than 18 years old. The donations from the Food Fight also lessen the economic burden of purchasing food, since 84 percent of Second Harvest Heartland clients earn less than $30,000 per year. For every 1.2 pounds of food donated, Second Harvest Heartland can provide one meal to those Minnesotans experiencing the stress of hunger.

The community-wide competition encourages individuals, companies, and groups to bring food and cash donations to one of the designated locations: Whole Foods in Maple Grove, Byerly’s in Minnetonka, Cub Foods in Eagan and Kowalski’s in Woodbury. Special guests and fun activities will be at all four locations throughout the day.

Individuals can also follow the progress of the event through social media by tracking the following hashtags: #KARE11FoodFight, #TeamBel, #TeamJulie, #TeamPerk and #TeamRandy. For those unable to attend the event, online donations can be made at Second Harvest Heartland’s website.

Alliance for Food & Farming launches updated website

The Alliance for Food & Farming, a non-profit group founded to deliver credible information to consumer about the safety of fruits and vegetables, recently launched its newly updated website —

“We’re working hard to raise the profile of our organization within the produce industry,” Matt McInerney, executive vice president of Western Growers and the current chairman of the Alliance for Food & Farming, said in a press release. “As part of that effort, we have revised and updated our website with some basic information about the Alliance and the work we do to assure consumers about the safety of fruits and vegetables.”

Executive Director Marilyn Dolan added that the goal of the Alliance for Food & Farming is to communicate honestly about important issues that can affect consumer confidence in fruits and vegetables.

“Experts around the world agree that eating more fruits and vegetables is the best thing we can do to reduce disease, prevent obesity and improve our health,” Dolan said. “But, consumers sometimes need to know more about organic and conventional fruits and vegetables so they can make the right shopping choices for themselves and their families. The Alliance for Food & Farming exists to help provide this information.”

According to Dolan, the Alliance for Food & Farming uses information from experts in science, nutrition and farming, and then offers facts and information about the safety of fruits and vegetables sold in the United States. The organization is voluntarily funded by both conventional and organic farmers and farming organizations.

“What is very unique about this group is that it is truly an alliance of other organizations from throughout the produce industry,” McInerney said, noting that Alliance membership is made up of over 50 organizations, including national and regional trade associations, commodity groups and individual grower-shippers.  

A list of the Alliance for Food & Farming board members is posted on the new website and includes the Produce Marketing Association, United Fresh Produce Association, the California Grape & Tree Fruit League, Northwest Horticultural Council and the U.S. Potato Board, along with Western Growers and nine other produce commodity groups. 

“When it comes to the issue of pesticide residues, we have made a some tremendous inroads in changing the way the media covers this important issue as part of an Alliance for Food & Farming initiative called Safe Fruits & Veggies launched in 2010,” said McInerney. “This has been one of the most successful educational outreach campaigns in the history of the produce industry and is a great example of how a united effort to fight back can make real change."

In addition to the issue of pesticide residues, the Alliance also provides information on foodborne illness as well as other fruit and vegetable food safety issues. The new Alliance website provides an overview of the food-safety topics the group addresses and includes information about the benefits of Alliance membership and explains how to join the Alliance.

S.C. watermelon production up 64 percent over 2013

Aided by good weather, South Carolina’s 2014 watermelon crop recorded a robust gain of 64 percent over last year’s total, according to a National Watermelon Report by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. As production ended in early August, the state had shipped almost 81 million pounds of seeded and seedless watermelons.

Georgia, usually the leading state for watermelon production, was still shipping in early August and was close to the 586 million pounds to date.SC-WATERMELON-COOPER-RIVER-Brooke Hastings Allender, South Carolina’s 2014 Watermelon Queen, and watermelon queens from four other states handed out 30,000 free watermelon samples to runners at the Cooper River Bridge Run in Charleston, SC, in March. North Carolina, which was winding down production Aug. 12, reported a total to date of 79 million pounds; last year’s total for the Tar Heel state was close to 102 million pounds.

Matt Cornwell, executive director of the South Carolina Watermelon Association and a marketing specialist with the South Carolina Department of Agriculture, said the increased production “was welcomed by our growers, who had a bad year in 2013 when heavy rains during harvest held down production. This year’s harvest was back to normal.”

The South Carolina watermelon harvest began in early June and ended by Aug. 12, for all but two growers, who grew a second, late-harvest crop, Cornwell said. This year’s crop consisted mainly of seedless melons, roughly by a 10 to 1 margin. The Tar Heel state crop was about 85 percent seedless. Both states shipped by truck; Georgia used trucks and piggyback rail, and California used rail and trucks. The Carolinas rank in the top 10 states in the nation for producing watermelon.

Promotion events, usually featuring the South Carolina Watermelon Queen, included college and university football practices; a minor league baseball game; marathons and bridge runs; civic events such as food festivals; visits to farms, hospitals and schools; in-store promotions at Bi-Lo, Giant Foods, Lowe’s, Piggly Wiggly and Whole Foods, among others; and trade shows and news media interviews.

This year, the South Carolina Watermelon Association promoted watermelon at sporting events, with giveaways of fruit slices and signage extolling the health benefits of watermelon. The highlight of the promotions, Cornwell believes, was the Cooper River Bridge run in Charleston, SC, where the association gave away 30,000 five-ounce servings of watermelon, which Cornwell calls “nature’s sports drink.”

For 2015, Cornwell said, “Demand for watermelon is growing, and South Carolina has a natural advantage in that the soil and climate are good for melons. Because of our location, we are one of the first states to have watermelon on the market, and we can reach the major population centers of the East Coast and Midwest. The outlook for 2015, weather permitting, is good. Two growers experimented this year with a late-harvest crop of watermelons, and did really well, shipping into September. I expect we’ll see more growers try a second crop in 2015.”