Whole Foods fires back at claims of overcharging

Whole Foods has denied an allegation by the New York City Department of Consumer Affairs that it was knowingly overcharging customers via improper price labeling.Whole Foods-logo

In a June 30 email to its customers and a post on its website, the retailer said that any errors were unintentional and that the claim that it was “systematically overcharging” its customers is “completely inaccurate.”

“The reason for many of these inadvertent errors is because Whole Foods Market packs many of its fresh products in our stores instead of in factories or distribution centers,” the company said in its email. “This involves team members handling, weighing and labeling containers of products, such as with cut produce and fresh squeezed juices. This is who we are and how we deliver the freshest products to customers, but this also means there will be some unintentional human errors.”

Whole Foods said possible reasons for errors in pricing include mislabeled content weights due to improperly calibrated scales and not deducting the proper amount for a container or moisture loss in the product over time. Also, price discrepancies such as a price change not being entered into the system or a sale sign that has not been taken down in time are also potential reasons.

“Our goal is always 100 percent accuracy,” the email added. “While some of our audits reflect 100 percent accuracy rates, in others, our scores have reflected errors in the weighing and price labeling of our products in a small percentage of instances.”

The retailer said it is taking steps to prevent future price discrepancies, including improving training regarding in-store packaging, weighing and labeling processes. It has also implemented a companywide third-party auditing processes.

“Our number one priority is to ensure that our customers have a great experience every time they shop at Whole Foods Market,” the email said. “Falling short of a great experience is not acceptable to us, and we are committed to doing better.”

Sunlight's grapes get boost from weather, now shipping

Early-season green and red seedless grape varieties are exceptional this year and shipping now, under Sunlight International’s "Pretty Lady" brand for the summer promotion.

Despite the drought, this crop already has high Brix levels that are expected to increase, along with excellent size and brilliant flavor, making for a vintage year for Sunlight International. Sunlight’s growing and farming operations averted what Mother Nature threw their way and this year’s weather became ideal for growing conditions.grapDespite the drought, Sunlight anticipates a vintage year for its grapes.

“What else makes high-quality table grapes happier than sunny, warm and dry conditions?” George Galloway, sales of Sunlight International, said in a press release. “Between the unusual warm weather trend, harvest being a few days earlier than last year and new vineyards in the Maricopa, CA, area, we are beyond excited about this strong start to the season and can’t wait for consumers to see our beautiful grapes in our one-of-a-kind retail promotional bins and bags.”

Shipping as of June 24, from the Maricopa region, an ample supply of the popular Flame Seedless has tested at 19 Brix at harvest. Sunlight International’s Flame Seedless have been a prevalent variety, as Jakov P. Dulcich planted the very same variety nearly 40 years ago. In the next few days the new flavorful Lucky Red variety will mature and orders can be placed early July.

The new green seedless variety, Early Sweet, is round, plump and flavorful. At harvest, on June 22, this new variety was at 21 Brix and will only get sweeter. In the next few days Sunlight International will phase into its new variety, Sweet Sixteen, followed by Esteem Green Seedless.

Sunlight International will have a steady supply of various red and green seedless grapes to enjoy throughout the season and black varieties to follow in mid-July. Pretty Lady for the summer and Green Emerald program promotional resources are available upon request. Each program includes full color display bins, posters and eye-catching materials that will best present the largest, crispiest, and greatest-tasting California table grapes in retail aisles.

Meijer commits $100 million to locally grown produce


As Meijer continues to expand across the Midwest, its commitment to purchasing local produce has also grown to represent an annual economic impact of nearly $100 million.

“Meijer has a longstanding commitment to buying locally grown produce when available as long as the quality meets our high standards,” Jerry Suter, vice president of fresh merchandising for the Grand Rapids, MI-based retailer, said in a press release. “Not only is buying local produce the right thing to do, it’s what our customers want and deserve. We are currently one of the largest purchasers of local produce in the markets we serve.”

Meijer has purchased from local growers big and small since the company’s inception, but its effort to buy local has expanded significantly over the past decade as the retailer has grown into new markets and the focus on local became more important to customers.

Meijer works with more than 125 local growers — up 25 percent during the past two years alone — within its six-state footprint. By purchasing local, Meijer is able to cut fuel consumption, which is not only good for the environment, but also helps reduce transportation costs and keeps fresh produce prices down for customers.

“Buying local makes sense,” Loren Buurma, who operates Buurma Farms in Willard, OH, which sells green onions, radishes and greens to Meijer, said in the release. “It supports the local economy through jobs and capital expenditures … and it diminishes the carbon footprint because of its proximity to market so highway miles and fuel consumption are kept to a minimum. I am very happy with the support that Meijer gives to the local farmers.”

Meijer began purchasing potatoes from Alsum Farms & Produce in Wisconsin before the retailer even opened stores in that state.

“With today’s shoppers seeking more information about how their food is grown and produced, Meijer is vital in bringing consumers and farmers together to share knowledge and build trust and confidence in our food supply while putting a face to the farmer,” Larry Alsum, president and chief executive officer, said in the release. “As shoppers look to provide healthy choices for their families, locally grown and produced products provide that value.”

The retailer’s relationship with E. Miedema & Sons Inc., a fourth-generation family farm in Byron Center, MI, began nearly 80 years ago when Ralph Miedema delivered cabbage and squash to Hendrik Meijer at the Greenville store.

“Buying local is important to us because many of our friends and neighbors see our produce in our fields and wish to purchase it. They like to support us,” Ralph Miedema’s grandson, Dave Miedema, who now operates the 1,500-acre farm with several family members, said in the release. “Meijer is a great partner.”

In 2013, Meijer introduced its customers to fresh, vine-ripened Michigan-grown tomatoes year-round, thanks to Mastronardi Produce’s state-of-the-art hydroponic greenhouse in Coldwater, MI. Earlier this year, that partnership expanded to now offer locally grown sweet peppers in colder months.

As Meijer continues to grow across the Midwest with 11 new stores this year, it will continue to seek partnerships with local growers who meet its high standards.

Phil Pisciotta Jr., ‘true industry gentleman,’ dies at 87

Phil Pisciotta Jr., a longtime produce industry veteran, died at his home surrounded by family June 28. He was 87.

Mr. Pisciotta was born Oct. 16, 1927, in Kansas City, MO, and attended Wentworth Military Academy, after which he and his wife, Mary Louise, were stationed in Japan following World War II.

Mr. Pisciotta began his career at Pisciotta Fruit & Vegetable Co. upon returning to the United States. He climbed the company ladder, ultimately managing the fresh produce division. The family business had been founded in 1900 and continued to build through three generations until it was sold in 2000.

“For many years Pisciotta Fruit & Vegetable Co. was the white tablecloth foodservice wholesaler extraordinaire,” said Anthony Totta, consultant at FreshXperts LLC. “The reputation that the four brothers — Phil, Willie, Russ and Joe — upheld was tremendous. The company was started by their father, Phillip Pisciotta Sr. Then in the 1980s Phil Jr. and this three sons, Phillip, Russ and Ray, continued the tradition into the third generation.

“I worked for them and learned the wholesale business from them,” Totta said. “My grandfather and father brought me up in the retail grocery business, but I learned the wholesale business from this Pisciotta family. I thank God regularly for the journey he has taken me on in our industry. Working at Pisciotta Fruit & Vegetable was one of the highlights and a wonderful place to work.”

Mr. Pisciotta’s sons assisted him in operating the 100-year-old family business for the final 35 years of its existence.

“I have many memories of Mr. Pisciotta,” said Totta. “He was a kind gentle and professional man. He was a fair trader in our industry and led the way as far as setting quality standards in the Kansas City market for fresh produce. Mr. Pisciotta was a true industry gentleman. He served his suppliers as much as they served him — a one-of-a-kind man.”

"I don’t think there’s a person in the world who met Phil and didn’t love him,” said Chuck Olsen, chief executive officer of Chuck Olsen Co. "Even his competitors loved him. He had a very quiet, soft way of going about his life. He was a true gentleman and his word was his bond.

"He and I had been very good friends and he was a customer of mine since 1974,” Olsen said. "We did a lot of business and it developed into a wonderful friendship between us — and our families. I cherish those moments very much — even hearing my phone ringing and it was Phil — all those moments are very special to me. I can’t say enough good about Phil. He was a wonderful father and raised a beautiful family. His kids have got the same core values that he did and they’re wonderful people.

“I started working with Junior Pisciotta in the early 1970s when I was a salesman for Sunkist Growers Inc. in the Kansas City area,” said Steve Probstfield, who is retired but was formerly with Clifford Produce, NationFresh and Sunkist. “He was always very pleasant to work with and was a true gentleman in every respect of his business dealings. It didn't take long to recognize the fact that his personal integrity and business ethics meant a lot to him. He always took the time to talk with me on the phone or when I visited their location on the city market.

“He was fun to be around and I'm not sure when this transpired, but I eventually called him ‘June Bug,’” Probstfield said. “I guess that was because everyone called him 'Junior.' The last time we talked, he still remembered that.

“He was a prince of a man,” Probstfield added. “His family lost a true patriarch, and the produce industry lost a true statesman. He will be missed.”

Mr. Pisciotta is survived by his daughter, Mary, and her husband, Randy Bull; his three sons, Ray and his wife, Kathy, Russ and his wife, Julia, and Phillip and his wife, Kathleen; as well as nieces, nephews and grandchildren.

He was preceded in death by his loving wife of 53 years, Mary Louise; his parents, Phil Sr. and Margret; and his brothers, Russell, Joseph and Willie.

Visitation will be Wednesday, July 1 from 5-8 p.m. at Mount Moriah Funeral Home at 10507 Holmes Road in Kansas City, MO. Burial will take place Thursday, July 2 at 2 p.m. at Mount Olivet Cemetery in Kansas City.

Del Taco teams up with CAC to offer fresh sliced avocados

Del Taco, a leader in the Mexican quick service restaurant category, has announced that it has teamed up with the California Avocado Commission to provide customers with fresh, sliced avocado this summer. Available at participating restaurants beginning June 4, the California state fruit will be featured in Del Taco’s new Epic Grilled Chicken Avocado Burrito and can be added to any existing menu item.delta

This "UnFreshing Believable" addition is part of Del Taco's commitment to deliver fresh, quality and delicious ingredients.

“We’re thrilled to be working with Del Taco, one of the country’s most recognizable brands and fastest growing QSRs,” Jan DeLyser, vice president of marketing for the California Avocado Commission, said in a press release.  “Given Del Taco’s commitment to bring ‘UnFreshing Believable’ ingredients and healthy options to its customers, California’s signature, hand-grown avocados couldn’t be a fresher fit.”

“Del Taco’s trademark is fresh, quality food at a great value and the introduction of fresh avocado is an extension on that promised quality,” John Cappasola, executive vice president and chief brand officer of Del Taco, said in the press release. “Now guests can satisfy their avocado cravings with the new Epic Grilled Chicken Avocado Burrito or through customizing their favorite Del Taco menu item.”

The Epic Grilled Chicken Avocado Burrito is loaded with six fresh slices of Hass avocado, freshly grilled chicken, handmade pico de gallo, fresca lime rice, seasoned black beans and salsa casera wrapped in a warm flour tortilla.