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Washington apple industry applauds port settlement

The tentative agreement between the International Longshore & Warehouse Union and Pacific Maritime Association is positive news for the Washington apple industry, which has seen several challenges on the export front during the current season.

The deal struck Feb. 20 means that normal work flow is being resumed at the 29 ports on the West Coast, including the ports of Seattle and Tacoma, which are responsible for much of the apple export volume out of Washington state.

“With our record crop this season, we have missed critical shipping opportunities for festive seasons such as Christmas and Chinese New Year,” Washington Apple Commission President Todd Fryhover said in a press release. “However, we still have ample supplies of high-quality Washington apples in storage and will be working with our foreign market partners to make sure that consumers continue to have Washington apples available throughout the spring and summer. Our foreign market representatives are scheduling promotions for later in the spring to support shipments that may have been delayed due to the port slowdown.”

It will still take several weeks for the ports to resume regular shipping schedules, although ports up and down the West Coast were said to be requesting additional labor to help get through the backlog. Ships have been backed up in harbors waiting to unload and load with containers delayed by two to three weeks, resulting in millions of dollars of lost sales opportunities for the apple industry alone over the past three months.

Washington state produces approximately 60 percent of the apples in the United States, but it is responsible for over 90 percent of the exports. In a normal season, Washington exports one-third of its production outside of the United States, which totaled over $780 million in the 2013-14 season.

AFF successful at counteracting ‘dirty dozen list’

A five-year analysis of media coverage of the Environmental Working Group’s annual release of its “dirty dozen” list showed efforts to counter this misinformation by the Alliance for Food & Farming resulted in EWG’s once dominant one-sided media coverage to decline by more than half (99.8 percent down to 48 percent). 

Further, the analysis showed the AFF began enjoying its own “one-sided” stories with almost 30 percent of total “dirty dozen” media coverage reflecting AFF science and information only at one point during the campaign. The AFF information emphasizes the safety of both organic and conventional produce and urges increased consumption for better health. 

“Science can prevail and effectively counter rhetoric and inaccuracies generated and perpetuated by activist groups,” Matt McInerney, chairman of the AFF Management Board and executive vice president of Western Growers Association, said in a press release. “By providing consumers with peer-reviewed science, analyses by university scientists and experts plus access to credible spokespersons, inaccuracies and common misperceptions about produce safety and pesticide residues were countered and corrected by the AFF informational campaign.” 

The media analysis focused on EWG’s annual list release because, prior to the AFF efforts, this had become one of the main sources of misinformation about produce safety targeted toward consumers. Left unchecked, the AFF Management Board was concerned that this misinformation about produce safety was undermining efforts to promote increased consumption of these healthy foods. Therefore, in 2010, the AFF launched its Safe Fruits and Veggies initiative with a goal of providing consumers with science based information so that facts, not fear, could guide food purchasing decisions. 

“We knew that science was on our side regarding concerns about residues, we just needed to communicate in a concise and more easily understood manner, which began with the creation of the safefruitsandveggies.com website,” Marilyn Dolan, executive director of the AFF, added in the press release. “To date, no group has questioned any of the information found at safefruitsandveggies.com, which underscores the quality of the science.”

In addition to more balanced coverage, the analysis showed an overall decline in total mainstream media coverage and reach of EWG’s list release. 

“Two years into the campaign, we saw many of the larger mainstream print publications were no longer covering EWG’s list release after consistently generating stories year after year,” Dolan added in the press release. “The analysis also showed that some prominent media outlets’ coverage of the annual list release focused on AFF’s science and information exclusively.”

The Safe Fruits and Veggies initiative has also resulted in EWG modifying its messaging about conventionally grown produce. 

“While they still call conventionally grown produce ‘dirty’ and ‘toxic laden,’ EWG now acknowledges that they believe conventionally grown produce is safe to eat,” Dolan said in the press release. “And, last fall, the EWG ranked conventionally grown produce as a ‘best’ food for consumers and urged increased consumption. These statements make one wonder why they continue to release the dirty dozen list at all.”

Recently, a new peer-reviewed study showed that the AFF Management Board’s concerns about the impact of inaccurate and negative safety messaging, carried by groups like EWG, was warranted. 

The study conducted by the John Hopkins Center for a Livable Future found that conflicting messaging on food safety and nutrition may be having a detrimental impact on the dietary choices of consumers, especially those with lower incomes. Researchers involved in the study recommended that “those who want to improve food production techniques and those who want to improve nutrition cooperate to create consistent messaging about healthy eating” for the benefit of consumers.

“In the last five years we’ve made great strides to take back our brand and stop the disparagement of safe and healthy fruits and vegetables but there is much more work to do,” Bryan Silbermann, AFF board vice chairman and chief executive officer of the Produce Marketing Association, added in the press release. “The success of the AFF’s Safe Fruits and Veggies initiative shows how effective we can be when we work together toward a common goal. But, we must keep pushing so that consumers have truthful, credible information about the safety of their produce so they can make the right food choices for themselves and their families.”

Ambrosia apples get huge media boost from Oscars

An unlikely star emerged as the national media darling when the contents of the “Everyone Wins at the Oscars” nominee gift bags were revealed to the public. In a gift bag valued at nearly $170,000 given to this year’s non-winning Oscar nominees, Ambrosia apples grabbed a share of the media spotlight as the only fresh produce item included.Academy-Awards-Giftbasket

“We were stunned and delighted to see Academy Award-related press coverage focusing on our Ambrosia,” Steve Lutz, vice president of marketing for Columbia Marketing International, said in a press release. “In a gift package worth many thousands of dollars, it was really gratifying to see a wonderful apple like Ambrosia recognized by the media.”

USA Today, New York Daily News, "Good Morning America" and CNBC were among the many outlets that featured the custom gift box of Ambrosia apples hand delivered to the Hollywood celebrities. Seattle TV news picked up on the local Ambrosia connection, with one station highlighting three evening news anchors sampling Ambrosia while raving about its flavor and another station sending a news crew to McDougall & Son’s new 445,000-square-foot Wenatchee packing facility. Early consumer reach estimates for the Ambrosia promotion indicate that more than 20 million people saw or heard about the apple gift carton for the stars.

“A big part of the success is Ambrosia is a wonderfully distinct and colorful apple that we packed in very traditional packaging,” Lutz said in the release. “For TV, it was a can’t-miss visual. Each Ambrosia gift was delivered to the top Oscar nominees in handmade antique apple boxes with traditional box label art reproductions.

USA Today called Ambrosia a ‘simple pleasure’, so maybe that’s why the story got such a big play," Lutz added. "We’re just delighted that stars like Bradley Cooper, Steve Carell and Reese Witherspoon can enjoy Ambrosia apples to ease the pain of missing out on Oscar gold.”

Mann Packing revamps organic packaging

Organic  Group5 comps

Mann Packing Co. redesigned the packaging for its full line of fresh-cut organic vegetables. The revamped graphics, several months in creation, feature a premium rich color palette, clean, natural fresh design and a large window and product viewing area, according to Kim St. George, director of marketing and communication for the Salinas, CA-based firm.

The line features the company’s steam-in-bag technology and includes top-selling products such as the vegetable medley, broccoli florets, broccoli coleslaw and broccoli carrots.

According to Nielsen sales statistics for the 26 weeks ending Dec. 27, 2014, Mann branded organics are the leading branded items in the fresh-cut organic vegetable category. 

“Growth of the organic segment outpaced conventional cut-veg and is driving overall category growth,” St. George said in a press release. “Our organic vegetable tray sales are up three times what they were a year ago.” 

The company is shipping the new packaging now and will showcase it at the Southeast Produce Council Expo this week in Booth No. 927.

ACME Markets names new president

Dan Croce has been named president of ACME Markets, which operates more than 100 stores in Delaware, Maryland, New Jersey and Pennsylvania. He succeeds Jim Perkins, who was promoted to chief operating officer of parent company Albertsons-Safeway’s East region.

Croce, a 30-year grocery industry veteran, began his career with SuperFresh/A&P Food Markets. He joined ACME Markets in 2005 as a district manager and subsequently assumed roles of increasing responsibility, including director of operations and vice president of operations. In 2014, Croce was promoted to vice president of marketing and merchandising.

“Dan has a passion for the business and a wealth of experience that make him a great fit for the leadership role at ACME Markets,” Perkins said in a press release. “That, combined with his exceptional track record of success, makes him well positioned to lead the division.”

Croce is a graduate of the University of Delaware, where he earned a bachelor's degree in agricultural business in 1991.