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George Harter has joined CMI Orchards as vice president of marketing. Harter will take the reins from Steve Lutz. Earlier this month it was announced that Lutz is shifting into a strategic role with the company.

Harter brings more than 20 years of retail produce operations and management experience with the Kroger Co. During his career at Kroger he held a number of management and supervisory positions. Most recently Harter served as the produce and floral merchandiser for the 186 stores of the Atlanta division of Kroger. Prior to moving to Atlanta, Harter held the same position at QFC stores in Seattle.George-HarterGeorge Harter

“Understanding how to succeed in the retail environment is absolutely critical to our success,” Bob Mast, president of CMI, said in a press release. “Apples have become one of the most complex categories in the produce department. With so many new brands, packages and varieties we really need to bring successful strategies to our retail partners with proven programs that drive sales. That’s exactly what George was able to do during his career at Kroger and we’re very excited that he’s now bringing his experience, energy, leadership and strategic thinking to CMI and our customers. He will be a terrific resource working closely with our retail customers to identify new growth opportunities.”

“It is so exciting to join the amazing team at CMI Orchards,” Harter said. “I look forward to making great contributions to such an outstanding company.

“Kroger was very good to me in so many ways, providing numerous opportunities to learn, grow and lead for over 20 years," he added. "I look forward to applying the successful principles I learned at Kroger to leading the marketing team at CMI.”

Harter said the apple category has changed dramatically in just a few short years, making the challenges and opportunities for retailers larger than ever. “The evolution of products and packaging in apples is really quite amazing,” said Harter. “I’ve seen it from a store level perspective. I’ve come to appreciate how critical it is to find the intersection between continuing the success of established apple varieties, and creating growth by building consumer awareness for spectacular new apples like Ambrosia, Envy, KIKU and Kanzi. I’m really looking forward to the opportunity to bring my retail experience to CMI’s strong customer base, helping them realize new opportunities to drive sales in the apple category.”

Mast said that hiring Harter was the culmination of a process that started over six months ago. “We take a lot of pride at CMI in being able to develop innovative programs with our retail partners that bring long-term growth in the apple, pear and cherry categories. Whether it’s new retail solutions, category analysis, product assortment or unique display tools for our newer branded programs like Daisy Girl Organics, we want to be in a position to be a valued and trusted advisor for our customers. Based on the long term success George had at Kroger we’re convinced that he is the perfect leader for our team and will be a wonderful advisor for our customers."

Harter said during his career at Kroger he was very aware of CMI Orchards. “As a retailer, I’ve seen everything under the sun in the produce department. Over the years I became a big fan of CMI. They not only have the strongest product lineup but I observed that CMI has outstanding ownership, management and marketing. I’m honored to have had the opportunity to work at Kroger and to now join the team at CMI.”

Harter will be relocating from Atlanta to the CMI Orchards headquarters in Wenatchee, WA, beginning work on April 3. He holds a master's degree in business administration from Indiana Wesleyan and a bachelor's degree in business administration from the University of Cincinnati. He is passionate about spending time with family, reading, and leading an active lifestyle and is looking forward to enjoying the many outdoor activities that the Northwest will offer.

New York Apple Sales Inc. has announced that Jim Allen and Matt Wells have joined the Glenmont, NY-based company.

Allen, who served for 17 years as president and chief executive officer of the New York Apple Association, is now vice president of marketing at New York Apple Sales, while Wells, previously a procurement manager for Dr. Pepper Snapple Group, team leader of Cornell’s Lake Ontario fruit team and orchard supervisor for Maple Ridge Fruit Farm, has been named director of field services.Jim AllenJim Allen

“Jim Allen’s extensive experience in all aspects of the produce industry will be a great plus for us,” Kaari Stannard, president and owner of New York Apple Sales, said in a press release. “Along with his tenure at the apple association, he was in produce sales for 16 years, so he knows this business inside and out. Matt Wells brings the ideal background to our business. He grew up in a family fruit business, worked at Cornell, has been out in the field, and understands the procurement and sales processes completely.”Matt WellsMatt Wells

Allen recently retired from the New York Apple Association, having received multiple awards during his presidency of the organization, including United Fresh Produce Advocate of the Year and US Apple Association Apple Champion.

“This is a company focused on quality, innovation and growth,” Allen said. “Think of the way NYAS has teamed with suppliers in New Zealand and Nova Scotia to bring fresh and new apple varieties to the States as just one example. I’m thrilled to be able to help take this company even further.”

Allen will focus on retail promotion, public relations, managed varieties and government relations, in addition to other marketing efforts in his new role at New York Apple Sales.

Along with his deep experience as an orchard supervisor and procurement manager, Wells most recently served as a business management specialist for Cornell Cooperative Extension, helping to educate fruit growers on production economics.

In his new role as director of field services, Wells will focus on food safety and quality assurance.

“I’m excited to work for a company that is a leader in the industry and is growing,” said Wells. “I love to work in the field and look forward to working with our grower partners.”

NAVOLATO, SINALOA, MEXICO — The tomato suspension agreement, a trade agreement established between the U.S. Department of Commerce and Mexico in 1996, expires on March 3, 2018.

Culiacan tomato grower Rosario (Tolin) Beltran is president of Mexico’s Sistema Producto Tomate Nacional, which is the Tomato National Product System.  Mario-and-Beltran Mario Robles and Rosario (Tolin) Beltran.

In a March interview in Beltran’s Navolato office, he told The Produce News that the suspension agreement has helped U.S. consumers, as well as growers in Mexico and the United States.

Beltran said the Mexican tomato industry is “ready to work” with the U.S. Department of Commerce to rework the agreement, if necessary.

Beltran, who owns and operates Agricola BelHer, a very large greenhouse tomato grower and packer, said the suspension agreement has been good for his business and that of other Mexican growers "because we have a floor price.”    

Beltran’s friend and close colleague Mario Robles works in the nearby headquarters in Culiacan as manager of CIDH — the Vegetable Commission for Defense, Research & Development. Robles said the suspension agreement “has been good for the industry as a whole. It has increased exports and the value of the exports. It has also provided employment.”

Beltran added, “It has help our quality and technology be better for tomatoes. Mostly, the industry has been more competitive with a reference price. Sometimes with a big volume, we have left produce in Mexico, and so we only ship quality.”

Beltran elaborated, “What happens” with a floor price in exporting to the U.S. “is that you have three options. You can ship to Canada, you ship to the domestic market or you give tomatoes to the cows.”

“When the market is good you sell your ones and twos," Robles noted. "It has forced us to sell our best quality.”

Because of low prices throughout this growing year, Beltran said, “We sold only number ones all season and we threw away all our seconds. For me it has been good. I had no open-field tomatoes this season for the first time.” Expanded greenhouse production boosted Agricola BelHer’s “quality, competitiveness and efficiency.”

Beltran acknowledged “you get different opinions,” but he said Mexico is the second-largest importer of U.S. foods, “so our commerce is both ways. The ones who win are the consumers.”

Regarding the North American Free Trade Agreement, Robles said that in NAFTA’s 23 years, it is the U.S. that had a positive trade balance with Mexico.  But in 2014-16, it was a positive balance for Mexico.

“We have a tremendous market between both counties,” Beltran said. “It is very even” overall.

Targert Corporation announced the appointment of Jeff Burt as senior vice president, grocery, fresh food and beverage on Monday, March 20.

In his new role, Burt will help advance and execute Target’s food and beverage strategy, which is centered on defining a differentiated guest experience through a curated assortment, quality products and competitive prices. He will report to Target’s executive vice president and chief marketing officer, Mark Tritton.

“After an extensive search to find a new leader to join our team, I’m confident that Jeff is the right person for the charge” Tritton said in a company press release. “His vast industry expertise will accelerate our plans to bring a unique food and beverage experience to Target guests. He’s an enthusiastic and passionate leader with the deep knowledge in food and beverage that Target needs to build on recent progress and drive future growth.”

Burt joins Target from The Kroger Co., where he was most recently the president of the Fred Meyer division. In this role, he was responsible for the executive management of stores, fuel stations, distribution centers, manufacturing plants and 38,000 employees. During his 30-year career at Kroger, he held a number of leadership positions, including leading the chain’s central division, overseeing various merchandise categories, overall merchandising and operations.

“I’ve always admired the love that shoppers have for Target,” said Burt. “There is an opportunity to harness the power of the Target brand to more clearly cater to what consumers want when they’re shopping for food and beverage. I am eager to join the team to help fuel the work that’s underway and propel the business forward.”

Burt will join the company on April 10 and will relocate to Minneapolis.

When Dirk Nowitzki of the Dallas Mavericks of the National Basketball Association recently scored his 30,000th career point, the milestone was marked in an unusual way: he received a potato with his picture on it along with a note of congratulations.

Unsure who sent the celebratory tuber, Nowitzki took to social media, according to a March 21 story in The Wall Street Journal.

“Whoever sent me this potato — much appreciated,” the 19-year veteran forward wrote on his Twitter account.

Nowitzki wasn’t the only NBAer to be blindsided by the unusual greeting. In subsequent days, Hassan Whiteside of the Miami Heat received one that depicted him and the musician DJ Khaled. Kevin Durant of the Golden State Warriors, who is nursing a knee injury, received one with a note wishing him a speedy recovery. “Hope this stupid potato eases the pain,” the note said in part. And C.J. Miles, a guard for the Indiana Pacers, received one calling him “one of the most underrated players in the game,” after he ascended to No. 7 all time on the team in three-pointers made.

So who is behind this potato-greeting trend? Riad Bekhit, owner of the Bay Area start-up Potato Parcel fessed up.

“It wasn’t some crazy fan, it was me,” he was quoted as saying in the WSJ story.

Bekhit is a different kind of potato shipper, charging around $15 for a personalized potato that is not meant to be eaten but rather sent as a greeting. For that fee, customers can upload an image and message that are affixed to the spud before being mailed to a designated address.

Bekhit said his company has sent more than 40,000 potatoes so far. But his company is not alone in its quirkiness.

Competitors include Mail a Spud and MysteryPotato, which also provide a similarly unconventional greeting service using the staple of the produce department. But for Bekhit, the key was to employ unconventional marketing to stand out, thus the blitz to the big names in the NBA.

Bekhit appeared on “Shark Tank” last year with Potato Parcel founder Alex Craig to pitch the idea to the notoriously critical panel. While they received two offers for funding, neither was from Mark Cuban, owner of the Dallas Mavericks, who agreed it was an effective marketing tactic.

While Bekhit’s spuds have reached many of their targets, including one to Houston Rockets guard James Harden, who was complimented on his beard in the spud-o-gram, others were air balls.

The unacknowledged tuber sent to NBA superstar LeBron James carried the note, “What can I say? You inspired me to be a beast in the potato biz.”