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Driven by demand, commission extends Potato Lovers' Month

The Idaho Potato Commission's annual Potato Lovers' Month display contest has become so successful, with so many stores participating, that it has become necessary to expand the promotion to eight weeks, rather than just four weeks in February.

Last year, demand for Idaho potatoes during the February promotion was so great it essentially reached the limit of the capacity of Idaho potato packing facilities to meet the demand. Therefore, for the 2015 Potato Lovers' Month, the contest period will be extended to eight weeks. It will start mid-January and continue into mid-March.

17-IDPot-IPC-Retail-Seth-PeSeth PemslerPotato Lovers' Month, now in its 24th year, "has grown exponentially," said Seth Pemsler, vice president of retail for the Idaho Potato Commission. "It is now the largest display contest in all the U.S. in fruits and vegetables," and that success is expected to continue.  For 2015, "we will hopefully add some new customers, which we are always trying to do."

According to Frank Muir, president of the commission, Prior to 2005, the average number of displays for the annual Potato Lovers' Month display contest was 600. From 2006 to 2012, there were an average of 2,000 displays. "The last two years, we have averaged 4,500. A big part of that is we now have Walmart as a major partner in that event."

The commission will continue to work with Hormel as a partner for the Potato Lovers' Month promotion, Pemsler told The Produce News.

As an adjunct to the national contest, "we do individual contests with retailers," Pemsler said. "We go to retailers and say, 'If you convince your chain to participate, we will give you an internal contest,' and the retailer can still participate in the national contest," he said. "That will continue to expand."

Elaborating on the reason for extending the time period for the Potato Lovers' Month contest to eight  weeks, Pemsler said that the number of participating stores has increased so  much in the past two years that "our shippers can't pack that fast. We actually missed some opportunities this year" because there was not enough volume available to meet the additional demand. By expanding the promotion to eight weeks, "the Idaho shipping community can meet the increasing demand" generated by the Potato Lovers' Month promotions.

The Potato Lovers' Month promotion — and many other commission programs — couldn't be executed without the field team, Pemsler said.

Among the commission's other retail programs is "our category management initiative, our new data initiative, which is very helpful to retailers. But the way we execute all these things requires our field team," he said.

The field team consists of people who "grew up doing exactly what the people they are calling on do," Pemsler continued. "All of our field people — retail and foodservice — come from the industry. " On the retail side they have been produce directors, "and they have been distributors on the foodservice side, so they have phenomenal knowledge and credibility. They act as consultants to their counterparts."

The commission is giving increased attention to the Hispanic marketplace in its retail programs. "We did extensive research to identify and understand the Hispanic consumer, and what we learned was the Hispanic consumers are very brand conscious," and when it comes to produce "they are extremely brand conscious because there are so few bands," Pemsler said. The Hispanic consumers "skew very heavily toward the perception that a brand is better and Idaho is the best brand."

To make retailers that have stores with Hispanic demographics aware of those facts, the commission "created a presentation that explains what Hispanic consumers are looking for and how the retailers are missing opportunities if they are not making sure Idaho potatoes are present and visible in those stores, he said.

FDA's Taylor says food-safety inspections to change in post-FSMA

WASHINGTON — The Food & Drug Administration is retooling inspectors to be more specialized in food and teaching them to assess a company's food-safety culture for the first time when deciding whether to return for another inspection, Mike Taylor, the FDA 's food-safety chief, said Sept. 10 at the United Fresh Produce Association's Washington Conference, here.

This was just one of several messages he brought to the breakfast meeting of the conference as he mapped out the FDA's plan for assuring compliance with the massive Food Safety Modernization Act.

While attendees had hoped Taylor would detail the new provisions of the produce safety proposal, he arrived to the meeting empty-handed as the White House has yet to complete the final review.

But Taylor laid out the "sea change" its field force is undergoing to prepare for the new food-safety law.

Bringing companies into compliance will be the new benchmark of FDA's field force, not collecting evidence for enforcement actions, Taylor pledged. The FDA is shifting away from general inspectors who are trained to check drug, food and medical device firms for a more specialized food inspector who can call technical experts at FDA for advice during plant assessments.

A company's food-safety culture will influence how often inspectors will check on a firm, whether it's the food-safety commitment of the top leaders at a company or the effort a facility takes in developing the right plans, he said.

"This focuses us on those few that aren't there, don't have a food safety culture for whatever reason and need our attention to get compliance," he said.

While the new produce safety and preventive controls are not out yet, Taylor said the industry should expect to see greater flexibility in the water quality and testing provisions and a different direction on the raw manure-compost section.

"You will see important new ideas in there," he said. "This next round will be very important."

Later, United Fresh conference packed two busloads of attendees to the FDA's College Park, MD, office to discuss a wide range of issues with regulators in charge of drafting the FSMA rules and overseeing various sampling programs.

One FDA official told the group to expect new supplier verification and product testing requirements in the supplemental FSMA rules expected as early as this month.

Expect a fix to the problem of neighboring farms being designated facilities if they pack other farms' produce.

"This is an area we considered when developing the supplemental," said Samir Assar, FDA's produce safety staff director.

Avocados, sprouts on FDA sampling list

Besides FSMA, Amy Barringer, FDA's director of field programs and guidance, briefed the group on the 2014 sampling pilot program and its new emphasis on taking a larger number of statistically significant samples of fewer commodities to check for pathogens.

This year, the FDA is in the process of taking thousands of samples of avocados, certain raw milk cheeses and sprouts, and Barringer said the agency is wrestling with a way to share data with stakeholders before releasing a final report. Cheese and sprout testing will be wrapped up in January, and avocados in June.

In response to a question of why avocados were targeted, Barringer said FDA has seen an uptick of illnesses from processed foods that may contain avocados, such as salsa, but the agency had little data.

Harris Teeter and Titan Farms team up to fight hunger

Titan Farms and Harris Teeter donated more than 58,000 pounds of peaches to the Second Harvest food banks in Winston-Salem and Charlotte, NC, to help feed the hungry in the local communities. This donation is part of the retailer’s participation in the second annual Peaches with A Purpose program, sponsored by peach grower Titan Farms.titan

Titan Farms, one of the larger peach growers on the East Coast, created the Peaches with a Purpose program to help feed the underserved while bringing attention to the problem of food insecurity in the United States. This is the second year the North Carolina-based retailer and the peach grower partnered in the fight to aid hunger relief.

“We are pleased to partner with Harris Teeter on this program that assists them in giving back to their local communities,” Lori Anne Carr, vice president of Titan Farms, said in a press release. “It is an honor to bring it back for a second year and we look forward to strengthening with each year to come.”

The program ran through the month of August and encompassed 144 Harris Teeter stores in North Carolina. For the total amount of peaches purchased during the campaign period, Harris Teeter in turn donated a percentage back to the food bank. The total donation is in excess of 58,000 pounds of peaches from the fields of Titan Farms.

“On behalf of the hundreds of thousands of children, seniors and families who struggle daily with hunger in our region, we want to thank Harris Teeter and their partner Titan Farms for their commitment to help end hunger,” Kay Carter, executive director for Second Harvest Food Bank of Metrolina, said in the release. “Produce is an item that those living in poverty can least afford but need as part of a healthy diet.  We are very grateful for this support.”

Allegiance Retail Services announces grand reopening of Cold Spring Foodtown

The Cold Spring Foodtown in Putnam County, NY, celebrated its grand reopening Sept. 5, featuring an enlarged and completely remodeled store and several new and expanded departments. Some of the enhancements include a new fresh seafood department, an expanded deli and bakery department, a wide variety of organic and natural foods, a new vitamin and supplements department, and an expanded fruit and vegetable department.

The Foodtown of Cold Spring is one of 11 supermarket locations owned and operated by Noah, Daniel and Sydney Katz of PSK Supermarkets.

"We are very proud of the grand reopening of the Cold Spring Foodtown and we are thrilled to serve the community with all its new features and services," Noah Katz, co-president of PSK Supermarkets, said in a press release. "All that was done would not have been possible without the tremendous help and support of the store associates and the Allegiance Retails Services team. This was truly a great team force."

"We are excited to have another state-of-the-art supermarket to serve the New York shopper," Michael Stolarz, president and chief operating officer of Allegiance Retail Services LLC, added in the press release. "The entire Allegiance team congratulates the Katz family and looks forward to the success of the store."

"We would like to congratulate the Katz family on the grand reopening of the Cold Spring Foodtown," David Maniaci, chairman and chief executive officer of Allegiance Retail Services, added. "We are honored by the confidence that Noah, Daniel and Sydney have in the Allegiance team, and we wish the store much success."

Lawmakers warn about battle for next farm bill

WASHINGTON — The next farm bill may not look like the hard-fought 2014 version as critics continue to advocate for splitting farm policy from food stamps in the next bill, lawmakers told attendees of the United Fresh Produce Association's Washington Conference, here.

Tom Stenzel, president and chief executive officer of United Fresh, kicked off the meeting with a promise of no government shutdown during the three-day meeting, a reference to last year's budget impasse that forced Congress and federal agencies to shut their offices during the Washington Conference.

Even though Congress plans to cut its legislating session short to campaign for the midterm elections in November, the two-day lobbying blitz sends a message on key issues lawmakers should take up later this year and next, Stenzel said.

"You've got to keep up the pressure," he said. Changes on key issues, such as immigration reform, might not come in the next few weeks, but "we expect it next year." United Fresh has organized the largest produce fly-in to visit House offices Sept. 9 and Senate offices Sept. 10.

Rep. Doc Hastings (R-WA), a long-time champion on agriculture issues who received the Congressional Leadership Award Sept. 9 from United Fresh at the conference, said the last farm bill was "very difficult to get done."

Some believe the bill's overwhelming emphasis on costly feeding programs is overshadowing the farm legislation, and that's "unsustainable," Hastings said. It will be a political challenge to get the next bill through Congress, he warned.

Sen. Pat Roberts (R-KS), who followed Hastings at the breakfast session, said splitting the farm and food stamps would prove dangerous to the agriculture industry. Roberts acknowledged, though, he's heard predictions the massive, five-year 2014 farm bill "may be the last one."

Roberts criticized President Obama for announcing immigration reform would wait until after the elections. On the legislative front, however, Roberts said he doesn't expect to see progress on labor issues until after the election.

Hastings focused his talk on the need for Congress to reform the Endangered Species Act, which he blamed on water shortages that have damaged the agriculture industry.