ANAHEIM, CA — Perhaps the most well-attended workshop session during the Produce Marketing Association’s Fresh Summit convention was the Oct. 17 meeting to analyze the latest proposals concerning the Food Safety Modernization Act.
Most of the participants seemed relieved — judging by reactions and questions — as FDA Deputy Commissioner of U.S. Foods Mike Taylor and Dr. Samir Assar, director of produce safety, discussed the four supplemental proposals recently released for comment by the agency.
The four proposals specifically deal with produce safety, preventive controls for human food, foreign supplier verification programs and preventive controls for animal feed. In each instance, FDA has added flexibility to its original proposals, which has the end result of liberalizing the rules and making them easier to comply with.
Taylor and Assar were joined by panelists Walter Ram, vice president of food safety of The Giumarra Cos.; Courtney Parker, vice president of salad quality and global food safety of Chiquita/Fresh Express; and Mike Villaneva, technical director for California Leafy Green Marketing Agreement.
In response to questions or comments, the FDA’s top representative repeatedly told the standing-room-only crowd to submit comments about specific concerns and/or issues with the new proposals. The comment period for these supplemental proposals will extend until Dec. 15.
The comment period for the earlier proposals has closed, and while the FDA is still considering the comments it received on those proposed rules, it is only accepting new comments on the updated proposals. Taylor promised that a set of final rules will be “on the books by late next year (2015).”
He said the supplemental proposals “reflect what we have learned” by the comments and public hearings that were held and submitted since the proposals were first released last year. While virtually all independent experts looking at the supplemental proposals indicated that they represented less testing and a relaxation of food-safety rules, Taylor said the proposals were guided by the same principles of food safety.
One industry expert who asked not to be identified “because I have to work with FDA,” said, “Either the first set of proposals weren’t based on sound science or these aren’t.”
For example, in the first set of proposals the FDA laid out a nine-month waiting period between harvest and the use of raw manure in organic farming. That proposal is now off the table and a much shorter time frame will be able to be used.
Assar cited both “economic concerns” and “disruptions in the cropping cycles” to explain the new flexibility. In this instance, the FDA said the nine-month time frame was not based on hard scientific data. In fact, the representatives promised that the FDA would gather data on the use of raw manure and come out with a new standard at some future time.
In the meantime, they said the 90-120 day intervals that are a part of the National Organic Program could be utilized, but Assar added that those timeframes also aren’t based on scientific data.
Another change has to do with the use of ag water. The original proposals outlined specific standards that must be met. The new supplemental proposals again add flexibility that allow for additional waiting periods between irrigation and harvest if the standards can’t be met.
The new water proposal also calls for a significant decrease in testing intervals and requirements. The first proposal basically called for taking 20 water samples over a five-month period. The new proposals call for 20 samples over two years and then less often after that.
The proposals also exempt more farms from the regulations. Under the initial proposals, the FDA estimated that more than 40,000 farms would be covered. The new proposals estimate that number at about 35,500.
Parker of Fresh Express echoed the tone of the comments heard most often by the other panelists as well as audience members when she characterized the supplemental proposals as being “less onerous.”
Assar said the FDA wants to make it as easy as possible for the industry to comply with the rules, though throughout the seminar the FDA did reiterate that food safety was of paramount importance and all the rules are based on that principle.
PMA will host a webinar to discuss the supplements on Monday, Nov. 3 at 12:30 p.m. EDT/9:30 a.m. PT. This webinar will allow participants an opportunity to hear directly from FDA, ask questions and learn how to positively affect change regarding the FSMA rule proposals.
Chiquita Brands International Inc. and the Cutrale-Safra group announced a definitive merger agreement under which Cutrale-Safra will acquire all outstanding common shares of Chiquita for $14.50 per share in cash — approximately $1.3 billion, including the assumption of Chiquita’s net debt. The transaction is expected to close by the end of 2014 or early 2015, at which point Chiquita will become a wholly owned subsidiary of the Cutrale-Safra group. It will remain incorporated in New Jersey.
In early March, Chiquita announced a merger with Ireland-based Fyffes; however, Cutrale-Safra entered the conversation in August, when the pair of companies contacted Chiquita with an unsolicited $611 million buyout. That offer, as well as a second made by Cutrale-Safra, was rejcted. Executives at Chiquita were in favor of the Fyffes deal as recently as the morning of Friday, Oct. 24, when Kerrii B. Anderson, chairwoman of the Chiquita board of directors, and Ed Lonergan, Chiquita`s chief executive officer, said, "Chiquita's board continues to believe in the long-term value of the ChiquitaFyffes merger and does not believe that the $14.50 offer from Cutrale/Safra is superior to the potential combination."
The Fyffes deal was voted down at a shareholder meeting later that morning, at which time the board continued discussions with Cutrale-Safra.
The transaction combines Chiquita with Cutrale Group, an agribusiness and juice company, and the Safra Group, a global financial services firm with a strong track record of successful investments.
“We are pleased to make this long-term investment in Chiquita, one of the leading fresh produce companies in the world," Cutrale-Safra said in a press release. "It has impressive brand loyalty and recognition through its 'Chiquita' and 'Fresh Express' brands, providing the company with a strong competitive edge in the growing worldwide demand for high-quality fresh fruits and salads. Cutrale-Safra is committed to supporting Chiquita as it continues to build out the strength of its franchises."
According to the release, Chiquita will be able to access Cutrale-Safra's substantial experience in all aspects of the fruit and juice value chain and extensive financial expertise, and it will be able to take advantage of Cutrale Group's knowledge of farming, processing, technology, sourcing, distribution, logistics and marketing.
“This transaction demonstrates our board’s commitment to maximizing shareholder value and underscores the significant progress Chiquita has achieved over the past couple of years in our financial and operational performance,” Lonergan said in the press release. “We are pleased with the substantial value and significant all-cash premium we have delivered through this exciting agreement with the Cutrale Group and the Safra Group.
"Through the due diligence process, we developed a tremendous amount of respect for the entire Cutrale-Safra team, especially their knowledge and understanding of global agribusiness, shipping and manufacturing," Lonergan said in the release. "'Chiquita' and 'Fresh Express' are some of the most recognizable brands in the sector, and we are confident that Cutrale-Safra will be good stewards of the business moving forward. We look forward to working with Cutrale-Safra to ensure a smooth transition and complete the transaction as expeditiously as possible. We would once again like to express our sincere gratitude to Chiquita’s employees around the world for their hard work and dedication on behalf of Chiquita and our customers.”
CMI was one of the five winning companies recognized for excellence in packaging. Its Go-Go Fresh cherry snacking pouch bag was one of 67 entries submitted by 56 companies. In addition to CMI, winners were Earthbound Farm for its PowerMeal Bowls, Fresh Solutions Network for its Side Delights potato pouch bags, Mucci Farms for its New Pint tomato packaging and Wholly Guacamole for its grab n’ guac box.
Judges were tasked with selecting the Impact Award winners by ranking entrants against the following criteria: marketing, sustainability, consumer convenience, supply chain efficiency/functionality and food safety. Each company that submitted an entry into the Impact Award contest was asked to identify how the packaging innovation made their product more convenient for consumers or more easily merchandized by their store partners.
“With Go-Go Fresh snacking cherries, CMI created the first single-serve cherry package designed specifically for the convenience store channel,” Steve Lutz, vice president of marketing for CMI, said in a release.
Lutz said that while cherries drive very strong impulse purchases with consumers, conventional industry packaging designed for supermarkets was a poor fit for convenience stores. “We were pretty certain if we created a fixed weight single-serve package for cherries we could leverage the seasonal power of cherries to drive incremental sales through convenience stores, a largely untapped market for the industry. We’re delighted that the PMA Impact Awards recognized the power and creativity of our new package by naming CMI as one of the 2014 winners.”
The traditional supermarket packaging for cherries of larger random-weight bags is not conducive to convenience stores. These small footprint stores typically require smaller fixed-weight packages to be successful in a quick trip format. In response to this demand, CMI developed “Go-Go Fresh”, a mini cherry package designed specifically for grab-n-go convenience.
“We have been consistently hearing from consumers and customers that they really want convenient, on-the-go snack products for smaller format stores,” CMI's Katharine Grove said in the release. “We developed Go-Go Fresh cherries to directly target the convenience store channel to appeal to consumers looking for healthy food choices,” said Grove.
Before creating the cherry snack pouch, the CMI marketing team drew feedback from a focus panel made up of consumers and retailers. This feedback was then utilized in the development of packaging style, art, colors and retail price points. Feedback on hot keywords demonstrated that ”GMO free,” “Low calories” and “Fat-Free” were the buzzwords most likely to spur an impulse purchase.
The National Mango Board has honored George Hurst of Roundy’s Supermarkets as its 2014 Mango Retailer of the Year. Each year, the NMB selects four Model Mango Retailers, one from each region of the United States. All of these retailers are honored for their dedication to supporting the growth of the mango category. The winner was announced at the NMB’s Mango Industry Reception on Oct. 18 during PMA Fresh Summit.
The Mango Model Retailer and Mango Retailer of the Year program seeks to identify retailers that go beyond the efforts of a typical retailer in terms of supporting the mango industry.The Mango Model Retailers for 2014 are Chris Keetch of Ahold USA, John Higgins and Mark DeCosta of Costco Wholesale, and Ricardo DiMarzio of Shopper’s Food & Pharmacy. Each of the Mango Model Retailers has personified the following characteristics:
“The mango industry has many heroes and champions at retail. These retailers are our partners helping support the mango industry year round and have become an essential component in accomplishing our mission to increase fresh mango consumption in the U.S.,” Manuel Michel, NMB executive director, said in a press release. “The four finalists for the award really encompass the strong efforts made across the board, making our decision to choose one extremely difficult."
Hurst had a 24 percent increase in mango volume compared to a 4 percent increase for the region and an 8 percent increase for the nation. He outperformed his regional competition consistently in every quarter of the past year.
“I’ve never seen a retailer get more excited about selling mangos," Katie Manetti, retail account manager for NMB, said in the press release. "His enthusiasm is just over the moon, and the more success he has with mangos, the more motivated he is to do even better the next time around.”
Walmart Canada has joined Half Your Plate, the Canadian Produce Marketing Association's healthy eating campaign designed to get Canadians of all ages to eat more fruits and veggies to improve their health. After a successful launch on social media this summer, Half Your Plate is now making its way onto produce packaging and into retail stores across Canada.
“We are excited to be the first major retailer to promote Half Your Plate in our stores and flyers,” said Sam Silvestro, senior director of fresh foods for Walmart Canada, said in a press release. “We believe that healthy eating starts with getting enough servings of fruits and vegetables every day, and Half Your Plate provides an easy message for consumers to understand and keep in mind when doing their grocery shopping.”
“Rather than having people count servings or worry about serving size, our messaging is that at every meal, make half your plate fruit and vegetables. By the end of the day, you’ll have your recommended number of servings,” Ron Lemaire, president of CPMA, said in the release. “That also translates when you’re at the grocery store. Half your cart should be fruit and veggies, and having retailers promote the campaign re-emphasizes the importance of making healthier choices at the store.”
Half Your Plate offers a simple, consistent way to help consumers navigate the many different messages they hear each day about healthy eating. “It can be a bit confusing for some consumers to know what makes up a healthy meal,” added Lemaire. “What we hear most from consumers is that they’re struggling with what a serving is in a lot of instances and are looking for ways to make healthy choices fast, easy and affordable.”
Although Canadians are becoming more conscious of what they eat, studies show that the average person only consumes 3.5-4.5 servings of fruits and vegetables every day. Yet Canada’s Food Guide recommends that adults get seven to 10 servings per day, depending on gender. Half Your Plate encourages people to take it one meal at a time, analyzing the make-up of their plate rather than specific servings that can be confusing to many.
The Half Your Plate campaign was developed in collaboration with health partners the Canadian Cancer Society, the Canadian Public Health Association and the Heart and Stroke Foundation. More information can be found at www.halfyourplate.ca or by following @halfyourplate on Twitter, Facebook, or Pinterest. Other retailers are expected to start using the campaign in the coming months.