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‘Blizzard of 2015’ doesn’t live up to name in NYC, leaving produce industry mostly grateful

What was predicted by major news media to be the “Blizzard of 2015” on Monday, Jan. 26, trickled down to a brief dusting of snow across most of the Northeast. This left produce professionals grateful, but also in question of decisions made by politicians in preparation for what they believed would be a dangerous storm.

Headlines throughout the day on Monday were enough to put a scare into anyone: “Northeast U.S. braves 'crippling' blizzard, transit systems shut," “Schools closed, flights cancelled [more than 7,500] as blizzard hits,” “Non-essential drivers off the city's roads after 11 p.m. Monday [or risk a $300 fine],” and “New Hampshire governor declares state of emergency and closes government on Tuesday.”

Millions of people emptied store shelves prepared to hunker down in their homes. Eight states were under emergency declarations by late Monday. According to one NBC news report, the Northeast corridor came to an eerie standstill.

But news on Tuesday morning took a turn with headlines like “NYC travel ban lifted, mass transit back later this morning.”

Tuesday morning was mostly about getting back to normal in the produce industry.

“Our trucks were loaded and ready to go last night,” Michael Muzyk, president of Baldor Specialty Foods in the Bronx, NY, told The Produce News. “We had to make a decision: Should we load trains as a backup or wait it out? But our customers include hospitals, nursing homes and even hotels that are responsible for feeding people, and they don’t shut down.”

Baldor managed to pull together a skeleton crew to drive the trucks, and Muzyk made the decision.

“I told them that if they got stopped by the police for breaking the law during the ban, they were to tell them the truth--they were getting food to these facilities that needed it,” he said.

“We’re all happy that the storm wasn’t worse and that no one was harmed,” he continued. “But this has nothing to do with snow—it has to do with the actions taken by city and state officials.”

He added that there is a huge financial loss for companies like Baldor due to this level of shutdown, and he feels it leaves room for the actions to be examined for future weather emergencies.

“It was only a passing storm for us,” said Jim Allen, president of the New York Apple Association in Fishers, NY. “Some shippers will have to delay deliveries, but they will make them up immediately once the storm passes. New England will be down the longest. We hope all remain safe and that life and property are not harmed.”

In South Jersey, the storm had even less affect. On Tuesday morning Amy Erianne, vice president of business development for Safeway Group in Vineland, NJ, said, “We really did not get much snow at all, and it was much milder than forecasted. We are operating as usual and there were no issues, thankfully.”

Sun World names new CEO

Merrill N. Dibble has been appointed president and chief executive officer of Sun World International LLC. Dibble succeeds David Dever and takes the helm as the company embarks on a plan to strengthen its position as a premier grape breeder, producer, marketer and licensor.

Dibble comes to Sun World from AgReserves Inc., where he served as its Bakersfield, CA-based vice president of California operations for the company’s almond, walnut, pistachio and prune business units.

The leadership transition is part of a larger strategy to optimize Sun World’s product portfolio, expand its international trading platform and bolster its variety development and licensing business. With a continued commitment to grape and stone fruit variety development and breeding, as well as table grape production, sales and marketing, the company also announced the following strategic focuses: portfolio optimization, variety development and licensing growth. 

In order to better meet customer demand for a consistent supply of its unique grape varieties, Sun World is developing an aggressive California grape-planting program, with new vineyards to supplement its existing owned and leased properties in California’s Coachella and San Joaquin Valleys.

The company plans to divest its pepper and strawberry farming, and citrus packing and marketing interests. In conjunction with Woodspur, an affiliated date company owned by Renewable Resources Group, Sun World’s Coachella Valley facility will be re‐purposed for packing and handling fresh dates. The company’s citrus activities will be phased out. All Coachella-area farming activities will be centered on its grape acreage, which is slated for considerable growth in the coming years.

With one of the world’s leading grape and stone fruit variety-development programs, Sun World will continue to bring differentiated varieties with improved flavor, size, color and texture to the marketplace.

The company is committed to expanding its already significant varietal presence with continued licensed production throughout Europe, Australia, South Africa, New Zealand, Israel, South America and North America to support global demand.

Solid year for Delhaize America

The Delhaize Group saw revenue growth during the four quarter of 2014, and the company announced positive numbers for 2014 as a whole. Frans Muller, president and chief executive officer, also noted that in 2015 the company will be focused on continuing to roll out the Easy, Fresh & Affordable strategy at Food Lion.

Easy, Fresh & Affordable is a multi-year initiative to make shopping easier for Food Lion customers at the company's more than 1,100 stores, while keeping the low prices customers expect.

“In 2014, we made substantial progress in a number of areas and believe the strategy announced in March of 2014 has resonated with all stakeholders," Muller said in a press release. "While we recognize there is still significant work to be done to achieve our ambitions and goals, I am confident in our team´s ability to deliver.

“For 2015, our focus will be to further roll-out the Easy, Fresh & Affordable strategy at Food Lion and to implement the transformation plan in Belgium, both initiatives focused on the customer," he continued. "We will also seek to accelerate growth in selected markets. Finally, we will continue to be disciplined with respect to operating costs, capital allocation and working capital.”

Muller said the preliminary unaudited group underlying operating profit stood at $832 million for 2014, excluding the 53rd week in the United States, driven by strong sales growth and a relatively stable underlying operating margin at Delhaize America. The company generated an operating free cash flow of approximately $660 million.

“Our fourth quarter revenues at Delhaize America were solid, partly helped by inflation and both Food Lion and Hannaford reported positive real sales growth," Muller added in a press release.

Driscoll’s to advance global fresh berry growth

Driscoll’s, one of the world’s largest distributors of fresh berries, announced changes in the organization to further advance its global business strategy. Building on Driscoll’s industry leadership in food-safety standards, Keith Refsnider will now have overall responsibility for the development of Driscoll’s global food-safety standards as the global food safety program director.driscol

As the subject matter expert, Refsnider will oversee and coordinate Driscoll’s food-safety programs and procedures collaborating with each of the business units across the world.

“Next to delightful flavor, Driscoll’s has made food safety the single most important focus of growing delicious berries,” Tom O’Brien, senior vice president and general counsel, legal affairs and external engagement, said in a press release. “Our goal is maintaining and exceeding one food-safety standard for Driscoll’s across the globe. We look forward to Keith’s continued contributions in helping us expand our global knowledge.” 

Refsnider has led and developed Driscoll’s North America food-safety program since 2004. Founded on the principles of GAPs established by the FDA and reinforced through education, research and third-party audits, Driscoll’s global food-safety program has provided leadership in the agricultural industry.

Prior to Driscoll’s, Refsnider’s food industry experience spanned across several areas, including research and development, quality control, operations and food safety and regulatory compliance. He has been credited for leading a team that developed the concept of fortified confections and launched numerous new food products from concept to market.

In addition, Refsnider is an international panelist, speaker and trainer distinguishing himself as a technical food-safety expert. He currently serves on the Produce Safety, Science & Technology Committee with the Produce Marketing Association, the United Fresh Food Safety & Technology Council, the California Strawberry Commission's Food Safety Committee, and the GLOBALG.A.P. U.S.A. National Technical Working Group.

Chiquita names new executives

Chiquita, which was recently acquired by Cutrale-Safra, has named two new executives: Andrew J. Biles will take on the role of CEO of Chiquita bananas and pineapples; and Darcilo Santos was named chief financial officer. The new announcement comes on the heels of news that the company will be closing its Charlotte, NC, headquarters.

Biles has held several positions with juice and food companies, including CEO of Gerber Emig Global Ltd. from 1998 to 2014, chairman of Frigo-Pak Gıda Maddeleri San. ve Tic. A.S. from 1998 to 2012, and chief operating officer of the Dole Food Co.’s European operations from 1992 to 1998. He also served as president of the European Fruit Juice Association from 2004 to January 2015, and as a director of Hanover Acceptances Ltd., an international private investment group, from 1999 to 2014.

Santos has over 25 years of experience working in the financial and banking industries. Since 2013, he worked at Safra Bank in São Paulo, Brazil, where he held several positions, including risk and finance executive, managing director and chief data officer. Prior to his work at Safra Bank, Santos worked for 13 years at Banco Itaú BBA, where he held senior positions in the areas of risk management, MIS and planning and credit portfolio management. He received an MBA in Global Banking from the University of Birmingham in the United Kingdom.

Earlier in January it was announced that Brian Kocher, chief operating officer of Chiquita, assumed the position of interim CEO, succeeding Ed Lonergan; and Rick Frier, executive vice president and chief financial officer, announced his departure from the company.