United Fresh takes to Capitol Hill with focus on nutrition, labor and drought legislation

WASHINGTON — With funding for the government still in flux and the Republican leadership in turmoil, United Fresh Produce Association members marched off to Capitol Hill Sept. 29 at a critical time with a short list of legislative demands, ranging from immigration reform to school nutrition mandates.

“This is when we get to speak with a unified message,” said Brian Kocher, chairman of United Fresh and chief operating officer at Castellini & Co. LLC. “This is my favorite event of the calendar.”united

Kocher acknowledged that sometimes the produce industry’s message needs to be voiced repeatedly, but that’s part of the process.

The 500-plus attendees kicked off the meeting with insights from Gen. Michael Hayden, former director of the Central Intelligence Agency and the National Security Agency, who spoke about the ever increasing threats from terrorists and failed states.

After that, it was a discussion on the top policy issues affecting produce businesses.

Forty-three teams of produce leaders in the House and 24 teams in the Senate walked to Capitol Hill with messages on school nutrition policy, immigration reform, California emergency drought legislation, highway funding and fair trade.

Though not on the legislative agenda, United Fresh held two sessions delving into the latest developments with the Food Safety Modernization Act as the Food & Drug Administration just released the first two of seven regulations earlier this month.

One of the issues raised at the meeting was the FDA’s handling of packinghouses, some of which will fall under the preventive controls while others will need to comply with the upcoming produce-safety regulations due out by Oct. 31.

FDA believes these packinghouses will adhere to similar controls, no matter which regulation they fall under.

“We’re trying to make the regulations as similar as possible,” said FDA Policy Analyst Ester Bleicher.

But an attendee complained that most operations will fall under the more costly preventive controls where “there’s a number of things” businesses will need to do, while on-farm packinghouses will not.

Bleicher said one of the biggest differences is that operations under the preventive controls will need to document all controls, and may need to conduct environmental monitoring.

An industry member said he’s concerned that growers who want to do the right thing will opt for a “conservative” interpretation of the rules and go overboard with implementing preventive controls to make sure they’re in compliance.

Later, Bob Ehart, senior policy adviser at the National Association of State Departments of Agriculture, discussed the problems facing states in implementing the new food-safety law, and that NASDA is still opposed to the latest version of water standards in the yet-to-be-final produce rule.

Besides food safety, United Fresh held sessions on genetically modified produce and global trade issues.

Produce companies should keep tabs of the GMO debate, even if their commodities are not produced with the technology because seeds may be, Charles Conner, chief executive officer of National Council of Farmer Cooperatives, cautioned during one of the breakout sessions.

With a Vermont mandatory GMO labeling law coming in effect next July, a coalition of industry groups is advocating for a voluntary labeling bill that passed the House but has yet to be taken up in the Senate.

Conner predicted an industry-backed Senate bill would be introduced next month by Sen. John Hoeven (R-ND), and he suggested the Obama administration will unveil a new initiative on climate change, which is another reason why GMOs are important as a pesticide reduction policy.

The most litigated food fight in recent years, the GMO battle is likely to spread past Vermont to other states because consumers want to know, said Scott Faber, vice president of the Environmental Working Group.

This is not about a warning on products, he said, just a “simple, non-judgmental disclosure on the back of the package.”

On trade issues, Mark Powers, executive vice president of the Northwest Horticultural Council, said his number one trade priority is to maintain access to the 60 countries the industry has access to right now.

A loss of Mexico due to an anti-dumping case, or if India shuts down a key port, hurts businesses, Powers said, adding that the process of advancing interests to government in neither easy nor quick.

John Keeling, executive vice president and CEO of the National Potato Council, said his group has brought on consultants to help the U.S. Department of Agriculture wade through technical issues.

HAB study reveals shoppers spend more when avocados are in basket

The Hass Avocado Board's new study, Keys to the Cart: Driving Hass Avocado Sales at Retail, unveils how avocado purchases impact the value of the retail market basket, and identifies key shoppers and purchase behaviors driving these results.

For example, the retail market basket analysis shows that shoppers spend 65 percent more in-store overall when avocados are in the basket; and millennial shoppers spend 73 percent more in-store overall when avocados are in the basket.drivingavo

"The study, based on IRI household panel data, yields actionable insights into how high-value shoppers, such as millennials, are driving the category by purchasing avocados more frequently and spending more each time," Emiliano Escobedo, executive director of the Hass Avocado Board, said in a press release. "Equally as interesting is how regional segmentation sheds light on areas that may be poised to deliver the next big wave of category growth."

When viewing information on total U.S. households, the study found that over half of U.S. households purchase avocados with an average of 33 days between purchases. On average, shoppers purchase avocados six times per year and spend $3.49 per purchase. This equates to an annual avocado dollar spend of $20.76 per household.

Retailers benefit in many ways from the robust avocado category. Shoppers spend more in-store overall when avocados are in the basket -- the average retail market basket with avocados is 65 percent greater than baskets without avocados. The value of the basket is $68 with avocados and $54 without avocados.

The study offers in-depth insight into various consumer groups and geographic regions:

  • Millennial Avocado Buyers — Millennial households are more likely to buy avocados and spend more on avocados than non-millennials. Millennials spend 22 percent more per occasion. Millennial baskets with avocados are $76.36, which is $8.74 above the average basket with avocados and $10.08 greater than non-millennial baskets with avocados.
  • Bulk and Bagged Avocado Buyers — Buyers who purchase both bulk and bagged avocados spend more each year and purchase more frequently than bulk-only and bagged-only buyers. Bagged-only buyers have the highest avocado market basket at $137.93; both buyers also drive a higher-than-average avocado basket at $81.22; and the avocado market basket for bulk-only buyers is slightly below the average at $61.57.
  • Avocado Buyers in Geographic Regions — The retail market basket with avocados in Emerging Regions (Aggregate of Midsouth, Great Lakes, Northeast, Plains and Southeast) is higher than in Developed Regions (Aggregate of California, West and South Central). Emerging Region baskets with avocados are $69.11, which is $1.49 above the national average for baskets with avocados and $2.92 greater than Developed Regions. However, the annual avocado spend is increasing at a faster rate in the Emerging Regions.

To learn more and to read the full report visit hassavocadoboard.com/retail.

'Top Chef' judge to showcase his Southern touch at CAC's Fresh Summit booth

This year, the California Avocado Commission's PMA Fresh Summit booth (No. 2647) will host Atlanta-based chef and cookbook author Hugh Acheson, who will fuse southern cuisine and California avocados to create irresistible dishes for booth visitors to sample. The commission will also share some of its 2016 marketing programs at the event.

“CAC is gearing up for 2016 with exciting plans and looking forward to meeting with retailers in our booth and at show events,” Jan DeLyser, CAC vice president of marketing, said in a press release.Chef-Hughs-Photo-9-1-15Chef Hugh Acheson (Photo courtesy of the California Avocado Commission) “Early indicators point to an excellent California avocado crop next season and Fresh Summit provides an opportunity to discuss planned harvest size, timing and marketing support.”

The commission will have the latest category sales data and research to share with retailers, including California avocado merchandising performance results in 2015. Updates on the California avocado label project will also be provided. More than half of California avocados are now labeled with California branding and provide clear identification of origin at point of purchase. Supermarket registered dietitians, educators and the media are invited to CAC’s booth to learn about the nutrition qualities of avocados, programs to promote them and more.

CAC said Chef Acheson is a perfect fit for its booth, and at select times throughout the expo hours on both Saturday and Sunday he will engage with industry members and showcase delicious California avocado recipes he created with fresh flavors of the south.

Acheson is chef/partner of the Athens, GA, restaurants 5&10, The National, the Atlanta restaurant Empire State South, and The Florence in Savannah. He competed in Bravo’s "Top Chef Masters," season three and currently stars as a judge on "Top Chef." Acheson is a James Beard award-winner for Best Chef Southeast and was named a Best New Chef by Food & Wine magazine. He also is the author of the James Beard Foundation award-winning cookbook "A New Turn in the South: Southern Flavors Reinvented for Your Kitchen." Acheson’s latest book, "The Broad Fork: Recipes for the Wide World of Vegetables and Fruits," mentions California avocados.

“The commission also is excited that a California avocado recipe has been chosen as one of the 10 finalists in this year’s PMA Fresh Summit Sensory Experience Contest, which will be judged on October 23,” said DeLyser. “Our recipe also will be featured during the Fresh Ideas in Action reception following the judging.”

Meijer president announces departure

James Kevin (J.K.) Symancyk, who has been Meijer's president since Feb. 3, 2013, will be leaving the company. Symancyk will take on the role of president and chief executive officer at Academy Sports + Outdoors, effective Nov. 2.meijerJames Kevin (J.K.) Symancyk

As president at Meijer, Symancyk led the multi-billion-dollar Grand Rapids,MI-based superstore's daily operations. He led the organization through a tremendous positive growth phase that resulted in nearly three years of positive comp growth, new market expansion and the development of a long-term diversification strategy.

"J.K. Symancyk has informed us of his decision to leave Meijer and join Houston-based Academy Sports + Outdoors as CEO," Frank J. Guglielmi, Meijer's senior director of communications, said in an email to The Produce News. "While we will miss working with J.K., we are very grateful for the nine years that he gave us his talent and leadership, during which the Meijer team has produced record sales and profit, as well as increased market share. We wish J.K. and his family all the best as he takes on this new challenge. In the near future, we will be sharing more information about our path forward. We have a great senior team and we know our continued focus on serving our customers will allow us to continue to grow and prosper.

Symancyk joined Meijer in 2006 as vice-president of perishables. He became executive vice president of merchandising and marketing in 2007. In 2012 he accepted the role of chief operating officer, where he oversaw retail operations, supply chain, manufacturing, merchandising and marketing. 

Prior to his time at Meijer, Symancyk served in various leadership roles at Sam's Club.

Tyler Phipps, son of Market Fresh owner, dies at 30

Tyler Phipps, senior director of sourcing for Market Fresh Produce and son of Steve Phipps, owner and chief executive officer of the company, died Sept. 26.

Mr. Phipps, 30, was in a deer stand while on a hunting trip. The cause of death is unknown and autopsy results are pending.Tyler-Market-Fresh

Described as “humble” by his co-workers and considered an up-and-coming industry leaders, Mr. Phipps was an avid hunter and fisherman who was in his eighth year working at his father’s Nixa, MO-based firm.

“We appreciate the outpouring of love, prayers and support displayed through this very difficult time for our family and company,” Steve Phipps said in a statement.

Mr. Phipps is survived by his wife, Ashley, and other family members, and is mourned by his many co-workers, customers, growers and friends.

Visitation is Oct. 1 from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. at the Adams Funeral Home in Nixa. A funeral will be held Oct. 2 at 2 p.m. at Seminole Baptist in Springfield, MO.