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On the show floor of the 2016 PMA Fresh Summit, USA Pears presented Sprouts Farmers Markets with the 2016 Pear Retailer of the Year award for its pear category improvements in merchandising performance and sales increase.

“On behalf of nearly 1,600 fresh pear growers of Washington and Oregon, we congratulate the Sprouts produce team and appreciate their effort in building a strong pear category,” said Kevin Moffitt, chief executive officer of the Pear Bureau Northwest.

Sprouts follows many of the best practices for increased pear category sales recommended by USA Pears, including displaying two green pear varieties at once. Additionally, it gives shoppers choices by promoting multiple pear varieties, carrying two sizes of top-selling varieties, increasing impulse purchases through in-store sampling, allocating plenty of the valuable front of store space to pear displays, and training personnel to improve category knowledge.

“All of these tactics over the whole season add up to great category performance,” said Moffitt.

“Sprouts entices shoppers to larger purchases by giving them choices in pears,” added Dave Howald, western regional manager for Pear Bureau Northwest. “From two green pear varieties to popular variety displays at the front of the store, they are creating interest and adding value for their customers. And their in-store sampling allows consumers to try new varieties and learn about ripening pears from produce professionals.”

“Sprouts devotes a sizable space to the pear category which includes the ability to flex for promotions as well as driving customer engagement through sampling at point of purchase,” said Chad Miller, vice president of procurement for Sprouts.

Training is a major concern among produce managers and Sprouts is open to opportunities for their staff to learn from experts.

“The NW Pear Bureau has provided us updated regular crop estimates, promotional timing and direction/suggestions with opportunities that increase basket size all of which have been extremely beneficial in our continued success,” said Miller.

In accepting the award on behalf of Sprouts, Miller said, "It’s great to see Sprouts recognized for our ongoing efforts in driving a consumer knowledge and awareness of the category in which we attribute some of our success through the different usages that a pear can play in a enhancing a meal.”

This year, USA Pears also recognized Costco Wholesale, Publix Super Markets, Defense Commissary Agency, Giant Eagle Inc., Tops Friendly Markets and Walmart Stores as 2016 Pear Category Leaders.

The Pear Retailer of the Year Award was established by Pear Bureau Northwest in 2011. Past honorees were Demoula’s Market Basket (2011), Meijer (2012), Ingles (2013), Publix Markets (2014) and Wegmans (2015). The Pear Bureau’s team of regional marketing managers selects the annual recipient based on sales performance, creativity, and best practices in pear merchandising, and overall excellence in supporting the pear category.

The National Mango Board named Wynn Peterson and Gary Campisi of Walmart the 2016 Mango Retailers of the Year. The award was announced during the NMB’s Annual Mango Industry Reception Oct. 16, 2016 during PMA’s Fresh Summit Convention & Expo in Orlando, FL.

Present at the award were mango industry leaders, including many of Walmart suppliers and several NMB board McManus, retail program manager at the National Mango Board, Wynn Peterson, senior produce merchant at Walmart, Gary Campisi, senior director of quality control at Walmart, and Manuel Michel, executive director at the board.

The Mango Retailer of the Year award recognizes retailers that go above and beyond to offer strong consistent support to the mango industry, and deliver outstanding mango promotion results. Walmart was selected from over 100 retailers that partner with the NMB across the U.S.

Peterson envisioned that making Walmart the destination for mangos in the United States would be good for business -- not just good for produce, but good for overall store sales. He convinced upper management to invest in an aggressive promotion and pricing strategy, which included huge mango displays featured in prime store locations.

“We enjoy the tremendous privilege of selling what is, in my opinion, the best-tasting fruit in the world,” said Peterson, senior produce merchant at Walmart. “Improving freshness has been a strategic focus for us at Walmart for the past two years. Our suppliers have partnered with us to help take days out of our supply chain so that our Walmart customers are enjoying fresher produce than ever. Even after a few years of excellent sales performance, we still have tremendous upside as we work together to introduce more people to this delicious fruit.” 

Campisi took the lead in making Walmart the first U.S. retailer to pursue a year-round ripe-and-ready-to-eat mango program. He established the in-house ripening program and trained the quality control teams in every distribution center to condition mangos because he knew it was the right thing for the customer and the industry.

“Since 2012, the NMB and their ripening experts have helped Walmart develop a mango-ripening program that would provide a better eating experience for our customers, which would in turn increase sales,” said Campisi, senior director of quality control at Walmart. “We have definitely seen the increase in customer demand with significant year over year growth in the mango category. We very much appreciate the support of the NMB in helping us deliver that great tasting mango, and our customers appreciate them too.”

Peterson and Campisi have shown a great commitment to the NMB and the mango industry in many other ways, such as joining the mango packaging task force and participating in several different panels for mango industry audiences.

“Walmart has fundamentally changed their U.S. mango business model over the past couple of years, and because they are the largest retailer in the U.S., their focus on mangos has impacted the entire industry, whether you sell directly to them or not,” noted Wendy McManus, retail program manager at the NMB.

Vegetables in the Wegmans Food Markets produce department are taking new shapes — some like little ribbons and others like nuggets no bigger than a grain of rice. These novel cuts of squash, beets and cauliflower easily replace starches like noodles, pasta or rice and pair nicely with dozens of different ingredients and sauces. The company said families who want to eat more veggies can reach for one of these veggie kits to get a great-tasting meal on the table, often in less time than it would take to cook traditional starches. sweetWegmans fresh-cut veggies sweet potato noodles.

Sweet Potato Noodles, Beet Noodles and Butternut Squash Noodles are the newest members of a growing selection of prepped vegetable kits found in the produce departments at Wegmans. There are no grains in these “noodles.” They are actually thin spiral cuts of an uncooked sweet potato, beet or butternut squash. When cut this way, the vegetable acquires a fresh personality. Sautéing takes about five minutes, roasting takes 10-12 minutes.

Another recent arrival in fresh-cut veggies is cauliflower “rice,” featured in the fall 2016 issue of Wegmans Menu magazine with an array of serving ideas. Extremely versatile, cauliflower rice can replace rice in dishes such as beans and rice or peppers stuffed with meat and rice, and also by itself with just a little basting oil. Cauliflower rice can also be eaten cold, making a crunchy addition to a salad.

Other fresh-cut veggie noodle kits include Veggie spaghetti (green and yellow zucchini and red Bell pepper, cut in thin strands) and Veggie noodle kits (spiral cuts of green and yellow zucchini).

Nutritionists couldn’t be happier with the new product line. “Most Americans don’t eat enough vegetables,” Kirby Branciforte, Wegmans nutritionist, said in a press release. “That’s true for both genders, across all age groups. Most people know they should eat more vegetables, and the kits make it easy to do that. I think the kits are here to stay, because the vegetables taste great in so many different preparations.

“Roughly speaking,” said Branciforte, “if you compare same-size portions of one of these veggies with a grain-based food like rice or pasta, the veggie serving will have about half of the calories. Of course, grain-based foods, especially those from whole grains, can also be part of a healthy diet. But these veggie kits are just one more way to help people keep a check on calories when they want to.”

“We’ve experimented with new ways to cut and finish vegetables so they pack a lot of taste appeal,” Wegmans Produce Category Merchant Joe Pucci said in the release. “We started with squash planks — squash cut the long way and thin that you can grill or use to replace broad noodles in lasagna. That idea set off a chain reaction of new ideas from different areas of the company. Our Harrisburg team started making veggie spaghetti. Our New Jersey team came up with the cauliflower rice.”
When the spiral vegetable slicer called “Veggetti” arrived at Wegmans stores, it sparked a fresh surge of interest in these cuts of vegetables among customers, so Wegmans chefs took the idea to other vegetables, and pretty soon sweet potatoes, butternut squash and beets had joined the “noodle” family.
The new vegetable kits have been a solid success with customers, Pucci said. “I give a lot of the credit to our people in the stores who demonstrate easy ways to finish the veggies, so customers have the confidence to do it at home themselves.”

There were 900 picking crews back in the Mexican avocado groves on Saturday, Oct. 15, and more than 1,000 crews were picking fruit Monday, Oct. 17, so the expectation is that millions of pounds will soon be flowing to the United States to start to fill the empty pipeline.

“We have ample fruit on the trees and will be harvesting and sending it to the U.S. market in an orderly fashion,” APEAM spokesperson Ramon Paz Vega told The Produce News via email on Oct. 17. “We project to ship more than 40 million pounds this very week, which will help us get back on track quickly.”

For the past couple of weeks, supplies have been very limited as a dispute in Mexico kept pickers away from the fruit. APEAM, which is the trade organization representing Mexico’s avocado producers and exporters, noted that while the impact of the dispute was spread throughout the avocado-producing region, in reality it was more localized in nature.

Vega said that out of the 28 municipalities authorized to export to the United States, only four were driving the protest, “and not all growers within those four municipalities were in agreement with the methods of the movement.”

He revealed that the “primary issue revolved around internal differences on sales negotiations between growers and packers.

Some of the more radical protesters wanted a set price for the entire season and all types of fruit. Of course, this is not allowed and the governmental mediators and APEAM made this clear to the protesters.

“The other issues pertain to payment in U.S. dollars vs. Mexican pesos, and who should be responsible for phytosanitary sampling fruit costs required by the USDA. Negotiations on these two topics continue,” he continued. “It is important to note that none of these topics fall within APEAM’s purview as APEAM has no role in the private negotiations between growers and packers. However, APEAM has been using its influence to promote dialogue and agreement between the parties.”

Vega did acknowledge the impact the disruption had on the U.S. marketplace, where the limited supplies created very high prices.

A carton of avocados was selling for $60-$70 last week, with some terminal market operators said to be getting more than $100 per carton.

“We recognize that interruptions work against the interest of all,” Vega said. “The causes of the interruption have been addressed with the mediation of the federal and state governments. We are confident that our industry will continue working without major interruption going forward.”

Vega also noted that this interruption was rare and the Mexican industry shouldn’t be harshly judged by this unique situation.

“For more than 19 years, the supply of avocados from Mexico to the U.S. market has been consistent and timely with good, reliable quality,” he said. “Based on that strong foundation, we have deployed one of the most successful promotion programs in the fresh produce industry in recent years. We have always and will continue working according to our plans for the season, crop estimates and general forecasts for weekly shipments. Our marketing team will continue implementing innovative, year-round programs to drive excitement and purchase for the Avocados from Mexico brand that also fuel category growth.”

He noted that APEAM has relayed its concerns to U.S. companies involved in the avocado trade. “We have asked importers and retailers for their understanding and patience during this process, and we greatly appreciate the support they have shown. We believe that all members of the supply chain, including importers and retailers, are now more aware of the needs and challenges facing 20,000 growers, most of whom are small, family farmers working to make an honest and decent living from growing avocados. Like everyone throughout the supply chain, they want fair prices and good value for their role and support of the industry.”

Several U.S. shippers discussed the situation with The Produce News off the record during the Produce Marketing Association Fresh Summit convention Oct. 14-16 in Orlando, FL, as word was filtering out from Mexico that avocados would soon be flowing into the United States again.

There was a difference of opinion as to how long it will take for supply and demand to again reach equilibrium. Several noted that the high prices at retail have tamped down demand and so a quick influx of supplies could result in a rather quick return to a more normalized situation.

Others argued that with the pipeline virtually empty, it will take several weeks to fill that up and then the United States will be moving into heavy demand periods such as Thanksgiving and Christmas.

The Christmas season also means a several-day picking holiday in Mexico, which may mean another demand-exceeds-supply situation as the new year begins. And on the heels of that is the Super Bowl, which is another high-demand period.

These shippers, for the most part, were predicting that it could be after the Super Bowl before avocados are selling for a price less than $35 per carton. They noted that with a smaller crop than last year and these marketing dynamics at play, there may well be a new normal this year at prices higher than last year.

However, this discussion was taking place before crews started picking and sending fruit to the United States. In none of the discussions did anyone predict that 40 million pounds would be picked this week. As that fruit is distributed throughout the United States, a new dynamic will undoubtedly emerge.

Four companies, representing five new products, were named the produce industry’s best packaging innovators on Friday, Oct. 14, receiving the Produce Marketing Association’s 10th annual PMA Impact Award: Excellence in Packaging. The winning companies were announced during PMA’s 2016 Fresh Summit Convention & Expo in Orlando, FL. The award recognizes exceptional produce and floral packaging that demonstrates innovation and makes an impact on consumers.

The 2016 Impact Award winners in alphabetical order:

  • Mann Packing Co. Inc. in Salinas, CA, for its Nourish Bowls
  • Mastronardi Produce Ltd./SUNSET in Kingsville, ON, for its Dill It Yourself Pickle Kit
  • Mucci Farms of Kingsville, ON, for its CuteCumber Flow Wrap Re-seal
  • Mucci Farms of Kingsville, ON, for its Smuccies Sweet Strawberries Top Seal Tray
  • Ocean Mist Farms of Castroville, CA, for its Season & Steam Sweet Baby Broccoli

A panel of judges evaluated entries holistically, awarding points for excellence in five key areas: marketing, food safety, supply chain efficiency/functionality, sustainability and consumer convenience. The combined point totals from each of these areas determined the finalists and five packaging winners.

The 15 remaining finalists:

  • Braga Fresh Family Farms of Soledad, CA, for its Josie’s Organics Chopped Salad Kits
  • Display Pack of Grand Rapids, MI, for its Good Foods Grab & Go
  • Fresh Solutions Network of San Francisco for its Side Delights Flavorables
  • Frieda’s Specialty Produce of Los Alamitos, CA, for its Watermelon Radishes
  • Mastronardi Produce Ltd./SUNSET of Kingsville, ON, for its SUNSET Organics six-count pepper bag
  • Mucci Farms of Kingsville, ON, for its Fresh Mix Double Compartment Tray with Re-Sealable Label
  • Mucci Farms of Kingsville, ON, for its Veggies-To-Go Clamshell
  • Mucci Farms of Kingsville, ON, for its Tomato-X Clamshell
  • NatureFresh Farms of Leamington, ON, for its The TomBox
  • NatureSweet of San Antonio, TX, for its Constellation Tomatoes
  • Naturipe Farms LLC of Estero, FL, for its “Selections” Cranberries
  • Pure Hothouse Foods Inc. of Leamington, ON, for its Cloud 9 - The Irresistible Tomato
  • RPE Inc. of Bancroft, WI, for its Tasteful Selections Season and Savor
  • RPE Inc. of Bancroft, WI, for its Tasteful Selections Take and Shake
  • Taylor Farms of Salinas, CA, for its Chef Crafted, Taylor Clear