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The Canadian Produce Marketing Association’s very own Jane Proctor appeared on Business News Network earlier this week to discuss the produce industry’s priorities relating to NAFTA.

NAFTA has been an important tool in ensuring that Canadian consumers have a consistent and diverse supply of fresh fruit and vegetables year-round, despite a relatively short growing season domestically.

CPMA is continuing its advocacy efforts both in Canada and internationally to ensure that there is a minimal impact for members.

To learn more about CPMA’s activities relating to the renegotiation of NAFTA and to view the BNN segment, visit http://www.cpma.ca/advocate/advocacy/nafta.

Metro now offers Quebec City consumers the opportunity to do their grocery shopping online with the promise of guaranteed freshness. Implementation, which first began in Montreal almost a year ago, continues today in order to serve consumers in the greater Quebec City area. The service will continue to be deployed in various markets in Quebec and then be extended to Ontario.

Online grocery shopping, like the partnership with MissFresh, is part of the company’s overall digital strategy, which is designed to position Metro as the retailer offering the food experience best suited to consumers’ needs and behaviours. The metro&moi loyalty program and all of its features are built into the online offerings.

"We are pleased to now offer online grocery shopping to the people of Quebec City so that they too can make no compromise with respect to the freshness of the food that they order and find everything they want online as they would in-store. Moreover, 98 percent of existing users are satisfied with the freshness of the food delivered,” said Marc Giroux, senior vice president of Metro.

To guarantee freshness, employees dedicated to online grocery shopping were trained to select the freshest in-store products, like customers would choose themselves. The products selected are then kept in-store in a dedicated Tri-Zones area: temperate, refrigerated and frozen zones. The freshness of the products is thus preserved and guaranteed, from shelf until they are collected at the store or delivered to home, delivery trucks being equipped with the same process.

“Metro has developed a simple and personalized digital platform," said Gino Plevano, vice president of digital strategy and online shopping. "In addition, the members of the metro&moi loyalty program save even more time because they can add the products that they buy frequently to their cart. They can also use their personalized coupons as well as their rewards.”

With consumers in mind, Tasteful Selections, a specialty potato brand from RPE Inc., has been busy developing and testing recipes to make its Take & Shake cups gluten-free. Tasteful Selections is eager to offer new black Take & Shake cups with gluten-free seasonings.Tasteful

Aimed for convenience, Take & Shake snack-sized cups are filled with fresh potatoes and an individual seasoning packet with one of four unique flavors. Each flavor provides a unique culinary experience and a reimagined potato product. These cups will satisfy cravings and provide a healthier option to on-the-go eating.

“We have listened to our consumers and are happy to offer a gluten-free option to our Take & Shake cups,” said Russell Wysocki, president and chief executive officer of RPE. “We have also changed the exterior cup color to black — minimizing light exposure to the fresh potatoes.”

Take & Shake cups are packed at the company's award-winning facility and use patented “micro porous” steam-release technology in order to deliver the best possible cooking results. A special two-way venting system allows the company to maximize shelf life and reduce waste/shrink in the supply chain.

The nation watched as Hurricane Irma first moved west and then east, slowly traversing the length of Florida with the eye of the storm traveling fairly close to the center of the state. While this action resulted in less storm surge in many coastal towns, it also resulted in the entire state getting drenched with a huge amount of rain and devastating winds.

With the storm downgraded and moving further north within the continental United States, power started to be restored, business owners assessed damage and growers inspected their fields and groves.

Mike Stuart, president of the Florida Fruit & Vegetable Association, based in Maitland, FL, spent Monday and Tuesday, Sept. 11-12, looking for pockets of cell service and making and taking calls from members and industry leaders from south to north. On Sept. 12, he participated in a conference call with various ag sectors representatives who had done the same thing.

Florida has tens of thousands of farms and millions of acres of production. Everything from livestock to sugarcane to field crops was adversely affected. In the fresh sector, vegetables and citrus are the top categories but the Sunshine State literally has sizable production in hundreds of items.

“It could have been worse,” Stuart said. “When it moved onshore, it weakened and hopefully minimized the damage.”

However, Stuart admitted the word “minimize” was a relative term. “It was a heck of a system. Half the state is still without power. I went 28 hours with no cell service.”

He said early estimates vary widely, but indications are that the citrus damage ranges from around 30 percent to 70 percent. Harvest was just getting under way as September dawned. Citrus can stay on the tree for an extended period of time, so logistical issues, while huge, aren’t the problem.

Stuart said there appears to be “lots of fruit drop,” which will reduce this year’s crop, but not a lot of permanent damage to the trees. That is a bit of good news as Florida citrus acreage has been in steep decline in recent years because of the greening issue. Estimates for this year’s acreage was around 450,000 acres, representing a drop of about 5 percent from last year.

The FFVA executive lamented that “citrus growers can’t catch a break. This is going to hurt. You need volume to make it profitable.” They’ve had some tough years and this year doesn’t appear as if it is going to be any better.

The vegetable side of the industry did fare better largely because of the timing of the storm. “Right now there is hardly anything being harvested,” Stuart said.

In fact, he noted that crops for fall and winter production have not even been planted yet. However, growers were preparing their fields for that eventuality and had begun laying down plastic as part of the process. Certainly a good portion of that preparation will have to begin anew.

Reporting from the viewpoints expressed on the conference call, Stuart said there would be delays that most likely will result in reduced production of many vegetables early in the season. He said late-October and early-November production numbers will reflect the delay in plantings. But he said those growers should be able to get back in their fields in the next couple of weeks and get back on track. He said the process can -- and will -- be sped up by the use of transplants from other locations.

One real concern is lack of labor. Labor shortages have become quite common, and it is realistic to believe that a measurable percentage of workers left the area ahead of the storm and have found work elsewhere. Stuart said that in 2004 and 2005, when Florida was last hit with significant hurricanes, finding sufficient labor proved challenging.

Government and private aid is streaming into the state, but it will take a cadre of workers to clean up the debris in virtually every town, let alone prepare the fields and plant the crops.

The ag industry leaders will also be reassessing the situation in the weeks ahead as more areas can be surveyed and challenges revealed.

The California Date Administrative Committee provides research and regulatory support for the date growers and producers located in the Coachella Valley, educating consumers about the tremendous nutritional value of dates and promoting them through recipes, tours of date processing and handling companies and by other means.

Lorrie Cooper, manager of the Indio, CA-based commission, said the industry has seen an increase in the ingredient sales market for the use of dates in manufacturing fruit bars as the natural sugar fruit has become the staple ingredient for those manufacturers wanting to use natural ingredients.

“Dates appear to be in higher demand both in the fresh marketplace and ingredient sales,” she said. “In years past, the demand was not noticeable, but over the last 18 months, the industry has seen an increase.”

The 2017 date crop is looking solid, according to the commission’s estimates, with volume expected to total around 55 million pounds or higher. 

“For the last five years, the industry has seen incremental increases in production volume,” Cooper said. “This was expected as the new plantings of seven to 10 years ago are now bearing fruit and adding to the increased volume of production.”

The commission is currently focusing on nutrition research, with the first phase of the research scheduled to be published in the journals late this fall from which materials will be developed for marketing purposes.

“The nutrition research has shown great results about dates and the reduction of triglycerides,” Cooper said. “Dates are a high fructose fruit, yet eating dates reduces triglycerides. From the research results, further studies are presently being conducted on polyphenols and fiber.”

The commission recently sponsored a study that discovered dates grown in the Coachella Valley are found to be rich in bioactive compounds that may help maintain a healthy metabolism by using the body’s own natural systems.

“Dates are a healthy whole fruit due to the presence of specific compounds called polyphenols,” said Marie-Louise Ricketts, the lead author of the study. “Our work shows that these compounds target receptors known to lower triglyceride levels, which may help to explain the reported triglyceride lowering effect of daily date consumption, previously reported in human subjects.”

The research is exciting, the commission feels, because helps show how consumption of dates can contribute to health, despite their high fructose content. Dates have a high sugar content, but have a low Glycemic Index of 41. They contain plenty of nutrients and are a good source of copper and dietary fibers, as well as potassium, B vitamins and seven other minerals.