Vision Produce's Phoenix facility goes solar

This April, Vision Produce Co. is installing a solar power generation system at its produce distribution center in Phoenix, which also includes offices for its Arizona sales and operational staff. It is expected to supply 59 percent of the electricity Vision Produce consumes in Phoenix every year.

The new system will include 1,930 solar panels and use a roof-friendly mounting structure that doesn't penetrate the roof,Bill-VogelBill Vogel and by summer it will generate 377,580 kilowatt-hours per year, which will mitigate annual emissions of 260 metric tons of carbon dioxide, equivalent to 55 passenger vehicles, 620,000 driven miles or 29,200 gallons of gasoline every year.

During the summer months, the solar system will even produce a surplus of energy, which will be sold back to the Salt River Project, one of Arizona's larger utility companies.

"Because of having so many sun days during the calendar year in Phoenix, it just seems like the logical thing to do," Bill Vogel, president of Vision Produce Co., said in a press release.

Vision is funding the cost of this $536,000 enterprise with support from JP Morgan Chase, as a commitment to sustainability, preservation of the environment and expected cost savings in power usage over the long term.

The company said it was attractive financially despite Salt River's recent action to end its net metering policy for commercial solar projects. Salt River is also due to contribute an incentive of $9,960. For the execution of this program Vision partnered with Wilson Electric, which has installed over 60 megawatts of solar power in Arizona and New Mexico.  

The First Solar Cadmium Telluride solar modules being installed in this project are well fit to work in the Arizona desert, as the nature of its thin film technology enables it to produce more energy per rate watt due to its superior performance above rated temperatures.

Frieda’s Angelcot season set for mid-June

Frieda’s Specialty Produce’s exclusive Angelcots, which it describes as “heavenly white apricots,” are only available for three weeks starting in mid-June.angelcot This specialty hybrid of Moroccan and Iranian apricot varieties is grown in Northern California and packed in 16/one-pound clamshells.

Angelcots’ pale-yellow skin — with a pale-peach blush — is covered with a fine, velvety fuzz. According to the company, the fruit has the right balance of acid and sugar, along with a buttery, perfume-like sweetness. Angelcots have the juiciness of the ripest nectarine and the delicate texture and aroma of an apricot, with floral and tropical notes. Angelcots are also rich in vitamins A and C, as well as being a good source of fiber.

Interested retailers, wholesalers, and foodservice distributors can contact Frieda’s for promotional ideas, marketing tools, product information and high-resolution images to assist with any marketing needs.

Retail View: Haggen continues Vons, Albertsons conversions

Since February Haggen has converted about one-third of the Safeway and Albertsons stores it acquired in December to the Haggen brand.

There have been 22 conversions in California — including the first one in Carlsbad in San Diego County — 19 in Washington and 22 in Oregon. The company recently announced that it was slowing down its conversion schedule a bit to comply with local licensing and permitting regulations. Initially, the Northwest-based retailer had anticipated that it would complete the 146 conversions by June. The unprecedented 900 percent growth — going from 18 stores in Oregon and Washington to 164 and adding California, Arizona and Nevada to the mix — has seemingly gone quite well and is getting good reviews from industry members. The company has not reissued a revised conversion but it has around 85 more stores to convert. It spends about 40 hours on each conversion.Haggen-La-Costa-citrus-shopperHaggen has developed a large network of local farmers to supply its stores with a fresh selection of seasonal produce.

Recently a couple of Haggen executives from the Southwest division, which is headquartered in Irvine, CA, answered some questions about the chain’s effort via an email exchange with The Produce News. Director of Communications Moran Golan said that with each conversion it is excited about the changes it is making to enhance each store, though she acknowledged that not everything can get done in such a short time. “There’s only so much we can accomplish in the 40 hours we’re closed,” she said. “We make certain immediate changes with our grand opening — branding and décor changes, as well as enhanced offerings in our fresh departments such as produce and meat/seafood. We also enhance the layout in the produce department, moving toward a more farmers’ market appeal. It will take time to completely infuse the store with the full Haggen experience. It’s a journey, as we like to say. Guests can expect to see continued improvements over the upcoming weeks, months and year.”

As the company converts stores, it is focusing on traditional local advertising to spread the word to the community. “This includes a weekly flier and direct mailers to ZIP codes near the store address,” she said. “As we gain a decent mass within a given county/geography, we will expand to channels such as radio and television. We do also have a presence in the social space with a Pacific Southwest-specific Facebook page and Instagram account.”

Golan explained Haggen’s execution and philosophy as being a full-line grocery store that caters to its “guests” and strives to provide one-stop shopping. “Our goal is to provide a unique, hassle-free shopping experience. We offer essential items our guests need, specialty items they want and local items that reflect the community — all at fair, competitive prices,” she said. “We like to think of ourselves as a full-line grocery store with a bias toward fresh, quality, organic, local and healthy-for-you options, so that guests can do all their shopping with us instead of traveling to multiple stores.”

The company is marketing itself as somewhere between conventional supermarkets and specialty stores. “Think of the conventional players — Albertsons, Ralphs, Vons, Stater Bros. — which do many things well, including providing national brands and essential items most all customers need or want,” said Golan. “Then think of the specialty players — Whole Foods, Sprouts, Bristol Farms, Gelsons — which provide more options like enhanced offerings, fresh, healthier choices, gluten-free, organic, local, etc. There’s a gap in between those bands or layers, if you will. That’s where Haggen is.”

Speaking specifically of produce, the communications director said, ”Produce is critically important to Haggen. We have developed and will continue to develop a large network of local farmers to supply our stores with the most abundant, fresh, nutrient-rich selection of seasonal produce. Farm-fresh produce is just one more way Haggen is committed to supporting our local communities.”

She added that the company works hard to source locally whenever possible. “That means stocking our produce department with the fruits and vegetables grown close to each of our neighborhood stores. We believe the stories of our local producers are an integral part of our brand.”

Chris Jacoby, director of produce for the Southwest division, said Haggen is using a two-tiered model to supply its stores with produce. “Our main produce partner is Charlie’s Produce, which recently expanded from the Northwest opening a new facility in Irwindale, CA. We also empower stores to purchase directly from local growers in their communities and are dedicating space in each produce section to highlight local growers and their farm-to-shelf fresh offerings.”

He said the “merchandising philosophy is to let our enhanced selection of farmer’s market fresh produce speak for itself, with an emphasis on offering more organic, premium and local produce options competitively priced across all categories.”

He added that Haggen is “expanding our offering of leafy, wet organic produce and adding big, center-section tables filled both front and back with organic fruits and vegetables.”

As far as considering online retailing or other sales concepts, Golan said, “We’re currently laser focused on converting stores and ensuring as smooth a transition as possible for our guests and store teams. In the future, we might explore different retail models but not in the immediate future.”

SEPC’s STEP-UPP class visits southern Florida

The Southeast Produce Council’s 2015 STEP-UPP class traveled to southern Florida April 7-10 to visit a variety of well-known produce facilities and farms as part of the program’s ongoing learning experience for class members to develop a greater understanding of the fresh produce industry.

The Southeast Training Education Program for Upcoming Produce Professionals is spearheaded by Faye Westfall, director of sales at DiMare Fresh Tampa, who serves as chairperson, and Tom Page, retired from Supervalu, who serves as vice chairperson.stepupp2113aTom Page (standing left) and Faye Westfall (standing right), coordinators of the Southeast Produce Council’s STEP-UPP program, with this year’s STEP-UPP class: (standing) Andrew Kemp of A&A Produce Co., Chris Kaszanits of BiLo/Winn Dixie, Codie Hair of United Supermarkets, (center) Eric Edwards of Harps, James Spears of Food City, Kevin Cazeaux of Rouses Supermarkets, (kneeling) Alison Rennie of Miitary Produce Group, Heather Hart of Freshfields Farm and Mayra Vazquez of Latin Specialties. More photos available here.

The nine members of the 2015 class on the tour were Alison Rennie of Military Produce Group, Andrew Kemp of A&A Produce Co., Chris Kaszanits of BiLo/Winn Dixie, Codie Hair of United Supermarkets, Eric Edwards of Harps, Heather Hart of Freshfields Farm, James Spears of Food City, Kevin Cazeaux of Rouses Supermarkets and Mayra Vazquez of Latin Specialties.

The 2015 class — the fifth class in the popular program — was announced at the SEPC’s fall conference back in September 2014. So when class members gathered Tuesday evening, April 7, at the Embassy Suites Hotel in Fort Lauderdale, FL, for an opening dinner, it was their first chance to reconnect with one another as they prepared for their visits.

The first stop early Wednesday morning was Brooks Tropicals in Homestead, FL. Mary Ostlund, marketing director at Brooks, welcomed everyone to the company, which was founded by Charlie Brooks in 1928. President Neal Palmer (Pal) Brooks and Chief Executive Officer Greg Smith head the company, which has grown to become a premier grower, packer and shipper of tropical fruit grown in Florida and around the Caribbean, according to the firm’s website.

The company handles a wide variety of items, but is probably best known for its avocados. Bill Brindle, the company’s vice president of sales, told the group that Brooks is growing more and more varieties to reach its ultimate goal of offering avocados all year long.

Ostlund led the group on a tour of the Brooks facility and some avocado groves, returning to the main office where the company hosted lunch. The company began getting into papayas in the early 2000s, and the lunch included some delicious papayas.

After lunch, the group traveled to The DiMare Co., also in Homestead, the home office for the farming end of this diversified company, with farms and facilities from coast to coast.

Tony DiMare, vice president of the company whose history goes back more than 80 years, led the group on a tour of the facility as well as into some tomato fields. He talked about the company as well as what it takes to produce the high-quality tomatoes that his company is known for throughout the produce industry.

He also touched a bit on some issues — including the labor issue — facing produce growers in Florida and many other areas of the country. “Everyone in agriculture is facing a shortage of labor,” he told the group. “And I don’t really see bringing in more labor in the future” as the solution. “We are losing a certain percentage of labor every year. Everybody is running into a shortfall. It affects everybody up and down the chain.”

That is especially true for an item like tomatoes, as the DiMare executive said that “right now we are 100 percent hand harvested.” He did note that his company is looking at some new ground varieties of tomatoes that could be harvested by machine, but that scenario is probably a long way off.

The day ended with a wonderful dinner at a local restaurant, hosted by The DiMare Co.

The group visited three companies Thursday, beginning with Duda Farm Fresh Foods in Belle Glade, FL. Jessie Garza, general manager at Duda, took the group into a field to see workers harvesting Romaine lettuce. The group also saw what is perhaps Duda’s signature item, celery. As Steve Lee, Duda’s farm operations manager put it, “Celery is what we’ve been growing the longest. It’s the largest volume item. It’s our jewel.”

The group also toured part of the company’s radish facility, donning lab coats, gloves and hairnets in keeping with food-safety procedures. It was no surprise that food-safety procedures and protocols were strictly observed at all companies visited by the STEP-UPP class.

After lunch at Duda, the group boarded the bus for the next stop: Hugh H. Branch Inc. in South Bay, FL. The firm was founded in 1957 by Hugh Branch Sr. Brett C. Bergmann, who has been with the company for 25 years, bought the company in 2006 from Branch, who will be 91 years old this June.

Bergmann took the group into a fresh cornfield where class members were able to pluck ears of corn right off the stalks. (I did, too, and they were absolutely delicious!) Bergmann also led the group on a tour of the facility.

The last stop of the day was J&J Family of Farms, headquartered in Loxahatchee, FL, just west of West Palm Beach. J&J was formed in 1983, but the company’s roots in the produce industry go back to 1923, according to the firm’s website.

Brian Rayfield, vice president of business development, led the group into some fields, where they saw a variety of commodities, including yellow squash, spaghetti squash, green peppers and yellow peppers.

While showing the group around the company’s facility, Rayfield noted that the company is in the process of rebranding; the older “J&J Produce” label is being used for the foodservice sector, while the newer “J&J Family of Farms” label is being used for the retail sector.

“We changed the box to support our retail initiative,” said Rayfield. “The growth in our company is going to come from retail.”

Rayfield hosted dinner at a local restaurant for the group after the tour.

On Friday, the final day of the tour, the class heard a presentation on strategic marketing initiatives by Tom Perny, a marketing specialist with the Florida Department of Agriculture & Consumer Services’ Division of Marketing & Development.

Perny told the class that the division’s mission is to drive awareness and sales of Florida’s commodities by developing and expanding marketing opportunities for fresh Florida products, and that its objective is to promote sales of Florida commodities across retail, trade and consumer channels.

In terms of 2013 production values, he said that among all the states, Florida ranks first in oranges, grapefruits, fresh tomatoes, watermelon, snap beans, cucumbers and squash (yellow and zucchini).

Florida has been getting more into fresh blueberry production in recent years, said Perny, and the warm-weather state is also getting more into fresh peaches, especially varieties that require fewer chill hours than those in cooler areas of the Southeast.

Perny’s presentation marked the end of the STEP-UPP group’s tour of southern Florida, but the class will be back on the road very soon. The group’s itinerary will take it to South Carolina in June, and will conclude at the SEPC fall conference, which has been renamed the Southern Innovations Symposium and will take place Sept. 17-19 in Charleston, SC.

Meijer Curbside service offers online ordering, drive-thru convenience

Meijer has launched a new way to shop called Meijer Curbside. This new shopping service allows customers to shop for their items online and enjoy the convenience of picking up their groceries curbside without leaving the car.meijcurb

Currently being piloted at a single store, the Meijer Curbside program enlists specially trained team members to hand select every item in a customer’s order and shop according to special instructions and personal preferences. The Grand Rapids, MI-based retailer is considering future rollout possibilities in Michigan, Ohio, Indiana, Illinois and Kentucky later this year.

“The way customers shop for food is changing, and Meijer Curbside is one more way we are striving to find solutions to everyday challenges and bring more convenience to our customers,” Michael Ross, vice president of customer marketing and emerging technology, said in a press release. “Meijer Curbside allows us to help our customers save time by remotely shopping for items throughout our store and choosing their own personal pick-up time.”

After placing orders online at Meijer.com/Curbside, customers choose their preferred pick-up time, between 7 a.m. and 9 p.m. daily. For Meijer Curbside orders of one to 12 items, orders can be picked up in as little as one hour. For orders of 13 or more items, customers can schedule pick up in about three hours. Customers can also place an order up to three days in advance. For a limited time during the pilot program, Meijer is offering the service at no charge. Following this initial phase the service will cost $5 per order.

The Meijer Curbside team shops all orders prior to scheduled pick-up times and keeps all grocery items at the optimal temperature, using dedicated freezers, refrigerators and warmers to keep everything on shopping lists fresh and safe until customers arrive. More than 23,000 of the most commonly shopping grocery items and preferred general merchandise are currently available for Meijer Curbside orders, as well as prepared meals and sides, specialty cakes, and pre-order party trays.

When customers arrive for pick up at the designated drive-thru area, the Meijer Curbside team loads orders in their car and uses a mobile device to take payment by credit card. Meijer mPerks digital coupons are accepted for all orders. Customers can sign up for mPerks at mPerks.Meijer.com. Currently, paper coupons are not accepted on Meijer Curbside orders.