Dole execs' $148M fraud penalty 'conservative'

David H. Murdock, Dole Food Co. Inc.'s chief executive officer, and C. Michael Carter, former president and chief operating officer, have been ordered to pay shareholders more than $148 million for efforts to drive down the market price as well as fraud during the negotiations for Murdock's 2013 buyout of the company.

"Although facially large, the award is conservative relative to what the evidence could support," Vice Chancellor J. Travis Laster said in the decision.

In November 2013 Murdock paid $13.50 per share to acquire the 60 percent of the common stock of Dole that he did not already own; however, Laster said a fair value for the plaintiffs — former stockholders — was $16.24 per share, "significantly less than the maximum of $20.34 per share [the court] could have supported."

Murdock and Carter deprived the committee of the board of the ability to negotiate on a fully informed basis and potentially say no to the buyout. Likewise, the pair deprived the stockholders of their ability to consider the buyout on a fully informed basis and potentially vote it down.

"Murdock and Carter‘s conduct throughout the committee process, as well as their credibility problems at trial, demonstrated that their actions were not innocent or inadvertent, but rather intentional and in bad faith," Laster said.

N.C. Sweet Potato Commission's new executive director

Kelly McIver has been named the executive director of the North Carolina Sweet Potato Commission, following the retirement announcement earlier this year by longtime director Sue (Sweet Sue) Johnson-Langdon. McIver comes over from the North Carolina Department of Agriculture & Consumer Services, where she assisted the NCSPC and other state agriculture groups in opening and developing export markets around the world.kelly8Kelly McIver

Johnson-Langdon joined the commission as executive director in 1995. "It is somewhat difficult to leave this wonderful position I have enjoyed for many years,” she said in a press release, "but I am confident that Kelly will carry the ‘sweet potato torch’ to greater successes for the N.C. sweet potato growers.”

McIver has been working with NCSPC in her role in the NCDA&CS’ international marketing department for the past five years, which included market development trips across Europe, Canada and Israel. "I am excited to be working full time with the growers and shippers of sweet potatoes whom I have come to know through my work at NCDA&CS, and build upon the foundation of success that Sue has established,” she said in the release.

WPVGA works to make Wisconsin the top in-state potato

For the last 20 years, the primary goal of the Wisconsin Potato & Vegetable Growers Association has been to make Wisconsin the largest source for potatoes sold in Wisconsin. Tamas Houlihan, the association’s executive director, said, “We are getting very close” to accomplishing that goal.

Still, even after two decades of consumer education, “It’s amazing how many people in Wisconsin are unaware," he said. "A lot of people don’t know there are any potatoes that are grown in Wisconsin.”Tamas-Spudmobile Executive Director of the Wisconsin Potato & Vegetable Growers Association Tamas Houlihan (right) at a public appearance in the Spudmobile.

The “buy local” movement and concern about reducing foods’ carbon footprint are helpful in boosting consumer awareness.

The WPVGA, based in Antigo, has made a big investment in creating its own “Spudmobile” to educate consumers. The big customized bus is filled with eight electronic exhibits to educate consumers at public events. The Spudmobile first hit the road in 2014.

“We have been busy this year with the Spudmobile in marketing,” Houlihan said. “It’s been on the road on an average of four or five days a week since May.”

For WPVGA’s Jim Zdroik, coordinating the Spudmobile is a full-time job. Zdroik schedules appearances, then drives the bus and greets and educates the public at festivals, fairs, schools and sporting events.

The Spudmobile “is on the road as much as possible,” Houlihan said. Wisconsin has a population of 6.5 million, so there are plenty of people to be consuming in-state potatoes. But with the Spudmobile, promotions increasingly are going to Illinois, Minnesota and other states.

Houlihan noted that Ruth Faivre was hired Feb. 2 to become the new managing editor of the association’s Badger Common’Tater magazine. Houlihan, who has worked for WPVGA for 24 years, held that — and other roles — with WPVGA before his Dec. 4 promotion.

Instacart expands into Indianapolis

Instacart’s on-demand grocery delivery service has begun in Indianapolis, the company's 17th market. Indianapolis customers can order groceries and other items from Whole Foods Market, Marsh Supermarkets, Georgetown Market and Costco stores and have them delivered straight to their door in as little as one hour.

"There were many factors that made Indianapolis a great place for us to bring our service," Apoorva Mehta, founder and chief executive officer at Instacart, said in a statement.

The company said it saw a tremendous number of requests from the Indianapolis community to bring Instacart to their hometown. "From the influx of young people who are staying and working in the city, to the families and seniors who need more flexible shopping options, Instacart is uniquely positioned to help meet the growing customer demand for convenient, speedy and quality grocery delivery," Mehta said.

The company also saw very high interest from grocery stores in the city — from national retail partners to new local partners, Marsh Supermarkets and Georgetown Market. By partnering with both local and national grocers, Instacart’s shopping model helps expand its reach to even more Indianapolis residents.

"As our launch here in Indianapolis demonstrates, Instacart can be a part of the solution for cities of all sizes across the country when it comes to expanding access to convenient and affordable grocery options for their communities–and we are thrilled to be here in such a great city," Mehta said.


Union files charges against Haggen, Vons and Albertsons

Union leaders have filed charges against Haggen, Albertsons and Vons for illegally laying off and reducing hours for workers, failing to fully inform workers about job protections, and failing to adhere to legally binding protections negotiated by their union. The grievances also cite the companies for prior plans to close a large number of stores shortly after Haggen’s acquisition of nearly 150 Albertson’s locations.

Earlier this month Haggen announced plans to close 22 stores and layoff or fire as many as 1,100 employees. However, the union's claim that it planned all along to shut and sell those stores "is completely and unequivocally false," Kris Ellenberg, a spokesperson for Haggen, told The Produce news. "Throughout this process, Haggen has abided by the terms of the union contracts and is continuing to do everything it can to ensure the success of all of our stores and employees."

Brian Dowling of Albertsons said the charges the company reviewed thus far "are completely without merit."

Haggen acquired nearly 150 stores divested by the Albertson’s chain earlier this year at the order of the government, and prior contractual guarantees gave employees the choice to stay at their current Haggen-owned store or transfer to another Albertson’s or Vons store. The union said workers were led to believe they would retain their jobs, seniority and contract protections if they chose to work with Haggen.

"Haggen has great respect for the labor unions’ role in supporting our associates," Ellenberg said. "We care about the people who work for Haggen and are disappointed that factors beyond our control have led to layoffs and closures in some of the new communities where we had expected our stores to thrive."