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The stage is set to expand the 87-year-old Ocean Spray brand — with many sweet things to come.

In a natural extension of the relationship formed in 2003 to market Ocean Spray fresh cranberries, Oppy and its partner berry growers are now shipping fresh strawberries and blueberries from California under an Ocean Spray brand.

Ultimately, a range of berries, including blackberries and raspberries, will join strawberries and blueberries as part of the Family Farmer Owned brand of fresh produce. The program expands and elevates Oppy’s berry offerings, delivering fruit of high-quality and great flavor in a familiar and trusted label. This expansion also establishes a year-round fresh berry presence for the Ocean Spray brand.ocopDavid Smith, Oppy president and chief marketing officer, with strawberry growers Susan Josue and Ken Hasegawa.

“Ocean Spray was founded by three cranberry growers looking to expand the market for their fruit,” Clark Reinhard, vice president of innovation for Ocean Spray, said in a press release. “The brand is well known across multiple grocery aisles but our presence in produce has been limited to just a few months of the year. The perimeter of the grocery store is growing fast and by collaborating with Oppy our brand will be on fresh, high-quality produce from family farms year-round.”

The Ocean Spray brand bolsters Oppy’s strategic push in the berry category, according to James Milne, vice president of marketing. “We conducted extensive research throughout North America over the past year and discovered a genuine enthusiasm for berries," he said. "There is a clear opportunity for a strong brand like Ocean Spray to enter the market and capture people’s imaginations. This new innovation will disrupt an established category and offer a surprising new berry experience to the trade and consumers alike.”

Following California strawberries and blueberries, the Ocean Spray Family Farmer Owned brand will feature fruit produced by Oppy domestic berry growers in the Pacific Northwest, British Columbia and its international network of family farmers.

“Consumers should ultimately understand that when they see the Ocean Spray logo anywhere in the world they are supporting family farms — the same way they do buying at their local farmer’s market,” said Reinhard. “While cranberries remain at the heart of what we do, bringing other berries to market under the same brand will be a huge benefit to growers, retailers and ultimately the consumer.”

“Partnering with Ocean Spray enables us to simultaneously deliver new value to our grower partners and our retail customers,” David Smith, Oppy president and chief marketing officer, said in the release. “Berry growers everywhere understand the stature of the Ocean Spray brand and are engaging with the opportunity. Meanwhile we’re providing our retail partners the exciting option of high-quality strawberries, blueberries, raspberries and blackberries packed in a label of high consumer awareness and appeal.”

Smith said the timing is advantageous for all, with berry category sales at retail elevating 15 percent in the last two years, while also realizing average-price-per-pound gains. IRI data shows that berry sales volume has increased throughout the United States, while branded produce is earning greater dollar share throughout the category.

Tops Friendly Markets, a leading full-service grocery retailer in New York, northern Pennsylvania, western Vermont and north-central Massachusetts announced its 2017 Produce Managers of the Year. Nominees from each district were evaluated on several criteria, including sales growth, overall department conditions, and development of associates, customer interaction, merchandising, shrink and profitability.

Each region was asked to submit candidates for consideration before being reviewed by Tops Friendly Markets regional vice presidents John McCaffrey and Mike Patti along with Jeff Cady, director of produce and floral for Tops Friendly Markets.

“The ability to creatively merchandise the product, interact with the customers, and oversee the growth of not only the product, but the people within the department is paramount,” Cady said in a press release. “Produce is a vital part of our day-to-day business, and being able to undertake this and manage it successfully is something we truly appreciate and want to recognize in these individuals.”

This year’s award recipients are as follows:

  • Buffalo South Produce Manager of the Year from Derby, NY: Eddie Mercado
  • Buffalo North Produce Manager of the Year from Medina, NY: Terry Bensley
  • Midstate Produce Manager of the Year from Corning, NY: Chris Buchholtz
  • Buffalo Central Produce Manager of the year from Seneca Mall: Scott Grange
  • Buffalo East & West Region Produce Manager of the Year from North French: Rob Czaja
  • Rochester & East Region Produce Manager of the Year from New Henrietta: John Dedie
  • Syracuse South Produce Manger of the Year from Northside: Bill Steinbrecher
  • Syracuse North Produce Manager of the Year from Camden, NY: Dean Maracchion
  • North Country Produce Manager of the Year from Elizabeth Town, NY: Amanda Hapeman
  • Fingerlakes Produce Manager of the Year from Farmington, NY: Anthony Costigan
  • Western PA Produce Manager of the Year from Warren, PA: Mike Atkins

Fairway Georgetowne LLC, operating out of Brooklyn, NY, has posted a $25,000 surety bond with the U.S. Department of Agriculture to obtain a license to operate in the produce industry.

Under the regulations of the Perishable Agricultural Commodities Act, the company was required to post a bond following its prior involvement in bankruptcy.

USDA will hold the bond for three years, providing assurance to the industry that the company will be able to pay for produce purchased and to conduct business according to PACA rules.

In the past three years, the USDA resolved approximately 3,500 PACA claims involving more than $58 million. Its experts also assisted more than 8,000 callers with issues valued at approximately $140 million.

Doc’s Food Stores, a Bixby, OK-based supermarket chain that operates as Country Mart, JB’s Market and Apple Market, launched the Mushroom Council’s successful Blend model in the deli, meat and produce departments at all its retail stores and experienced sales gains in all three departments.

The Blend is a method of mixing finely diced mushrooms into proteins such as beef, turkey, lamb or pork to make hamburgers, meatloaf, meatballs, tacos and chili. The Blend enables consumers to enjoy their favorite foods while reducing their intake of fats, sodium, cholesterol and calories, while adding a portion of produce.

“The results of The Blend promotion exceeded our expectations,” Bart Minor, president of the Mushroom Council, said in a press release. “Doc’s did an excellent job of launching and promoting The Blend with sampling, passing out recipe cards and cross promoting in the three departments. They made sure their customers knew about the benefits of The Blend.”

Throughout the promotion, Doc’s advertised fresh Blend Mushroom Burgers and Blend Meatloaf in its Weekly Summertime Savings circular. “How to Prepare The Blend at Home” was also featured. The retailer also sampled Blended Turkey Tacos and Blended Chili for customers to try. The retailer supported the initiative with local and trade public relations initiatives. The launch was so successful that consumers came into the stores asking specifically for Blend patties.

The results of The Blend promotion indicate that people were encouraged to try The Blend and make it at home. The produce department had a 60 percent sales increase in fresh mushrooms. The meat department saw an increase of 12 percent in hamburger patty sales. Blended burgers represented over 8 percent of all patties sold. A 10 percent increase in meatloaf lunch and dinner sales in the deli department occurred when switching over to Blend meatloaf.

“We are excited about the sales results of The Blend launch at our stores,” Danny Williams, director of produce marketing for Doc’s Food Stores in Bixby, OK. “Our customers really liked our Blend meatloaf and patties so we’ve decided to keep these items as part of our everyday product offerings.”

Due to the success of The Blend program, Doc’s Food Stores continues to offer and sell The Blend in the produce department by displaying point-of-sales materials to keep customer informed of the benefits. The meat department continues to sell Blend patties and the deli department continues to offer The Blend.

The Mushroom Council attributes the success of the promotion, in part, to the well-defined strategic plan. From the start, Doc’s had specific goals to achieve when they launched The Blend. It also envisioned a program that would live beyond the launch period. Doc’s established employee and total-store incentives to encourage staff to stay focused on mushroom/Blend sales goals, which varied by store.

The Mushroom Council encourages retailers interested in implementing The Blend at their stores to visit MushroomsAtRetail.com for more information and retails sales support.

The 2017 season is under way and should be highlighted by good quantities of high-quality produce.

Weather professionals say that 2016 was the warmest year on record for the third year in a row. A mild winter followed by a mild spring allowed many New Jersey farmers, especially those on heavier soils, to get their tilling and planting started early this season. Early warm weather and increasing soil temperatures hastened spring plant growth and allowed over-wintered and spring- planted produce to get off to an early start to the season.nj-tomatoes

Early-season bee pollination efforts were good also. Slowly warming spring temperatures created great growing conditions that ensured excellent product quality and extended the length of season for all of New Jersey’s spring products.

“Following a March with the first substantially below-average monthly temperature anomaly in New Jersey in over a year, April brought a return to record warmth last seen in February,” said New Jersey State Climatologist David Robinson of Rutgers University. “With a statewide average of 56 degrees, the month was 5.1 degrees above the 1981–2010 mean. This ranked as the warmest April since statewide records commenced in 1895. With the warmth of January, February and April hardly balanced by the colder March, this year is off to the fourth-warmest start on record.”

Bill Nardelli of Nardelli Lake View Farms in Cedarville, NJ, said the temperatures have played out well.

“The early season weather has been a challenge, but we’ve been seeing some cooler and more regular weather now that is creating wonderful growing conditions and helping to create excellent quality spring products,” Nardelli said.

“The slowly warming weather was great for maturing our early season crops and getting summer crops started,” said Wes Kline, a Rutgers University Agricultural Agent. “It’s shaping up to be a very good season.”

Over-wintered produce such as cilantro, spinach, leeks, parsley and kale had a good start to the season. We’re probably a week earlier than normal at this time of the Jersey Fresh produce season.

New Jersey enjoys the productivity of a great diversity of fruits and vegetables due to its moderate climate and inherent Jersey Fresh qualities. New Jersey's 11 principal fresh-market vegetables are tomatoes, sweet corn, peppers, cabbage, cucumbers, lettuce, spinach, eggplant, escarole, snap beans and asparagus. The five principal fresh market fruits are strawberries, blueberries, peaches, apples and cranberries.

The early-season harvests of spinach, collards, beets, radishes, escarole, endive, Swiss chard, lettuces and herbs such as parsley, dill, coriander and cilantro have gone very well. Asparagus harvesting began in mid-April in excellent quality. Lettuces became available in late April. Cabbage, pickles and turnip harvests began toward the end of May. Cucumbers and squash will start in early June. Consumers always look for sweet corn and tomatoes by the Fourth of July and, with an early start to the season this year, both should be in sufficient volume by then.

Strawberries are being grown in increasing quantities to meet the strong demand for locally grown berries. They are grown in raised beds and under black plastic. They’re picked when ripe and have more red interior color, a large berry size, and an excellent taste. Early harvests began in early May, with the bulk of the crop harvested in the third and fourth weeks of the month.

Minor quantities of early blueberry varieties like Weymouth should be starting in early June. The much more widely planted Duke variety should start three to four days later, with volume available a week after that. In 2015, New Jersey produced about 9,100 acres of berries yielding about 48.6 million pounds.

Yellow peach volume should start with the early cling varieties in mid-July, with volume by late July. The widely planted John Boy clingless varieties should start by the end of July. Good yellow volume is expected by early August through early September. White peach volume begins with the White Lady variety in mid-August through early September. About 150 peach producers grew about 42.2 million pounds of quality peaches on 4,700 total peach acres, according to the last U.S. Department of Agriculture census.

New Jersey growers are also looking to satisfy the growing ethnic population of the state and the demand for Asian and other ethnic specialty produce, particularly melons, squashes, peppers and eggplants. There are also numerous field trials of these new ethnic varieties being grown by farmers and agricultural agents throughout the state. This area of production is thought to have a big growth potential.

This season will also see another excellent and spirited Jersey Fresh marketing effort. For the eighth summer in a row, the NJDA has secured funding that will allow Jersey Fresh to advertise on radio and in trade media. These funds also enable the program to hire a seasonal intern that will assist staff in visiting retailers to distribute excellent point-of-sale materials.

It is hoped that advertising expenditures will enhance the efforts of longtime staff from the Department's Bureau of Market Development and the Quality Grading program. Staff still disseminates a weekly “Jersey Fresh Forecast & Availability” email and will continue to maintain regular contact with buyers. The availability report is now also available on our website at http://jerseyfresh.nj.gov/find/availabilityreport.html. The New Jersey Department of Agriculture will again do its best to help the New Jersey produce industry enjoy a banner year.

Bill Walker is with the New Jersey Department of Agriculture.