Sunkist's director of export marketing retires

After more than 30 years in the citrus industry and nearly 11 years at Sunkist, Dave Pott, Sunkist director of export sales, will retire at the end of this year. Pott’s position will be assumed by Ray Mizutani, who joined Sunkist in 2011 and has worked in the export department focusing on the Korean market. Prior to Sunkist, Mizutani worked for Nishimoto Trading, procuring California citrus for the Japanese and Chinese markets.Sunkist-Growers-logo

“Dave has been a key contributor to Sunkist’s export sales division, managing relationships with importers and exporters. We will miss him,” Kevin Fiori, Sunkist’s senior vice president of sales and marketing, said in a press release. “Working closely with Dave during his time at Sunkist, Ray has gained the respect of customers, the shipper community and his colleagues within our organization. We feel fortunate to have him leading the export team moving forward.”

Sunkist is also promoting Jeff Gaston to director of Western sales to oversee accounts in the Western region from the cooperative’s headquarters in Valencia. Gaston has been with Sunkist for 16 years, previously working from Vancouver, BC.

“Jeff has been an integral part of our sales team for many years, and we are pleased to be promoting him to a leadership position to focus on growth in the Western region,” added Fiori.

Sunkist is also making positive changes to its varietal management team with the addition of Terri Mouton, who recently joined the cooperative as director of varietal sales, focusing on the Mandarin, tangerine and tangelo categories.

“Easy-peel varieties are in high demand, and we are putting a dedicated team in place at Sunkist to oversee and grow this important category,” said Fiori. “Terri understands the challenges of the produce market and has a proven track record in business development, sales and marketing strategy. We are excited to have her onboard to help take Sunkist to the next level as we move forward with our mandarin business.”

Sweet potato production surging in United States

America’s sweet potato industry is alive and thriving. According to a special article issued by the Economic Research Service of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, sweet potato production is surging in the United States.

The report, issued on May 1, was authored by Taylor Johnson, Norbert Wilson, Michelle Grosz, Deacon Fields and Jennifer Bond.

“U.S. sweet potato production has increased substantially over the last 15 years,” the authors wrote. “In 2000, total U.S. production was 13.8 million hundredweight and close to the 10-year (1990-99) average of 12.42 million hundredweight. In subsequent seasons, sweet potato production increased by an average of 6.1 percent per season, ultimately resulting in record high production (29.6 million hundredweight) for the 2014 marketing year.”

While sweet potatoes are grown across the United States, the authors said, “They are best suited for cultivation in southern states which have warmer climates and longer frost-free growing seasons relative to other regions of the United States. In particular, North Carolina’s climate and soil conditions are ideal for sweet potato production. Since 1971, this state has been the No. 1 sweet potato producer and, in 2014, North Carolina produced 53 percent of all sweet potatoes grown in the country.”

North Carolina’s industry grew 185 percent over the past 15 years, buoying the domestic industry. “However, other states make significant contributions and have also experienced gains. Over the same 15-year period, California production has increased by nearly 100 percent; Mississippi’s production has increased by 155 percent,” the report stated. These two states accounted for 30 percent of domestic sweet potato production in 2014.

North Carolina, California, Mississippi and Louisiana accounted for 91 percent of aggregate sweet potato production, and the authors attributed increases to gains in yield and area harvested. “North Carolina leads the nation in area harvested and total production; however, California typically posts the highest average yields,” the report stated. “In 2014, California producers harvested an average of 275 hundredweight per acre; in North Carolina farmers realized 220 hundredweight per acre.”

The average season farm price per hundredweight of sweet potatoes during 2014 was $23.60, the second highest on record and 50 cents below the record high of $24.10 set in 2013. “Since 2000, the average sweet-potato price has posted year-to-year increases in nine of 14 marketing years for an average annual gain of 3.8 percent over the period,” the authors wrote. “With production steadily increasing, growth in utilization — including domestic consumption — has supported higher prices.”

Per capita consumption increased nearly 80 percent between 2000 and 2014, increasing from 4.2 pounds to 7.5 pounds. According to the report, “Significant increases in per capita consumption have taken place since 2010, when the availability-based estimate of per capita use indicated a one-pound per-person increase to 6.3 pounds per person as compared to the 2009 estimate of 5.3 pounds per person. Consumption estimates jumped again between 2010 and 2011, rising 0.8 pounds per person, before falling to 6.3 pounds per person in 2013. The current per capita estimate is 1.3 pounds per person higher than the 2013 estimate and is the highest per capita consumption estimate on record.”  

Increased consumer demand for sweet potatoes has tracked information about the health benefits of sweet potato consumption. “Recognition of the relative health benefits of sweet potatoes has boosted fresh consumption, as well as the utilization of processed sweet-potato products such as sweet potato chips, fries and pre-cut, cubed, mashed and pureed sweet potatoes,” the authors stated.

In addition to increased domestic volume, the United States has also seen an increase in the volume of sweet potatoes it imports from countries such as China and the Dominican Republic. According to the report, all of this imported product is fresh or dried. 

Apple retail data reveal shifting consumer preferences

Final retail results for the full 2014 apple crop have been released by Nielsen. The data show consumers continue their love affair with Honeycrisp apples while emerging branded apples continue to deliver strong dollar and volume growth. Despite a record apple harvest last year, total apple volume sold at retail showed only a slight increase, indicating that while consumer preferences are shifting it is not translating into increases in total apple consumption.cmi

Nielsen data for the completed apple season from Sept. 1, 2014 to Aug. 28, 2015 show that for the year, total apple volume sold at retail increased by 1.9 percent. A decline of 3.9 percent in the average retail price caused overall apple category dollars to drop for the year by 2 percent.

Nielsen data report actual sales performance from approximately 19,000 supermarkets representing 67 percent of total U.S. supermarket sales.

Among the top five apples, Honeycrisp sales jumped by 25 percent, cementing its position as the No. 2 selling apple in the United States. Honeycrisp was the only apple in the top five varieties to generate a dollar performance increase for the year. Red Delicious appears to have suffered from shifting consumer tastes. Reds dropped from the No. 2 selling variety in 2013 to No. 4 during 2014, declining by 15.4 percent for the year. Overall, the top five apple varieties (Gala, Honeycrsip, Fuji, Red Delicious and Granny Smith) drove 75 percent of total category sales for the year.

Among all varieties in the top 10, Ambrosia showed the strongest dollar growth. Its sales jumped over 47 percent for the year, moving the apple into the top 10 selling varieties in the U.S. for the first time, displacing Braeburn. Ambrosia had the largest dollar growth rate of any apple in the top 10.

Despite the record crop, only three apple varieties in the top 10 generated year-over-year sales increases, all of which are premium varieties with an average retail over $2 per pound.

Industry experts see category growth being driven by consumers shifting from commodity apples to premium varietals.

“Every retailer should take note that despite a record crop and cheap prices last year, category sales actually declined,” Katharine Grove, marketing specialist at CMI, said in a press release. “Retailers that identified the opportunity to maximize performance of Honeycrisp, Ambrosia and some of the key emerging branded apples like Kanzi and KIKU probably had a pretty good year while their competitors lost market share.

“Premium packaged apples captured consumer attention and also drove retail growth,” said Grove. “The Nielsen data shows that for the year, two-pound premium pouch bags had the strongest growth rate of all of the major packaged apple segments.”

Lawmakers talk water, nutrition issues at United Fresh Washington Conference

WASHINGTON — A champion of drought-relief legislation, Rep. David Valadao (R-CA) called water and labor, two issues on United Fresh Produce Association’s agenda this week on Capitol Hill, the top issues for his state.

Produce business leaders met with members of the U.S. House of Representatives Sept. 29 and planned visits with senators and their staffs on Sept. 30.united

Speaking at the United Fresh Washington Conference, Valadao said his family runs a dairy farm and a top concern is making sure his cows have enough water to drink.

“It’s something very personal for me,” he said.

Valadao is a champion for water and a strong leader for United Fresh, said Robert Guenther, United’s senior vice president of public policy, in introducing the Republican congressman.

Valadao’s bill, the Western Water & American Food Security Act of 2015, which passed the House in July, would require federal agencies to use current data when making regulatory decisions and to cut the red tape holding back major water storage projects.

On the immigration issue, Valadao said the anti-immigrant rhetoric during the Republican presidential debates is making the fight for immigration reform tougher on Capitol Hill.

Valadao complained it’s difficult to get the federal government to respond to specific guest worker issues for constituents and, in some cases, businesses have been told inaccurate information, he said.

With the House consumed by the leadership race in the wake of Rep. John Boehner’s (R-OH) early departure, Valadao said he’s making a point to ask candidates for their views on immigration.

If Congress focuses solely on border security, “we’re going to be in a world of hurt,” especially those in agriculture, he said.

Rep. Tim Ryan (D-OH) spoke to the group before their Capitol Hill visits on the issue of child nutrition and his salad bar legislation.

Looking at the rising medical costs that fuel the government health care programs, Ryan said a healthy diet of fruits and vegetables should be viewed as a solution.

“If we do not become a healthier country, we will never balance the budget in the United States,” he said.

He called for a salad bar and a kitchen in every school, and suggested the need to create big markets for state institutions, such as universities and prisons, to buy locally grown fruits and vegetables.

Ten school food directors are joining produce leaders in visits to Capitol Hill to talk about the difference school meal standards are making to improve children’s diets, said Tom Stenzel, president and chief executive officer of United Fresh.

Directors from New York City, Georgia and Minneapolis discussed the popularity of salad bars in their schools, while dismissing the calls for increased plate waste.

Eric Goldstein, chief executive officer of the New York City Department of Education, said children need to get exposure to a variety of fruits and vegetables, a recipe for healthier kids who are more likely to become future customers.

With school nutrition standards under attack, United’s Lorelei DiSogra, vice president of nutrition and health, said there are two key messages to bring to Capitol Hill.

It’s important to maintain the “modest” one-half cup of fruits and vegetables with every school meal, and to protect the integrity of the Fresh Fruit & Vegetable Program by keeping it “fresh” only.

Kroger named FFVA's merchandiser of the year

The Kroger Co., which has worked with producers to promote Florida products, has been presented with the Florida Fruit & Vegetable Association's Merchandiser of the Year Award.krogerlogo

The annual award recognizes the important role that retail merchandising plays in the promotion and sale of fresh Florida produce.

“During the spring alone, Kroger moves more than 1 million crates of Florida sweet corn,” Mike Aerts, FFVA’s director of production and supply chain management, said in a press release. “The retailer’s strong promotion of the crop includes circular ads and store promotions for shoppers. In addition to sweet corn, Kroger also promotes Florida beans, cabbage, radishes, celery and leaf items. It’s that kind of commitment that helps keep our industry strong.”

The award was announced at FFVA’s 72nd Annual Convention in Palm Beach.