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FPFC crowd sets record at charity luncheon

The membership of the Fresh Produce & Floral Council and guests went beyond themselves as they set a new record for charitable donations at the annual December Holiday Charity luncheon held in Cerritos, CA., on Wednesday, Dec. 10.

A total of $130,545 was raised for Caterina’s Club, an Orange County, CA, charity that focuses on providing a nightly dinner to underprivileged kids. Currently, the club provides about 1,000 meals a night at various locations in Southern California. 14 Chef-1165-600-450-80Chef Bruno Serato, owner of Anaheim White House Restaurant, who is the founder and chairman of the Caterina's Club charity, with a family the charity helped to get a house. In addition, Chef Bruno Serato of The White House Restaurant in Anaheim, CA, has been spreading the message of “feeding the kids” throughout the country. Similar efforts are being launched in several other cities.

The concept began in 2005 when Chef Serato’s mother, Caterina, implored him to provide a meal for some local kids who were going hungry. Serato served up a free pasta meal that night for dozens of underprivileged kids and he has been doing so every night since. His group has served about 1 million meals to children in the past decade. Often these kids are living in rundown motels because their parents are scraping by trying to come up with enough money to make it through another day. Saving money to move is a virtual impossibility.

Serato, who spoke at the luncheon along with a young mother with two children who he has helped, said he has recently expanded his effort by helping many families move out of these motels and into more permanent residences. Caterina’s Club often provides the first and last month’s rent as is required by many landlords. This is often a huge barrier to moving for these families, who live a hand to mouth existence.

Auctioneers Bill Lalliberte of WJL Distributors and celebrity Frankie Avalon kept the crowd entertained and constantly reminded them to help “feed the kids.” The duo have provided this “auctioneering” service several different times over the years. Lalliberte’s irreverence combines well with Avalon’s celebrity to incite the crowd to be extra generous.The more than 350 attendees responded by bidding up every item, often well over its value.

Among the donated items were show tickets to a Frankie Avalon concert provided by the singer, as well as dozens of tickets to local sporting events featuring the Lakers, Dodgers, Kings and Clippers. The Produce News got in on the festivities by donating a full-page, four-color ad. The item led to a spirited bidding contests with two companies battling back and forth. Eventually Fernando Vargas of Cal Fresco LLC won the item with a $3,000 donation. He immediately donated it back, and for the same price Bill Brooks of Westlake Distributing won the ad. So in essence, the charity bucket received a double donation for the ad placement.

Also among the most popular items were outings with some of the local retailers, including Kent Kuwata of Smart & Final, Roger Schroeder of Stater Bros., Alfred Cano of Northgate Markets, Miguel Garcia of Ralph’s Grocery Co., Raul Gallegos of Bristol Farms, Tracy Ramirez of Ralph Grocery Co. and Mark Carroll of Gelson’s Markets.

Before the auction began, Chef Serato told the audience that he came this year to thank them for last year’s unbelievable donation of more than $100,000. The anticipation was that the $100,000 number would be tough to top.

Kroger chairman to retire, successor named

David B. Dillon, who led The Kroger Co. leadership team's development of the company's successful Customer 1st Strategy, will retire as chairman of the board Dec. 31, after 38 years of service. Rodney McMullen, Kroger's chief executive officer, will take on the additional post of chairman commencing Jan. 1, 2015. McMullen has served on the board of directors since 2003. Additionally, Nora A. Aufreiter has been elected to the company's board of directors.

Dillon served as Kroger's chairman from 2004-14 and as CEO 2003-13. Prior to that, he held a variety of executive positions at Kroger and Dillons Cos., which merged in 1983. During his tenure as CEO, Kroger grew revenue by $45 billion, created 53,000 new jobs, reduced costs for eight consecutive years and returned $9.2 billion to shareholders through share repurchases and dividends, which were reinstated in 2006.

As part of the Customer 1st Strategy, Dillon and McMullen, who was then serving as vice chairman, created and executed a long-term price investment strategy that has enabled Kroger to deliver sustainable business growth and shareholder returns, while also saving customers nearly $3 billion annually through lower prices. This laid the foundation for Kroger's growth plan, announced in October 2012, which expands the Customer 1st Strategy by accelerating growth in Kroger's core business and improving the company's connection with all customers; expanding Kroger's presence in new and existing markets; and innovating to create unique competitive positioning for today and the future.

Kroger has also become a leader in supermarket sustainability under Dillon's leadership, the company stated in a press release. The company has reduced energy consumption in stores by 35 percent since 2000 and reduced its carbon footprint by 4.4 percent since 2006. More than half of the company's 37 manufacturing facilities are zero waste. Kroger's efforts to feed families struggling with hunger have grown to total contributions of 250 million meals — 4 million meals per week — in 2013.

"For Dave, Customer 1st — which truly put our customers at the center of how Kroger runs its business — was more than a successful business strategy," McMullen said in the press release. "It was a philosophy that he believed and lived through his actions every day, and as a result he inspired thousands of our associates during his many years of service to Kroger and Dillons Companies. He understood that Kroger's greatest asset is the trust that our customers, associates and shareholders have in our company. We are all the beneficiaries of Dave's extraordinary leadership."

Aufreiter, director emeritus of global management consulting firm McKinsey & Co., was elected to serve until Kroger's annual meeting of shareholders in June 2015. At that time, she will stand for election by the shareholders.

"We are delighted to welcome Nora to Kroger," Dillon said in a press release. "With her broad business experience and consumer and digital expertise, Nora will be a great addition to Kroger's board."

Opal Apple lets New Yorkers taste the difference, make a difference

Opal, known as the apple with a purpose, donates a percentage of sales from every case of Opal apples to youth-led non-profits each year. In keeping with the spirit of giving, Opal hit the Big Apple Dec. 2 for Giving Tuesday — a global day dedicated to giving back — and gave away over 6,000 Opal apples.

In midtown Manhattan, a team of Opal brand ambassadors gave away 5,000 bright yellow Opal apples from a life-sized constructed Opal tree and Opal backpacks filled with sweet and crispy apples.Dennis-Jackson--Keith-Mathews-of-FirstFruits-MarketingDennis Jackson and Keith Mathews of FirstFruits Marketing with an Opal brand ambassador on the streets on New York City. The focus of the event was to spread the word about the Opal Youth Make a Difference Initiative and raise awareness of Opal by getting the apple in consumers' hands. In addition, 1,000 Opal apples were also donated to the Sienna House, a family shelter in the Bronx, where they were distributed that week.

“After Black Friday and Cyber Monday, Giving Tuesday is a great counterpoint to focus on others,” Keith Mathews, chief executive officer of FirstFruits Marketing, exclusive distributor of Opal apples, said in a press release. “Giving is a core value of Opal so this event was a great way to give to others and also introduce them to this sweet, crispy apple variety and its purpose.”

Opal is an apple that gives back, and through its Youth Make a Difference Initiative, Opal funds youth-based initiatives serving communities in the U.S. where youth (ages 6-25) take leadership roles in the project. The initiatives must address food security and politics, nutrition, agriculture or education. Last season, the grants amounted to $75,000 with more funding anticipated for the current season. Grant applications will be accepted starting in January at

Opal will be continuing to make appearances at local events in cities around the U.S. to create awareness for the apple and its Youth Make a Difference Initiative. Enthusiastic brand ambassadors identified by bright yellow Opal apparel will be handing out apples at events in Chicago, Houston, TX, Minneapolis, Los Angeles, Seattle and San Francisco.

Grown in Washington, Opal apples are sold exclusively in North America by FirstFruits Marketing. This cross between Topaz and Golden Delicious stands out on the shelf with its lovely yellow color and great taste. Sweet to start with a tart finish, Opal has a satisfying amount of crunch in each bite. This Non-GMO Project verified apple is also highly resistant to oxidation, making it less likely to brown. Available in limited quantities, Opal apples will likely run through March.

Listeria risk prompts Del Monte recall in the Northeast

Del Monte Fresh Produce N.A. Inc. has announced a voluntary recall of fresh cut fruit containing Gala red apples grown in Pennsylvania. The affected product was distributed to a limited number of customers in the Northeast and is being recalled because these apples have the potential to be contaminated with Listeria monocytogenes.delmont

A total of 3,051 consumer packages containing fresh cut red apples were distributed to Giant Eagle, Amazon Fresh, Sunoco, Peter’s Fruit, Wegmans, Sheetz and 7-Eleven and have “Best If Enjoyed By” dates of Dec. 3, Dec. 6, Dec. 7 and Dec. 8. The fresh cut red apples have a red color skin. The recalled fresh cut fruit packages containing red apples were distributed for sale in clear plastic containers. A chart containing labels and markings is available here.

Listeria can cause serious and sometimes fatal infections in young children, frail or elderly people, and others with weakened immune systems. Listeriosis symptoms may include fever and muscle aches, sometimes preceded by diarrhea and other gastrointestinal distress, according to the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention. Although healthy individuals may suffer only short-term symptoms such as high fever, severe headache, stiffness, nausea, abdominal pain and diarrhea, Listeria infection can cause miscarriages and stillbirths among women who are pregnant.

Consumers who believe that they are in possession of the fresh cut fruit containing the affected red apples are advised to dispose of the product in an appropriate waste container. For any inquiries consumers may call 800/659-6500 (operating 24 hours a day) or email Del Monte Fresh at

Castellini increases presence in Southeast

The Castellini Group of Cos., a leading distributor of fresh produce based in Cincinnati, announced plans to construct a vegetable processing and distribution center in Conley, GA.

The location in Georgia strengthens Castellini's presence in the Southeast, enabling it to reach 80 percent of the U.S. market within a single day by truck.

"Our expansion in the Southeast will allow us to better serve current customers and continue our growth strategy by opening up new markets," Bill Schuler, president and chief executive officer of Castellini, said in a press release. "By working together with the state of Georgia and Clayton County, we're able to further grow our business while bringing much-needed jobs and economic growth to the region. We appreciate all the assistance they've provided to help make this initiative a reality."

Castellini offers a full line of fresh produce and value-added services, which include a complete line of organic produce, fresh-cut processing, tomato repacking and transportation, for its retail, foodservice and wholesale customers.