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Four companies, representing five new products, were named the produce industry’s best packaging innovators on Friday, Oct. 14, receiving the Produce Marketing Association’s 10th annual PMA Impact Award: Excellence in Packaging. The winning companies were announced during PMA’s 2016 Fresh Summit Convention & Expo in Orlando, FL. The award recognizes exceptional produce and floral packaging that demonstrates innovation and makes an impact on consumers.

The 2016 Impact Award winners in alphabetical order:

  • Mann Packing Co. Inc. in Salinas, CA, for its Nourish Bowls
  • Mastronardi Produce Ltd./SUNSET in Kingsville, ON, for its Dill It Yourself Pickle Kit
  • Mucci Farms of Kingsville, ON, for its CuteCumber Flow Wrap Re-seal
  • Mucci Farms of Kingsville, ON, for its Smuccies Sweet Strawberries Top Seal Tray
  • Ocean Mist Farms of Castroville, CA, for its Season & Steam Sweet Baby Broccoli

A panel of judges evaluated entries holistically, awarding points for excellence in five key areas: marketing, food safety, supply chain efficiency/functionality, sustainability and consumer convenience. The combined point totals from each of these areas determined the finalists and five packaging winners.

The 15 remaining finalists:

  • Braga Fresh Family Farms of Soledad, CA, for its Josie’s Organics Chopped Salad Kits
  • Display Pack of Grand Rapids, MI, for its Good Foods Grab & Go
  • Fresh Solutions Network of San Francisco for its Side Delights Flavorables
  • Frieda’s Specialty Produce of Los Alamitos, CA, for its Watermelon Radishes
  • Mastronardi Produce Ltd./SUNSET of Kingsville, ON, for its SUNSET Organics six-count pepper bag
  • Mucci Farms of Kingsville, ON, for its Fresh Mix Double Compartment Tray with Re-Sealable Label
  • Mucci Farms of Kingsville, ON, for its Veggies-To-Go Clamshell
  • Mucci Farms of Kingsville, ON, for its Tomato-X Clamshell
  • NatureFresh Farms of Leamington, ON, for its The TomBox
  • NatureSweet of San Antonio, TX, for its Constellation Tomatoes
  • Naturipe Farms LLC of Estero, FL, for its “Selections” Cranberries
  • Pure Hothouse Foods Inc. of Leamington, ON, for its Cloud 9 - The Irresistible Tomato
  • RPE Inc. of Bancroft, WI, for its Tasteful Selections Season and Savor
  • RPE Inc. of Bancroft, WI, for its Tasteful Selections Take and Shake
  • Taylor Farms of Salinas, CA, for its Chef Crafted, Taylor Clear

The U.S. Department of Agriculture has cited Florida Fresh Tropicals LLC of Miami for failure to pay nearly $400,000 for produce. Additionally, the USDA imposed sanctions on two produce businesses for failure to pay reparation awards issued under the Perishable Agricultural Commodities Act

Florida Fresh Tropicals failed to pay $392,127 to seven sellers for 58 lots of produce. As a result of these actions, the company cannot operate in the produce industry until Sept. 15, 2018, at which time it may reapply for a PACA license. The company’s principal, Jesse J. Fernandez, may not be employed by or affiliated with any PACA licensee until Sept. 15, 2017, and then only with the posting of a USDA-approved surety bond.

Additionally, as a result of sanctions the following businesses and individuals are currently restricted from operating in the produce industry:

  • Global Sunrise Import Export LLC, operating out of Miramar, FL, for failing to pay a $21,054 award in favor of a New Jersey seller. As of the issuance date of the reparation order, Alejandro Machuca was listed as a member of the business.

  • Commodities Exchange LLC, operating out of San Antonio, TX, for failing to pay a $27,360 award in favor of a Texas seller. As of the issuance date of the reparation order, Eduardo Trevino was listed as a member of the business.

In the past three years, the USDA resolved approximately 3,700 PACA claims involving more than $66 million. Its experts also assisted more than 7,100 callers with issues valued at approximately $100 million.

NOGALES, AZ — Nogales produce distributors are seeing clear changes in Mexican product mix and even shipping seasons.

Just a couple of years ago, on the list of top 10 commodities imported into Nogales, watermelons were listed amid that pack. When new statistics come out this fall, watermelon volume received in Nogales will be second only to tomatoes. Or, the big melons may surpass tomatoes in Nogales.

“We’re a tomato town, and still, we have one company that is already receiving 35 loads of watermelons a day,” said Lance Jungmeyer in an Oct. 5 interview. “There is a chance that watermelons will overtake tomatoes, and that would be a crazy development for Nogales!”

Jungmeyer is the president of the Fresh Produce Association of the Americas, which is headquartered in Nogales.

The FPAA president said that Mexico has the mix of elevations and climates to enable the fresh produce industry to expand its harvest periods.

The deal now has two peaks, Jungmeyer said. The first peak, largely from Sinaloa, is from January through March and the second, largely from Sonora, is from mid-April through June.

“We used to have one ‘hump’ in February, March and April. The second peak was not there. Now we have a two-hump camel,” he said.

Watermelon, squash, peppers and other winter vegetables make up the second hump, he added.

Jungmeyer said that Caborca, a northern Sonora shipping area, began shipping cucumbers three weeks earlier than normal, adding to the Nogales deal.

Generally, the Nogales season “starts earlier and runs later. In July Nogales trails off because there is so much domestic production” and the Mexicans have a difficult time competing on transportation costs, Jungmeyer said. “But, the front of the season has changed and that dynamic, with farmers in California expanding in Mexico, will continue to change.”

ORLANDO, FL — With the backdrop of the previously announced changing of the guard at the highest staff level of the Produce Marketing Association, its 2016 Fresh Summit was held this past weekend with a feel of transition in the air.

Bryan Silbermann, who has been with PMA for more than 33 years and the top staff person for the past two decades, announced earlier this year that he would exit the association at the end of January of 2017.  Cathy Burns was hired three years ago as the next chief executive officer and has been gradually assuming the responsibilities of that slot in a planned manner during that time. The public passing of the baton occurred on stage during the state of the industry address presented by Silbermann and Burns on Friday morning.

The duo looked both back and ahead as they discussed the short- and long-term changes and opportunities in the fresh produce industry. A year ago, in a similar presentation, Burns and Silbermann highlighted some of the technological advances that were on the horizon, and noted in this year’s presentation that 2016 was a year of tremendous advancements in the ag tech sector. From drones to interactive household appliances, and including smart packaging and innovative marketing efforts, many changes have occurred this past year.

For 2017, Burns said that the consumer obsession with fresh produce would continue. She noted that “sophisticated weight managers” are developing personalized, healthy diets for their clients with fresh, local and organic produce options dominating the menu. She predicted these “personalized diets” will continue to flourish. Marketers, she said, are using analytics to locate and target consumers that are tuned into a healthy lifestyle. She suggested produce companies partner with Fit Bit and other firms that are already tracking and dialed in to the individual healthy lifestyle habits of their customers.

Silbermann pointed out that veggie-centric menus continue to gain in popularity at foodservice and marveled at the increasing use of sophisticated processing equipment, like vegetable spiralizers, to increase produce consumption.
The pair said branded fruits and vegetables are one of the fastest retail trends registering a 12 percent annual growth over the past five years.  They opined that there is much opportunity here as only a handful of fresh produce brands have made deep penetration into consumer awareness.

No forward-looking discussion today ignores the topic of millennials and the PMA pair did not disappoint. Silbermann noted the challenges in dealing with the millennial workforce, as 25 percent of them expect to change jobs this year and two-thirds believe they will have moved to a job and maybe even a new career by 2020.

Burns said this group wants a “work-life blend” rather than a work-life balance. In other words, they want their work atmosphere to represent and embody the values they hold dear. They are open to working during traditional personal times, but they want the freedom to bring their personal values and life to the workplace.

The presentation was punctuated by a few farewell remarks from Silbermann before passing the symbolic baton (a bouquet of flowers) to Burns. He noted some of the changes he has seen since his first day at PMA in 1983. Broccoli slaw and portabella mushrooms were just then being marketed and value-added opportunities were few and far between.

While the changes have been monumental, Silbermann said the “passion and purpose” that drives and motivates the industry has remained the same. He expected his stint with PMA to be short-lived, but said “your why got into my blood.” He expressed complete confidence in Burns, stating that there couldn’t be a better person to lead the association moving forward.

Prior to the address, longtime industry veteran Jan DeLyser was honored with the Robert L Carey Leadership Award. Her list of volunteerism is long and impressive, but presenter Bruce Taylor, founder and chief executive officer of Taylor Farms in Salinas, CA, said, “More important than the list on a résumé, though, are the qualities she has brought to our industry and our association.”

He noted her “collaborative spirit with the ability to listen and drive consensus.” Taylor said she very much represents the characteristics embodied by longtime PMA executive Bob Carey, the namesake of the honor.
In accepting the award, DeLyser noted that Carey was a great mentor in her early years in association management and she strived to follow his example. Currently the vice president of marketing for the California Avocado Commission, DeLyser has tirelessly volunteered in serving the industry for the past three decades.

To honor Silbermann, a new award has been established by PMA, which will be presented for the first time at next year’s Fresh Summit in New Orleans. The Bryan E. Silbermann Collaboration Award will recognize an individual for working with one or more people or organizations, including those outside the nominee’s own organization, to realize mutually beneficial solutions to an industry issue.

“Throughout his career, Bryan brought a collaborative spirit that engaged and motivated industry leaders to work together to create opportunities and solutions to challenges, so much so that collaboration has become a defining characteristic of PMA,” said Burns.

PMA announced that its Fresh Summit set a new record in exhibitors with more than 1,200 and it broke its East Coast attendance record with close to 21,000 registrants.

During the meeting, the organization announced a change in next year’s schedule when PMA’s Fresh Summit convenes in New Orleans Oct. 19-21. PMA is shifting to a Thursday-through-Saturday schedule, with the expo on Friday and Saturday.

The new national citrus forecast released Oct. 12 again painted a dire picture for Florida as production and bearing acres continue to decline.

For the 2016-17 crop year, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Agricultural Statistics Service has estimated that, as of Oct. 1, Florida citrus trees would yield about 81.25 million boxes of oranges, grapefruit and tangerines. That represents more than an 11 percent drop this year and the fifth straight year of declining production.

This is the first time in the 103 years since record-keeping began that five straight years of decline have been noted. The crop is the smallest in almost 60 years. While Florida growers are currently discussing and debating replanting strategies, there is expectation that the decline will continue before there are enough new trees in the ground to stem the tide.

USDA Agricultural Statistics Administrator Candy Erick announced the numbers on ag radio at noon on Oct. 12, with only the tangerine category estimated to be larger this season than it was last year but still well below previous years.

Erick said the forecast is from information gathered before Hurricane Matthew blew through the state in early October. While the hurricane did not inflict significant damage on the citrus trees, there is no doubt some wind damage and fruit drop related to that storm did occur. Erick said the updated figures for November, expected to be released in mid-November, will take into account any drop in volume based on the October storm.

Erick relayed that the Florida orange crop is estimated at 70 million boxes, with 36 million being of the Valencia variety and 34 million non-Valencia oranges. The Florida grapefruit crop has been pegged at 9.6 million boxes, with about 80 percent of that being red varieties. The tangerine crop is estimated at 1.65 million boxes, which represents 250,000 more boxes than 2015-16. The orange estimate is off 14 percent from last season, while grapefruit has dropped about 11 percent. For estimating sake, a box is measured at 90 pounds.

During the same broadcast, USDA estimated the California orange crop at 48.5 million boxes with 40 million of those being Navel oranges. California is also expected to have 4 million boxes of grapefruit. The Texas grapefruit crop was estimated at 4.7 million boxes, with the Lone Star State chipping in with 1.25 million boxes of oranges. The California and Texas crops are on par with the last several years.

Erick said the decline in Florida’s citrus volume was anticipated, noting that fruit drop has been higher than average and yield is down. While the numbers represent a significant drop, they are a bit better than early industry guesstimate. A Bloomberg survey of 10 analysts released over the weekend predicted the orange estimate would come in at a little more than 63 million cartons.

Still, Florida citrus acreage is at its lowest level since 1966 and volume is well below the 200 million-plus cartons of citrus produced a decade ago. The 2007-08 year was the last season that Florida produced a total citrus crop in excess of 200 million boxes, which even then was significantly lower than the 287 million boxes produced in the 2001-02 season.

Dave Brocksmith, a citrus category specialist for Seald-Sweet International in Vero Beach, FL, pulled no punches when discussing the current Florida situation. “It is dire, very dire,” he said. “I am not overstating it to say the Florida industry is just trying to survive.”

But he also expressed optimism that the industry will find a solution. He said there is much research going on trying to find products to save planted trees and other research at developing new genetics and new varieties. He said Florida has the infrastructure to continue to be a viable citrus-producing option and he is confident that solutions will be found.

In fact, Brocksmith said growers are currently using new crop-protection tools in the groves that weren’t available just a year ago. It’s too soon to judge their efficacy, but Brocksmith is clearly proud of the can-do effort being put forth by all sectors of the industry.

With regard to this year’s crop, he said Seald-Sweet, because of its size, will have promotable volumes of both Florida juice oranges and grapefruit. He said the firm’s tangerine crop has been hit hardest by the greening issue and the company will not be producing big volumes of that specialty crop this season.

Michael W. Sparks, executive vice president and chief executive officer of Florida Citrus Mutual, released the following statement about the estimate: “The 2016-17 citrus season is here and we are cautiously optimistic heading into it. The all Florida orange forecast number of 70 million boxes is about what we expected, and although it’s low, Florida growers will again use their trademark resilience to bring consumers the best citrus in the world. We expect upward pressure on grower returns.”

While the greening issue is agnostic and affecting all the citrus fruit, Darrell Genthner, director of marketing and business development for Noble Worldwide Florida Citrus Sales in Winter Haven, FL, expects that in two to three years tangerines will make a comeback based on the planting of newer varieties.

The greening issue, he said, is knocking out about 20-25 percent of the production of the legacy tangerine varieties each year, but the newer varieties will fill in that production in the years to come. He is especially excited about a new tangerine that he referred to as “both crunchy and juicy.”

He said Oct. 12 that this year the weather and the greening issue have delayed the specialty citrus that his firm emphasizes to the point “that we are about three weeks behind schedule.”

He noted that getting the proper Brix tests are even difficult because the top of the trees, where the test was traditionally taken, is where the greening problem is most acute.