An early spring in Washington state will equate to the earliest start on record for Stemilt Growers and its premium organic apricot program.
Stemilt, Washington’s leading apricot grower and shipper, will begin apricot harvest on June 10, around two weeks earlier than normal.
The 2015 crop is down 10 percent from last year’s large-volume crop, but with the early spring and the warm weather that came with it, will lean toward jumbo sizing and be very high quality.
Stemilt’s apricot program is heavy on organic fruit, with approximately 65 percent of its apricots grown and certified as organic.
“Our organic apricot program is centered on flavor-first fruit,” Roger Pepperl, Stemilt marketing director, said in a press release. “Natural farming methods combine with our ideal arid orchard locales to produce large, dessert-flavored Artisan Organics apricots.”
According to the Organic Trade Association, organic food sales in the United States recently broke a record, totaling $39.1 billion in 2014, or an 11 percent increase year-over-year. Fruits and vegetables make up more than one-third of all organic food sales, and are the leading organic category.
Stemilt’s summer fruit program has been centered on organics since transitioning peaches, nectarines and apricots to organic back in 2007. The company’s entire crop of peaches and nectarines is organic.
“Consumer demand for organic fruits continues to grow,” Pepperl added in the press release. “Stone fruits are an important part of the produce department each summer and carrying smaller items like apricots organically is a great way for retailers to maximize sales both within the organic category, and the entire produce department. Promoting flavor alongside organic is the way to win over consumers.”
The peak season for Stemilt’s organic apricots will run from June 22 to July 10. The early timing this season makes jumbo-sized apricots a great item to include in Fourth of July ads. Retailers can begin loading apricots in early June and increase volumes for promotions later in the month and into early July.
“Stemilt is heavy in premium apricot varieties like Rival and Perfection, which will harvest during the peak time frame and offer consumers a great eating experience,” Pepperl said.
Aside from carrying organic apricots, proper merchandising of apricots is important in order to drive impulse sales, Pepperl noted. Building endcap displays, telling the grower’s story through signage, and running in-store specials are all great ways to capitalize on a flavor-first and organic apricot program, and all things Stemilt supports its customers on with its Artisan Organics apricots.
“Consumers want to know who, where and how their food was grown, especially on organic produce items,” Pepperl added. “Our apricots are grown by the Douglas family, who has farmed fruit for four generations. Sharing their passion for organics through in-store vehicles, social media, email marketing and more will elevate the great quality apricots featured in your stores, and most importantly, boost sales this summer.”
CPMA announced the election of its new board of directors at the Annual General Meeting, which serves to update members on CPMA’s activities and reiterate strategic goals. Both CPMA Past Chair Bernadette Hamel and Ron Lemaire, president, provided reports outlining the past activities and future plans of the association. Members are given the opportunity to engage with CPMA leadership to ask questions and hear about association activities.
The new members of the board of directors are Mike Furi, chair, of the Grocery People Ltd.; Past Chair Bernadette Hamel of Metro Richelieu Inc.; First Vice Chair Sam Silvestro of Walmart Canada Corp.; Second Vice Chair Rick Alcocer of Duda Farm Fresh Foods Inc.; and Executive Committee Member Les Mallard of Chiquita Brands North America.
“It’s been an honor to lead the CPMA as they entered into their 90th year serving the produce industry in Canada," said Hamel. "The dedication and ongoing support of the board of directors is a true testament to the collaborative nature of our industry. It was exciting to see the launch of the Half Your Plate Campaign during my term and I truly believe that this initiative will inspire Canadians to make healthier choices while increasing industry prosperity.”
“I look forward to leading the CPMA over the next year," Furi said. "During my term as chair I plan to work with industry to enhance our advocacy efforts to reduce barriers to trade and deliver on programs to improve our industry knowledge and education."
“Having alternating directors is very beneficial to CPMA," Lemaire said. "While we have continuity with our staff, we benefit from the changing perspectives of the different industry professionals on our board. The board has worked tirelessly to assist us with our governance renewal process and we’d like to thank them for their continued dedication to the industry. As we enter into our 91st year, we look forward to continuing our legacy as the voice of the produce industry in Canada."
CPMA board members are Murray Driediger of BC Fresh Vegetables Inc.; George Pitsikoulis of Canadawide Fruit Wholesalers Inc.; Byron Bellows of Colemans Food Centres; Jean-Guy Mazerolle of Co-op Atlantic; Oleen Smethurst of Costco Wholesale Canada; Guy Milette of Courchesne Larose Ltee; Stephan Schmekel of Del Monte Fresh Produce Canada Inc.; Davis Yung of Fresh Direct Produce Ltd.; Joel Ippolito of Ippolito Fruit & Produce Ltd.; David Dube of Krown Produce; Eric Biddiscombe of Loblaw Cos.; Mimmo Franzone of Longo Bros. Fruit Markets Inc.; Mario Masellis of M.L. Catania Co. Ltd.; Tim York of Markon Cooperative Inc.; Joe Sbrocchi of Mastronardi Produce Ltd.; Andrea Palmer of Nova Agri Inc.; Kendra Mills of PEI Potato Board; Michele McMillan of Sobeys National Procurement; Colin Chapdelaine of Star Produce Ltd.; Brian Slagel of Sunkist Growers Inc.; John Corsaro of The Giumarra Cos.; Steve Young of The Oppenheimer Group; Brian Hampton of The Produce People Ltd.; Scott Fairbairn of Thrifty Foods (Jace Holdings); Gerry Van Winden of Veg Pro International Inc.; and Mike Ecker of Vineland Growers' Co-operative Ltd.
Consumers love blueberries, and the industry is only too happy to support this love affair.
A 2014 study commissioned by the U.S. Highbush Blueberry Commission provides a detailed explanation about the exploding growth of the blueberry industry.
“As consumer interest in healthy dining options continues to rise, so does the presence of fruit on U.S. menus, and new research from Technomic shows blueberries — a fruit renowned for its nutritional profile — gaining major traction among the top 500 chain restaurants,” the commission stated. “Overall blueberry mentions on American menus have increased 97 percent since 2007 — a stronger growth rate than that of strawberries, raspberries or blackberries — with fresh blueberry mentions up more than 176 percent in the same time period.”
This growth was attributed to changing consumer preferences and “an evolution in the way foodservice professionals view blueberries,” the commission commented.
“Today’s consumers see blueberries as one of the little choices they can make in pursuit of a healthy lifestyle, and savvy restaurants are picking up on that,” said Mark Villata, executive director of the commission. “Our research shows that the health halo affiliated with blueberries extends all the way to dining establishments that feature them — so, restaurants looking to capture consumers’ interests should consider adding more blueberry options to their menus.”
Blueberries are being incorporated into offerings such as non-alcoholic beverages and smoothies, entrees including salads and dessert dishes. “As smoothie fever sweeps the nation, many chain restaurants have begun offering blueberry as a flavor that appeals to customers, particularly younger millenials,” the commission noted.
Snacking habits have been expanded to include consumption of fresh fruit. “By providing a variety of snack options featuring fruit, restaurants can position themselves to increase traffic and sales — particularly among a younger customer base,” the report noted.
A nationwide survey conducted by the commission in 2013 noted that new research shows strides made since 2004 are guiding future marketing strategies. “New research from the U.S. Highbush Blueberry Council shows Americans are nearly twice as likely as they were nine years ago to buy blueberries in the coming year, and the number of households saying they’ve purchased blueberries within the past month (69 percent) has nearly doubled since 2008. In alignment with the industry’s goals of continuing to grow consumption, today’s blueberry consumers are also trending younger and more diverse; they’re more likely to be 35- to 44-year-olds (often parents with kids at home) and minorities than they were in 2004.
“With the mom market representing $2.7 trillion in annual spending in the U.S. and the Hispanic market expected to hit $1.5 trillion in buying power by 2015, this shift represents a step in the right direction for the blueberry industry,” said Parm Bains, commission chairman.
Alex Ott, executive director of the California Blueberry Commission, told The Produce News, “Those trends are absolutely correct.” California is the nation’s sixth-largest producer of blueberries, and the season is in full swing. “Our peak is just around the corner,” he stated. California’s production will be roughly 55 million pounds, a crop that is 10 percent larger than 2014. California’s harvest is running approximately 10 days ahead of typical timetables.
According to Ott, the industry continues to research new blueberry varieties that will result in higher bush yields and at the same time require less irrigation.
As production levels increase to meet market demand, Ott said California’s producers continue to explore export opportunities to move blues. Three key emerging markets are South Korea, China and Australia.
The first shipments of sweet Northwest cherries from Oneonta Starr Ranch Growers are set to hit retail, though not quite as early as first expected. The season should kick off in late May or early June, with fruit shipping through the first week of August, a much earlier finish than in years past.
Rainier cherries will start earlier than normal, also about June 8. Oneonta Marketing Director Scott Marboe said a warm spring initially accelerated the much-anticipated cherry season, but May weather patterns have adjusted the start date to a “little closer to normal, but still much earlier than previous years.
“Cooler weather the last few weeks and much needed rain showers have moved harvest dates back a few days," he said. "We are now looking for our first pickings to be May 29. That is still an early start date, but it’s not the record pre-Memorial Day we thought might happen.”
The crop is showing great quality, and fruit is sizing well. Marboe said that the first fruit from early orchards will be smaller in size, but bigger fruit will be more prevalent after the first few days of the shipping season.
“We anticipate another excellent year, barring any incidents Mother Nature might throw at us,” he said.
A variety of pack options are available for Oneonta Starr Ranch Growers cherries, including the popular Euro 12/2.25-pound pouch bags for domestic markets. Loose clamshells and 5-kilogram packaging are the preferred packages for offshore receivers, with exports to Korea, China and Australia on the rise while traditional outlets in Japan and Taiwan remain strong.
Of note this year at Oneonta Starr Ranch Growers’ Wenatchee packing facility is a 100 percent optical sorting and packingline.
“Another new Unitec line with Vision II technology is going to provide an exceptional piece of fruit to the industry,” Marboe said.
Trader Joe’s continues to build a loyal following with its diverse grocery selection and exceptionally friendly service. A study of more than 7,200 consumers by Market Force Information, a worldwide leader in customer intelligence solutions, found that Trader Joe’s is the favorite U.S. grocery retailer for the third year in a row. Publix ranked a close second and ALDI was third.
In addition to Trader Joe’s, Publix and ALDI, Hy-Vee and H-E-B rounded out the top five spots This is the third straight year that Trader Joe’s and Publix led the rankings. Brands such as WinCo Foods, Albertsons and Sam’s Club made this year’s list, after failing to garner enough mentions in 2014.
With its neighborhood feel, zealous customer service, and an array of exotic and affordable food items, Trader Joe’s has built a following of devoted customers. The Greater Los Angeles-based chain has outlined an aggressive growth plan that calls for opening more than two-dozen stores in the next year.
Market Force looked at the operational and service attributes that set leading grocery brands apart, and found Publix and Trader Joe’s led in many key areas, including cashier courtesy, speedy checkouts and cleanliness. ALDI, WinCo Foods and Costco led in the value category, while ShopRite was rated highest for sales and promotions. H-E-B, Hy-Vee and Kroger also performed well in most areas.
“In the fiercely competitive grocery industry, customer satisfaction is the one measure that can tell you if you’re delivering on your brand promise or falling short,” Cheryl Flink, chief strategy officer for Market Force, said in a press release. “Our research revealed that one in eight shoppers were disappointed with their most recent visit to their primary grocer, leaving ample room for improvement. This is especially impactful when you consider that delighted customers are 2.4 times more likely to recommend their grocer to others.”
As consumers adopt more healthy eating habits, organic and locally sourced products grow in importance. The study found that 48 percent prefer to buy organic products when given a choice. Produce is by far the most popular organic item — 90 percent said they had purchased it in the previous 30 days.