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Stemilt taps into juicing and smoothie trend with the launch of Fresh Blenders

Stemilt Growers is tapping into the growing crowd of people who juice and blend their fruits and vegetables with the launch of Fresh Blenders, a product line of five-pouch bags for both sweet and tart apple varieties. The company introduced the high-graphic, blender-shaped package at the PMA Fresh Summit show in Anaheim, CA, a feature in the New Products Showcase and free juice sampling at a food truck outside the convention center on Saturday.Stemilt-Fresh-Blenders-Tart

According to NPD Group data from May 2013, blenders, juicers and food processors are the top-growing small kitchen appliance category, with blenders and juice extractors contributing to more than $1 billion in sales in 2013. The popularity in juicing and smoothies spills over onto the Web with terms like "smoothie recipes" earning an average of 110,000 Google searches a month.

"Juicing and blending smoothies at home has taken off in recent years, and continues to grow in popularity among consumers across all age demographics," Roger Pepperl, Stemilt marketing director, said in a press release. "Apples are the perfect base ingredient to any juice or smoothie creation. They offer sweet and tart flavors, nutrition in the form of fiber, vitamins and antioxidants, and when blended, a nice foamy consistency. Fresh Blenders is the perfect platform to directly market to this crowd and deliver them a great grab-and-go value pack."

The Fresh Blenders package is different from any five-pound bag of apples on the market today. The resealable pouch bag is long and narrow — just like a blender — and designed to stand up vertically for easy display at retail and in the refrigerator at home. The bright color of both the sweet and tart bags catch the eye, while the tagline "the natural start to any juice or smoothie," and a large illustrated blender filled with apples and other popular blending vegetables tells the consumer exactly how to use the fruit inside the bag at home. The bags are shipped in a Fresh Blenders display-ready carton with a lid that pops off easily.

"The packaging is bright and fun, and the case it ships in self-stacks for building a quick display at retail," said Pepperl. "Fresh Blenders are ideal for refrigerated endcap displays and can be easily promoted alongside other key smoothie and juice items like kale and carrots. It's a great value offering to reach this crowd of consumers, who purchase a lot of fruits and vegetables each week."

The fruit inside each bag is ideal for blends, as color percentages and shape do not matter when making a juice or smoothie recipe like they do when eating the apple fresh. This makes Fresh Blenders a great value item to consumers, Pepperl added.

"A five-pound bag can make a week's worth of juice or smoothies for most consumers. Fresh Blenders deliver value and convenience, making it easy for shoppers to juice or make smoothies at home all year long," said Pepperl.

Stemilt will pack Fresh Blenders in both sweet and tart flavors. The varieties available for sweet are Gala, Fuji, Red Delicious and Golden Delicious. The varieties available as tart are Braeburn, Granny Smith and "Pink Lady" brand apples.

On the back of every bag, Stemilt includes a recipe that fits the flavor profile of the fruit inside. Sweet Blenders have the "Ridiculously Red" smoothie recipe on the back, which brings beets, strawberries and sweet apples together. Tart Blenders have the "ABC Smoothie," which includes apples, bananas, carrots and an option to make it green with spinach. Every package also features the Mathison family and the message "from our orchards to you" in order to tie the consumer back to the farm these fruits came from.

"Consumers want to know the story behind where their food was grown and who grew it. Our founding family has been farming apples for going-on six generations and has a great story to share," Brianna Shales, Stemilt communications manager, said in the release.

Stemilt will share Fresh Blenders with its consumer audience following PMA. Stemilt.com will have a Fresh Blenders page with product information, instructional videos and smoothie and juice recipes. Stemilt will also reach consumers with recipes and tips for blending and juicing and other fun giveaways through The Stem blog, and its large social media presence.

Jonah Berger, the New York Times best-selling author of the book Contagious, is also excited about the introduction of Fresh Blenders and believes it's a product line that resonates with today's health-conscious consumers.

"As a smoothie maker myself, I think Fresh Blenders is a great idea," he said. "It taps into the growing trend of blending and juicing with a healthy, fresh, and easy to use ingredient like apples."

Kalettes to be unveiled at PMA Fresh Summit

Growers and marketers of Kalettes, a new brussels sprouts-kale hybrid, will be present at PMA Fresh Summit 2014 to talk to customers and interested parties about the new vegetable.

This summer, Tozer Seeds announced that it had entered into exclusive marketing agreements to grow and market Kalettes with six companies: 4Earth Farms, Classic Salads, Mann Packing, Ocean Mist Farms, Southern Specialties and WP Rawl. As part of the agreement, Kalettes seeds will be sold by Johnny's Selected Seeds to small farmers and home growers.

Although supplies remain limited for fall, the companies are looking forward to giving customers a preview of what's in store for upcoming seasons.

"We are very excited by the reception to Kalettes from both consumers and the trade, and with all of the media attention we have been receiving," Kraig Kuykendall, sales manager of Tozer Seeds America, said in a press release. "Supply hasn't caught up with demand yet, but crops are in the ground and getting ready for harvest. We are looking forward to seeing it on store shelves and in restaurants in a big way this coming spring."

Kalettes are the product of more than a decade of research by Tozer Seeds, one of the larger family-owned vegetable breeding companies in England. The kale and brussels sprout hybrid offers a fresh fusion of sweet and nutty, combining the best traits of each of its parent vegetables. Kalettes are not genetically modified and were developed by cross-pollinating brussels sprouts with kale through traditional methods.

Kalettes are now available through 4Earth Farms and Mann Packing and in limited quantities through other companies with distribution increasing throughout the winter. Kalettes will be available to both retailers and foodservice distributors directly through the companies. More information is available at www.kalettes.com.

Is Bill Gates buying up farms in Vidalia? Documents and growers link Microsoft founder to recent sales

VIDALIA, GA — It has been rumored and discussed on the streets here for months that the Seattle-based Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation or Cascade Investment LLC, the Gates' private trust located in Kirkland, WA, is actively seeking to purchase producing farms in the Vidalia area, renowned for its sweet onions and the center of that industry.

Already, two entities — Coggins Farms in Lake Park, GA, and more recently Stanley Farms and its subsidiaries in Lyons, GA — have been sold and, while the trail is murky, documents and interviews with other Vidalia-area growers link the purchases to Kirkland and seemingly to Gates.Gates-1Vidalia, GA, produces the most famous onion in the world. What growers here want to know is why Bill Gates seemingly wants to be in the sweet onion business — and why he apparently does not want that fact widely known. (Photo by Chip Carter)

The Produce News recently obtained a copy of a letter written by Stanley Farms General Manager Vince Stanley to vendors and suppliers dated Oct. 1 and headlined, "Re: Change of Ownership." An included W-9 IRS form showed that while the business name of the operation is Stanley Produce Georgia LLC, the owner is the Mt. Hood Administration Trust, with a listed address of a post office box in Kirkland. There is no readily available information on the trust.

Stanley wrote, "On Oct. 1, Stanley Produce Georgia LLC purchased the interests of [Stanley Farms subsidiaries] Vidalia Valley, Manning Farms and Vidalia Onion Farms. Please accept this letter as notice of such a change. The Stanley Family wants to personally let you, our valued customer, know that the entire staff you have come to rely on will 100 percent stay in place and will only add quality folks to better serve you!"

One visitor to the Stanley Farms Facebook page posted two questions about the sale, the second of which read, "Is or has Bill Gates already bought your farm business via Cascade Investments...? Seems he already bought Coggins Farms awhile back."

Neither post had received a reply as of Oct. 13, when The Produce News' queries regarding the sale began; by mid-day Oct. 14, both posts had been removed.

The Produce News contacted the Gates Foundation, Cottonwood AG (based in Naperville, IL and thought to be an agricultural assets management operation for Gates' interests) and others Oct. 13, but there were no replies to requests for information or interviews.

Derek Yurosek of Cottonwood AG, whose name has been mentioned by several Vidalia growers as a participant in some of the proceedings and whose LinkedIn profile shows a Kirkland address, forwarded The Produce News' email seeking information to several other Cottonwood AG email addresses and others from Los Arboles Management LLC, which also has a listed address of a post office box in Kirkland, albeit a different one. His message atop the email simply read, "Please do not respond." It is unclear whether Yurosek intended to copy The Produce News on that email.

While the Gates connection is still just rumor to some, others claim more intimate knowledge of the dealings.

"I've actually met with them," said one well-placed grower who asked to remain anonymous.

Gates' agricultural interests are well-known. He has been an active and ongoing crusader in developing countries, helping provide locals with means of improving subsistence farming operations.

What everyone in Vidalia would like to know is why Gates seemingly wants to be in the sweet onion business — and why he apparently does not want that fact widely known if that is indeed the case.

Ventura County Sustainability Exchange hosts one‐stop-shop sustainability event

In conjunction with this year's PMA Fresh Summit, the growers and distributors of Ventura County are inviting fresh produce industry members into their backyards for the Ventura County Sustainability Exchange. This unique collaborative event brings together top growers from throughout the region to put Ventura County on the map and show the industry why it is a one‐stop‐shop for sustainably grown produce.

“Buyers from all over the country will be impressed to see the substantial investments that Ventura County producers have made to incorporate sustainability into producing their products,” John Chamberlain, director of marketing for Limoneira, said in a press release. “The Ventura County Sustainability Exchange will firmly establish the county as the one‐stop‐shop for sustainable produce.”

VCSE invitees will be able to experience the operations of these growers first hand, as leading companies like Limoneira, Calavo, San Miguel Produce, Agromin, Deardorff Family Farms and Houweling's Tomatoes invite them along for tours of their fields and facilities. For example, guests will visit the Limoneira and Calavo Headquarters in Santa Paula, CA, to tour its 2MG solar facilities and learn about their waste-management practices and high-density planting.

Star power will be there to greet VCSE attendees throughout their stay. Refreshments will be provided by Nobu mixologist Brian Leon in Limoneira's orchards. Dinner will be catered by the culinary expertise of Chef Jason Collis, who will be turning the local produce of Ventura County's growers into gourmet culinary creations.

Before savoring Collins' cooking however, renowned comedian Patrick Martin will take center stage. With the same blend of humor and captivating visual illusions that has taken him before such prestigious audiences as the White House, the Olympic Arts Festival and top Fortune 500 corporations, VCSE attendees will be in for a night to remember.

Guest speakers during the event will include the Agricultural Commissioner Henry Gonzales, Food Share Inc. President Bonnie Weigel and Kathleen Phillips, the supply chain sustainability manager for Pro*Act.

More consumers than ever are looking for healthy, sustainable food choices. The search for products that retailers can sell to this growing body has consumers has lead buyers and produce experts of all stripes to Ventura County.

At the end of their two-day trip through the fields and operations of these growers, VCSE attendees will understand first-hand what makes the county a leader in sustainability for the fresh produce community.

"VCSE would like to thank its sponsors, Cool Planet, Agromin, Driscoll's, Houweling’s, San Miguel, Deardorff, Limoneira and Calavo, for making this event possible," VCSE said in the release.

Wonderful Halos and Mulholland Citrus collaborate to expand Mandarin market

Paramount Citrus and Mulholland Citrus have entered into a partnership in which Paramount will be the exclusive sales agent for Mulholland's Mandarins and Mulholland Citrus will grow and pack its Mandarins under the "Wonderful Halos" brand. The goal of the partnership is to expand the consumption and category of Mandarins across North America by consolidating volume in the "Wonderful Halos" Mandarin brand.

Along with partner Fowler Packing, these citrus operations in the Central Valley of California are committed to guarantee the superior taste, quality, freshness and consistency that consumers have come to expect from Wonderful Halos. This is made possible by the sharing of high-standard growing, packing and shipping practices that manage production from tree to table.

“We are focused on working with other like-minded quality farmers to grow the overall Mandarin category within the citrus industry,” David Krause, president of Paramount Citrus, said in a press release. “Working closely with the highly experienced citrus growers at Mulholland Citrus is a logical next step to reinforce the transformation of Mandarins into one of America’s most popular produce items.”

In season from November to April, "Wonderful Halos" is a premium California Mandarin brand and one of the fastest-growing brands in America’s produce aisles.

“At Mulholland Citrus, we share the same values and a similar vision as Paramount Citrus to expand the market for Mandarins and use the power of a well-known brand like 'Wonderful Halos' to reach an ever-increasing number of consumers,” Tom Mulholland, owner of Mulholland Citrus, said in the release. “Both of our companies are strongly rooted in California agriculture, and we believe we can help each other give America a healthy alternative as the perfect snack.”

Last year, Paramount Citrus announced its intensions to spend a record $100 million in marketing between 2013 and 2018 to grow the Mandarin category and help increase consumer demand, which benefits all citrus growers. Paramount has invested in marketing and brand awareness-building as part of an integrated, national campaign to market the “pure goodness” and uniquely delicious taste of the sweet, seedless, easy-to-peel fruit. Demand across the industry has grown exponentially over the last few years. Due to the new collaboration with Mulholland, retail customers can expect a larger supply of Mandarins available for the 2014-15 season.