MONTEREY, CA — The inaugural Organic Produce Summit, held here July 13-14, was a resounding success with a sold-out trade show and attendance roster, standing-room only seminars, thought-provoking featured speakers and a trade show floor buzzing with activity.
“Have you ever seen a trade show with more excitement,” asked Dave Moore of Earthbound Farms, the San Juan Bautista, CA-based company that was a pioneer in organic produce production. “It reminds me of a party in high school where everyone hangs in the kitchen.”
Moore was speaking of the crowded aisles, which did seem to have a party atmosphere, and didn’t bother anybody, especially the exhibitors like Earthbound.
Tonya Antle, another organic produce pioneer who is now a principal at Salinas, CA-based Tanimura & Antle, served as mistress of ceremonies during the two-hour keynote session that featured four diverse speakers. Antle beamed as she remembered the early days of organic produce and surveyed the packed room that gathered to hear these speakers.
After Chad Hagen, a noted organic industry devotee, made his presentation, Antle said she felt like a “proud mother” as she gave the speaker his start in the business about 25 years ago.
And after listening to Organic Trade Association Chief Executive Officer Laura Batcha wax poetic about the value of the organic shopper, Antle noted that it was great to have statistics backing up what the early pioneers seemed to know intrinsically — that buyers of organic produce buy more produce than the average shopper.
The summit, which began with a reception on Wednesday, July 13, and continued through a morning of seminars and an afternoon trade show the following day, did have a buzz as it is hard to deny that this segment of the industry is amazingly passionate about the organic sector. Antle revealed that the trade show had 75 different companies exhibiting and that there were more than 800 attendees, representing 100 buying groups and 50,000 grocery stores.
The main keynote speaker was noted author Mark Bittman, a well-known advocate of the consumption of “real food.” Bittman opened his remarks by opining that he was speaking to the “good guys.” Perhaps capturing an unannounced underlying theme of the show, Bittman focused on the “real food” nature of organic produce as its main advantage, rather than the fact that it is organic. He noted that “organic” junk food is still junk food, and is not good for you, while saying that fruits and vegetables -- conventional or organic -- should be the basis of every diet. He called organic produce a subset of the bigger category of real food, which he is on a mission to promote.
Batcha of the OTA touted a similar theme in her speech. An unabashed advocate for organic produce and food in general, Batcha ticked off a litany of statistics proving that the organic category is being driven by organic produce (about one-third of all organic food sales). She noted that 50 percent of organic produce buyers are millennial parents, and 51 percent of all households do purchase organic produce during a year.
“Retailers who sell more organic produce, sell more produce overall,” she said.
But she also said that the majority of organic buyers will choose an alternative produce item if the product they are shopping for is not available in an organic SKU.
While there is a small number of passionate organic produce shoppers who won’t buy conventional produce, Batcha said the vast majority (98 percent) are crossovers. The OTA’s advice to retailers is that a positive message touting organic produce is much more effective than a negative messaging denigrating conventional produce.
The show seemed to have the same vibe as the majority of exhibitors and attendees appeared to be from the mainstream produce industry, buying and selling both organic and conventional produce.
However, seminars earlier in the day were clearly devoted to specific organic produce topics. A trio of retailers discussed the best way to merchandise organic produce, while a trio of shippers talked about many of the challenges in attempting to fill the growing demand for organic produce. There is real concern about how supply can keep up with demand.
Another session was devoted to trends in organic consumption, while a final session dealt with the role organic produce plays in e-commerce retail produce sales.
The opening of PortFresh Logistics during the early fourth quarter of 2016 will strengthen the role the Port of Savannah in Georgia will play as an entry point for fresh produce originating in South America.
PortFresh Logistics is constructing a 100,000-square-foot cold storage facility dedicated to perishable cargoes.
“Our services will include cold storage, drayage, inspection -- both USDA and in-house -- full repacking and regrading capability, pre-cooling, import and export cross dock, on-site U.S. customs stations, third-party food certification, organic handling certification, grower services including sales, inspection and logistics, regional LTL services, fumigation services in partnership with Royal Fumigation, CTPAT and more,” Todd Huber, the company's vice president of operations, told The Produce News.
“Perishable foods are an important growth sector for the Georgia Ports Authority,” said Griff Lynch, executive director of the Georgia Port Authority.
PortFresh Logistics will create 40 new jobs upon its opening. That number is expected to increase to 75 full-time jobs by the fourth year of operation. The company will be led by Chief Executive Officer Brian Kastick and President Rebecca George.
Kastick provided some analysis of the role PortFresh Logistics will play to facilitate the distribution of perishables in the Southeast Corridor. “Currently, more than 90 percent of imported fruits and vegetables entering the U.S. East Coast arrive via Northeast ports,” he said. “That means cargo headed to the Southeast must be trucked down, adding time and expense to the logistics supply chain.
“Using the Port of Savannah offers significant time and money savings per container for areas throughout the Southeast region,” Kastick continued. “We believe the growing population of the U.S. Southeast, government policy changes and perishable industry consolidation will break open significant pent-up demand for the new perishable supply chain gateway built around the Port of Savannah.”
The PortFresh's state-of-the-art facility will be situated on 20 acres of a 182-acre site specifically designed to allow multiple climate zones. Both import and export cargo will be handled. The facility is located on I-16 on Old River Road, seven miles from I-95 and 15 miles from the Port of Savannah’s Garden City Terminal.
“Savannah is the fourth largest port in the U.S., with the Garden City Terminal being the largest single-terminal container operation,” Huber said. “The proximity of both PortFresh and Garden City to I-95 and I-16 allows for fast terminal truck turnaround. Combining that with lower fees and drayage costs will make this an ideal marriage for importing perishable cargo into the Port of Savannah. On the outbound side, Savannah has an ideal distribution footprint. The proximity to South and Midwest hubs that supply over 40 percent of U.S. consumers is reached better through the Port of Savannah than any major port along the East Coast.”
Huber added that domestic shippers will be able to realize advantages by utilizing the company's storage and repacking services. “Also, CSX and Norfolk Southern both offer rail service to Garden City Terminal allowing our western U.S. shippers to come East at very competitive rates,” he said.
Huber said PortFresh Logistics will raise the bar on customer service. “Our hours of operation will revolve around customer satisfaction,” he said. “Our customers drive our business. They entrust their product to us. We will do everything possible to satisfy their needs and continually grow that trust.”
Negotiations to bring the project to fruition occurred over a three-year period. A grant from OneGeorgia Equity helped PortFresh defray infrastructure costs for water and sewer lines to the site.
Members of the Next Big Thing Growers’ Cooperative, a 45-member cooperative of family growers headquartered in Lake City, MN, released their estimates for the 2016 crop of SweeTango, the apple that was developed by the University of Minnesota to feature the best characteristics of the Honeycrisp and Zestar! apple varieties.
The projected crop yield is 450,000 standard 40-pound boxes, which is an 18 percent increase over last year’s crop of 380,000 and 9 percent larger than the 2014 harvest of 413,000 boxes.
Preliminary projections estimated a yield of 465,000 boxes for 2016, however severe storms on July 8 in northern Michigan produced hail up to two inches in diameter that caused extensive damage to the crop in that region, thereby reducing the overall estimate. Other growing regions across the United States and Canada have not been adversely affected by weather to date.
The timing of the harvest varies by growing region, as orchards are spread across differing climates in locations like Washington, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Michigan, New York and Nova Scotia. Washington will begin harvest first in early August, which means SweeTango will start appearing in the market around Labor Day.
As the SweeTango apple crop has continued to grow over the past decade, so does the length of the season. Once a hyper-seasonal fruit due to limited yields from a relatively small number of young orchards, SweeTango’s season is now expected to extend from early September to late December. This is great news for SweeTango’s enthusiastic and loyal consumer following.
Theron Kibbe, executive director of Next Big Thing Growers’ Cooperative noted, “We are looking forward to a good size SweeTango crop of excellent quality, with sizes that retailers are successful with. We have a robust marketing program in place that will drive shoppers to stores with SweeTango apples on their lists. We also will be partnering with retailers with in-store activities designed to increase trial and introduce new shoppers to SweeTango’s tangy-sweet flavor and exceptional crunch.”
Nielsen has honored Dole Fresh Vegetables for transformational innovation and for continually bringing improvements to essential day-to-day experiences and rituals.
The produce company and its line of Dole Chopped Salad Kits, launched in 2013, received a 2016 U.S. Nielsen Breakthrough Innovation Award, selected for distinctiveness, relevance and endurance from close to 3,500 consumer products introduced to the market that year. It is the first time a produce brand has won the award in the eight-year history of the competition.
2016 Nielsen Breakthrough Innovation Award winners satisfied three requirements: a distinctive consumer product that delivered a new value proposition to the market in 2014; a minimum of $50 million in first-year U.S. sales; and a demonstrated ability to endure the market by achieving 90 percent of first-year sales during its second year.
"Dole is beyond honored that the Dole Chopped Salad Kit line is one of only 92 U.S. products to receive this award since its inception in 2008 — and the first-ever winner in the produce industry,” CarrieAnn Arias, vice president of marketing for Dole Fresh Vegetables, said in a press release. “Dole Chopped Salad Kits were launched in 2013 as the next wave in salad innovation: a taste-first chopped salad experience featuring layers of flavor, texture, color and crunch in every bite. The success of the initial line led to the introduction of two additional Chopped Salad varieties in 2015 to meet consumer demand.
"The fact that Nielsen reviewed 20,000 U.S. product launches over eight years and found Dole and Dole Chopped Salad Kits as demonstrating breakout innovation and success and improving America’s daily routines of eating is extremely fulfilling for everyone at Dole,” she said
The seven Dole Chopped Salad Kits — with varieties that include Bacon and Bleu, BBQ Ranch, Chipotle & Cheddar, Pomegranate, Poppy Seed, Sesame Asian and Sunflower Crunch — are part of a larger line of packaged salad blends and kits, including conventional and family-size, sold under the Dole brand.
WASHINGTON — The U.S. House voted 306-117 to adopt mandatory labeling of genetically engineered foods in a compromise bill that would preempt state GE labeling laws, while allowing food companies flexibility in labeling their products.
The House vote came after the Senate agreed to a compromise bill (S. 764) drafted by Sens. Pat Roberts (R-Kan.) and Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.), leaders of the Senate Agriculture Committee, and as Congress raced to leave town for a seven-week recess until September.
Supporters say the bill affirms the safety of GE food products and topples a Vermont labeling law that went into effect July 1, while opponents blast the measure for giving food companies too many choices in labeling products, including through the use of QR codes that consumers can read with smartphones. The bill also allows food companies to choose either package text, a link to the website or a symbol on labels.
“When people think of labels, they expect something that is easily identifiable,” said Rep. James McGovern (D-MA), an opponent of the bill. “This calls for a ‘quick response’ code, whatever that may be that is confusing and can only be accessed using a smartphone and internet access.” But supporters of the bill said the measure allowed greater transparency to shoppers.
“Once enacted, this bipartisan legislation will benefit both consumers and food companies,” said Tom Nassif, Western Growers president and chief executive officer. “With new, uniform disclosure requirements, consumers will receive the level of transparency many have been demanding without the confusion that would result from the patchwork of state labeling standards that will arise in the absence of this bill.
“Likewise, a consistent federal labeling standard will allow food companies to mitigate the economic impact of multiple state requirements, while providing them with flexible options to communicate with their customers, depending on size and level of technological sophistication,” he added.
Nassif said he did not anticipate the bill having an immediate impact on the fresh produce industry since the majority of produce is grown without genetically modified seeds. “However, we believe this bill will ultimately provide a platform for the food industry to educate consumers on the current and potential benefits of genetically modified foods. The science already tells us they are safe to eat, and they are already helping us grow more food while protecting the environment and reducing our dependence on natural resources.”
While Congress should be praised for supporting a uniform labeling bill, Produce Marketing Association’s Bob Whitaker said PMA is concerned with the “precedent that this legislation sets by requiring disclosure of information that does not impact human health and safety.” GE foods are safe, he stressed.
Retailers said the new bill would eliminate the need for warehouses to segregate food products based on varying state laws.
Supporters urged President Obama to sign the law and pledged to work with the U.S. Department of Agriculture in writing the regulations implementing the measure.