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Oppy’s organic offerings are ramping up for summer, with a bright assortment of popular brands and fresh favorites poised to deliver value.

Extending its Ocean Spray Family-Farmer Owned berry line to include organics for the first time, and growing more in-demand colored Bell peppers in the OriginO label than last year, the leading fresh produce sales, marketing and distribution company is satisfying the consumer appetite for organic produce in brands trusted for quality, according to Chris Ford, organics category manager.Pepper-plants-in-greenhouse-from-below

“Oppy currently offers OriginO long English cucumbers, tomatoes-on-the-vine and colored Bell peppers produced by one of BC’s early organic greenhouse pioneers, Origin Organic Farms,” he said, noting that this greenhouse has been 100 percent organic for over a decade. “With a sustainable concept that is always evolving, the OriginO brand conveys innovation, along with great quality and taste. OriginO produce is grown in soil, which brings out a rich flavor that truly distinguishes it from the rest.”

Meanwhile Oppy’s flourishing berry program entails Ocean Spray Family-Farmer Owned organic California strawberries and Pacific Northwest blueberries through the balance of spring and on through the summer.

“Response to our conventional Ocean Spray berry program has been very positive,” Ford said. “We expect to see similar excitement around organics, which add a new dimension and enable us to engage even more consumers with Ocean Spray in the produce section.”

Not to be forgotten are Oppy’s South America-grown organic apples and pears, with fresh crop Gala, Granny Smith, Red Delicious, Cripps Pink and Fuji apples as well as Packham and D’Anjou pears shipping through the early summer, joined in June by organic Royal Gala, Braeburn JAZZ, Fuji and Pacific Rose from New Zealand.

Also from New Zealand is the highly anticipated organic Zespri SunGold kiwi which has just arrived, ready to build on the intense excitement the fruit created among retailers and consumers alike over the last few seasons.

“Not to take away from other Oppy organic offerings, but SunGold is truly unique. It just might be the single most exciting new item available in the produce section,” Ford said. “I’ve never met anyone who didn’t like SunGold. Although our 2017 volume is comparable to last year, alongside our partner Zespri, we’re investing in the promise we feel this fruit holds for the future as we prepare for the growth we’ll see over the next five years or so.”

Metro has completed the acquisition of The Jean Coutu Group Inc. With this acquisition, the Jean Coutu Group becomes a wholly owned subsidiary of Metro.metro

“We are very proud to have acquired Quebec’s top player in the pharmacy sector. The combined entity will develop the full potential of our two banners, Jean Coutu and Brunet, in order to strengthen our market presence and better meet consumers’ needs. Together, we want to create a new retail leader offering consumers a food and pharmacy experience customized to their needs for years to come” said Eric La Flèche, Metro’s president and chief executive officer.

“We showcase popular major brands, known for their commitment to consumer health and well-being," said François J. Coutu, who will continue to lead the Jean Coutu Group as its president. "Our operational efficiency will enable us to implement systems and processes, while ensuring that consumers receive high-quality, personalized service from our owner pharmacists.”

As stipulated in the definitive combination agreement signed in the fall of 2017, the Jean Coutu Group shareholders collectively received 25 percent of the acquisition price in the form of Metro shares representing, in the aggregate, an approximate 11 percent equity interest in the corporation. Shareholders holding 79 percent of the shares of the Jean Coutu Group elected to receive their consideration in shares of Metro. Pursuant to the proration mechanism, the Coutu family and its affiliated entities hold an approximate 8 percent equity interest in Metro following this transaction. François J. Coutu and Michel Coutu have been designated by the Jean Coutu Group to sit on Metro’s board of directors.

Metro expects to generate approximately $16 billion in revenues and over $1.3 billion in operating income before depreciation and amortization. Metro also expects that the combination will generate $75 million in annual cost reductions after three years. Metro expects the combination to contribute positively to earnings per share.metro

Nick Osmulski is taking the reins as president of North Bay Produce Inc. this June. He replaces Mark Girardin, who is retiring.

Osmulski said 65-year-old Girardin has been with the firm since it was launched in 1984.

Osmulski added that he is pleased that Girardin will remain in an advisory role and working on special projects at North Bay.North-Bay-staffMany of the North Bay staff.

Osmulski has worked for North Bay for 16 years. Most recently, he has been the firm’s vice president.

Girardin’s retirement is just one of several significant changes at North Bay.

Aaron Hunter recently joined the North Bay staff to develop new business. He previously worked for 19 years for Caito Foods Service Inc. in Indianapolis. He will represent North Bay from the Indianapolis area.

In October, the company moved into a new office building, which is appropriately settled among tall trees in this highly forested section of northern Michigan.

Osmulski said North Bay was created in 1984 as Wilderness Fresh Produce, which was an extension of Cherry Central Cooperative Inc. Cherry Central is owned by tart cherry producers to market fruit to processors. Tart cherry production is heavily focused in this area. Five of these Michigan stockholders also had fresh produce, so Wilderness Fresh was created to market fresh fruit. In 1991, Wilderness Fresh became North Bay Produce Inc.

North Bay’s new office sprang from a need for more room than was available in the Cherry Central office, which is 100 yards from the new North Bay facility.

Osmulski said North Bay and Cherry Central are two separate companies with two separate financials. They simply minimize overhead costs by sharing insurance, human resources and IT services.

North Bay is owned by 29 stockholders, who are in the United States, Mexico, Chile, Argentina, Peru and Uruguay. The South American stockholders are mostly in the blueberry business.

In the fiscal year ended April 30, North Bay for the first time exceeded $200 million in sales. “The cool thing about the company here is that, except for two years over the last 15 years, we have averaged about 10 to 20 percent annual growth,” said Osmulski.

Today the firm’s sourcing volume is split between offshore and domestic production. Between 70 and 75 percent of sales come from member-growers with outside growers providing the remainder.

“We still ship apples, but berries are our No. 1 product, specifically blueberries, blackberries and raspberries. We have enough Michigan apples to ship 12 months a year. We are finishing (storage apples) now, but most years we have near-year-round volume,” he said.

North Bay continues to ship some asparagus from Michigan. The firm was once involved in the Peruvian asparagus deal, but as initial plants reached the end of their 18-year productive life, the decision was made to pull back to strictly Michigan production.

North Bay also distributes sugar snaps and snow peas, that are sourced in Guatemala and Peru. North Bay receives some peas, pomegranates and figs from Peru and a small volume of Argentine lemons. Chile and Uruguay are blueberry sources for North Bay. Mexico provides blueberries, blackberries, raspberries and — last year for the first time — some strawberries.

Domestically, beyond Michigan, North Bay sources Florida blueberries, and North Carolina and Georgia blueberries and blackberries.

The firm also works with blueberry growers in New Jersey, British Columbia, California and Oregon.

North Bay owns packinghouses in Miami and Mascoutah, IL. The Mascoutah facility, 40 miles east of St. Louis, opened in 2012. The mid-continent distribution house was needed to complement the important Miami receiving point and provide an accessible location.

The Illinois warehouse literally is beside the runway of Scott Air Force Base. Occasionally, North Bay receives charter flights of berries into the facility. But mostly the location simply provides relatively easy highway access to North American customers.

The apple industry has gone to great lengths to broaden consumer appeal by breeding new varieties. Some in the industry see this as a blessing. Others suggest it creates a complex production and marketing situation worthy of lengthy consideration.

“Five to seven years ago, retailers were excited about new varieties,” said Scott Swindeman vice president of the apple marketing firm, All Fresh GPS LLC, based in Comstock Park, MI. “Now they ask, ‘Why do you have another bi-colored apple?”Mac-wash-Jack-Brown

This cuts to the core of a significant matter in the Michigan — and national — apple industry.

“I think variety adds more excitement to a category that is already exciting,” said Don Armock, president of Riveridge Produce Marketing Inc., based in Sparta, MI. “While new varieties are not necessarily major volume items, they do bring excitement all season long. The devil is in the details. It is the consumer that will make the decisions over the long haul.” Accordingly, Riveridge does its best to predict buying choices through consumer focus groups in different markets on new apple varieties.

“I like having too many good products instead of too few,” said Chris Sandwick, vice president of sales and marketing for Belleharvest Sales Inc., based in Belding, MI. “There may still be a problem but it’s a better problem. Some varieties may go away, but at the end of the day we have to get people to enjoy eating more apples. The success of the last two decades for the apple industry has allowed a period of innovation. Even if it created a somewhat difficult circumstance, it can’t be bad. If we have too many good apples, we have to convince the retailers to sell more apples.”

Swindeman credited retailers with doing nice apple promotions, including Apple of the Month promotions to teach consumers about new apple varieties. “But there are so many apples to promote that each variety is in and out of the store,” he said. “If a consumer likes a special variety and returns to buy that type of apple and it’s not even there anymore… it’s hard to get traction when a variety is in the store for only one month.”

Armock noted that new varieties “contribute to a more-rapid obsolescence of traditional varieties. But change is healthy.”

Jack Brown Produce Inc. offers nearly 20 varieties of apples, but according to Tom Labbe, sales manager of the Sparta, MI-based grower, “we are always searching for new varieties that can support our customers. It’s an ongoing investigation into what consumers want.”

Among Jack Brown’s offerings are HoneyCrisp, Cripps Pink and soon the Sweet Tango.

“You don’t need all of the apple varieties,” Labbe said. “If you give them too many choices it’s confusing. Given the fight for shelf space within the apple category you can’t discount what (varieties) have worked for years. People still love the Golden Delicious and they want the Gala. Our job is to let the retailers know that our varieties won’t let you down.”

Armock said that it is the core varieties that drive this business. “We can’t lose that focus,” he said. “The core varieties of the last two decades will carry us for quite a few years, yet. As an industry, we need new, innovative textures and flavors but we had better also do a good job on our core varieties.”

When discussing future planting plans with Belleharvest’s affiliated growers, Sandwick said maintaining a good base of Gala, Fuji and Honeycrisp apples is needed. “And we have the approach of targeted risk for new varieties. We have more than one to choose from. We can diversify or mitigate the risk,” he added.

The testing of a variety includes many subtleties. Armock said that a new variety may have a very attractive appearance and taste, but then the variety must go through the entire process of storage, grading, packing and shipping to assure there are no unforeseen hazards. The testing includes mishandling fruit for two weeks after a retail display, to emulate typical consumer abuse at home.

Armock added that bringing a new variety into the market requires enough production to satisfy numerous retail customers.

Sandwick re-stated his long-used philosophy that he sees Belleharvest as a snack food company. He wants to challenge products like Dorito’s for the consumer dollar. “If I have too many good choices now, it’s better than consumers not wanting my product at all.”

With so many apple choices the produce industry has become a great deal more competitive, with huge increases in the number of SKUs. Swindeman is concerned that “new varieties are coming out at such a rapid pace and there is only so much real estate within produce departments. Something is going to get displaced.”

The 2018 produce season is under way and should be highlighted by good quantities of high-quality produce.

A mild winter was followed by a cool and wet spring, which did not allow most of our farmers to get their tilling and planting started early this season. Early weather delayed spring plant growth and did not allow over-wintered and spring-planted produce to get off to an early start to the season. Early-season bee pollination efforts were also slowed by the weather.blueberries

The end result was a two-week delay to the start of our Jersey Fresh season in many cases, including for over-wintered produce such as cilantro, spinach, leeks, parsley, and kale.

With warming weather and increasing soil temperatures, things are starting to ramp up, and there is much to be excited about.

Slowly warming spring temperatures have created exceptional growing conditions, ensuring excellent product quality and extending the length of the season for all of our spring products. Looking ahead, we are also anticipating outstanding quality and quantity for our summer crops.

Tom Sheppard of Eastern Fresh Growers in Cedarville, Cumberland County, said, “The season has been a few weeks later than normal, so our early season volume was off but we’re hoping this cooler late-season weather allows our asparagus season to go into the third week of June. Our cukes will be ready by then and we’re thinking mid-July for our peppers. We’re normally a bit later than the Vineland area on those crops.”

Dr. Wes Kline, Rutgers University agricultural agent, said that “the season has started later due to cool and wet conditions but the crops have developed beautifully and the slowly warming weather has been great for maturing our early season crops. That same weather, though, has made it hard getting our summer season crops started in this weather, so we’ll have a later start to our summer season as well.”

New Jersey enjoys the productivity of a great diversity of fruits and vegetables due to its moderate climate and inherent “Jersey Fresh” qualities. New Jersey’s 11 principal fresh market vegetables are tomatoes, sweet corn, peppers, cabbage, cucumbers, lettuce, spinach, eggplant, escarole, snap beans, and asparagus. Our five principal fresh market fruits are strawberries, blueberries, peaches, apples, and cranberries.

The early season harvests of spinach, collards, beets, radishes, escarole/endive, Swiss chard, lettuces, and herbs such as parsley, dill, coriander and cilantro, are two weeks later than normal, but their quality has been very good. Asparagus and lettuces harvesting began in early-May in excellent quality and lower early-season volume than normal. Cabbage and turnip harvests began in late-May. Cucumbers and squash will start in mid-June. Consumers always look for sweet corn and tomatoes by the Fourth of July but, with a late start to the season this year, may not be in sufficient volume by then. Peppers should start the week after corn and tomatoes.

Strawberries are being grown in increasing quantities by our growers to meet the strong demand for locally grown berries. They are grown in raised beds and under black plastic. They’re picked when ripe and have more red interior color, a large berry size, and an excellent taste. Early harvests began in mid-May, with the bulk of the crop harvested toward the end of May and into early-June. They’re mainly a direct-marketed crop in New Jersey, and not a large wholesale volume is available.

Minor quantities of early blueberry varieties like Weymouth should be starting in mid-June.

The much more widely planted Duke variety should start three to four days later, with volume available a week after that. In 2016, New Jersey produced about 9,300 acres of blueberries yielding about 44 million pounds.

Yellow peach volume should start with the early “cling” varieties in mid-July, with volume by late-July. The widely planted John Boy “clingless” varieties should start by the end of July. Good yellow volume expected by early-August through early-September. White peach volume begins with the White Lady variety in mid-August through early-September.

In 2016, 150 peach producers grew about 39.8 million pounds of quality peaches on 4,700 total peach acres, according to the latest USDA statistics.

New Jersey growers are also looking to satisfy the growing ethnic population of the state and their demand for Asian and other ethnic specialty produce, particularly melons, squashes, peppers and eggplants. There are also numerous field trials of these new ethnic varieties being grown by farmers and agricultural agents throughout the state. This area of production is thought to have a big growth potential.

With the unpredictable spring weather now behind us, we are looking forward to another tremendous growing season for farmers across the state, which will in turn result in fantastic Jersey Fresh marketing opportunities at the retail level.

Bill Walker, New Jersey Department of Agriculture