ANAHEIM, CA — An early-October freeze in fruit-growing regions in Chile is not expected to have a significant impact on export volume, according to officials at the Chilean Fresh Fruit Association and the Chilean Fruit Exporters Association, known commonly by the acronym ASOEX.
Meeting with The Produce News during the Produce Marketing Association’s Fresh Summit Convention & Exposition, here, Ronald Bown, chairman of ASOEX, said he expects a full recovery after last year’s challenging season, when a freeze severely limited export volume and strikes at Chilean ports further exacerbated difficulties in the fruit trade.
“We expect a much better year this year,” said Bown. “Every year it is something, but the recent freeze was not as bad as last year, and we don’t expect the same difficulties with the strikes at the ports.”
The freeze last year was the biggest in 50 years, according to Bown, and it was the main factor in the 11.4 percent decrease in fruit exports, affecting mostly grapes, kiwifruit, stone fruit and cherries. Bown believes Chilean growers can make up for last year by virtue of the planned 5-15 percent increase in production.
Further, he said, “We are working very hard with the [Chilean] government to analyze problems in the past related to the port strike, and we expect to solve those problems, which were mostly labor issues.”
ASOEX is ramping up its efforts to reach additional markets, especially in the Asia-Pacific region, according to Bown. It also wants to ship more product to Russia and other European markets. But he said the North American market remains a key destination for fruit exports.
“Global markets are increasingly more important for us, but the North American market remains the largest by far,” he said. For example, “70 percent of our blueberries go to North America.”
For its part, ASOEX does a good deal of outreach to maintain its preferred status among retailers in North America.
“Reliability and consistency are the key aspects that retailers seek,” said Bown. “Chile has been working with the trade for many years to establish solid relationships, and it has paid off. One of our strengths is that we have an excellent marketing staff to reach out to our customers. We meet with retailers of all sizes — from 10-store chains to 1,000-store chains — and they appreciate that we can offer the quality and volume they need.”
Prior to the wide acceptance of fruit from Chile, Bown recalled that there was pushback when shipments began to increase.
“But as we gained acceptance in the marketplace, people came to realize that more fruit on the market had the positive benefit of offering an opportunity to increase consumption,” he said. “Also, we offer a wide range of products that spans the entire fruit category, not just one or two items.”
Growth potential for kiwifruit
One area of focus for Chilean fruit exports this season is kiwifruit, according to Carlos Cruzat, president of the Comité del Kiwi, which promotes Chilean kiwifruit. His main quest is to offer preconditioned fruit that is sweet, flavorful and ready to eat.
“Growers and importers need to work together to give consumers a good eating experience so they come back to buy more,” he said. “It is important that consumers receive fruit that is ready to eat within one to two days.”
He cited a decline in consumption of green kiwifruit, as many countries have switched to gold-flesh fruit to meet the rising demand, especially in the Asian markets.
“Global volume of green kiwi is declining and will continue to do so,” he said. “So we have a challenge of maintaining that business, and to do that we need to add value, not just increase production. Offering preconditioned fruit is one way to add value.”
He said that it is important to please consumers in order to increase the category.
“We see big potential for green kiwi, but we need everyone to be on the same page,” said Cruzat. “We have been convincing growers that they should invest in green kiwi again, since it is not as labor-intensive and can be stored for a while, so the season can be extended. Virtually no other country is planting new green acreage. While it is not the most profitable item, it is good overall for the category and is a stable product for the entire ‘fruit basket.’“
Mack Farms Inc. is increasing its Florida potato and watermelon acreage and expanding into other fresh produce items with the purchase of a south Florida produce operation.
The Lake Wales, FL-based Mack Farms recently acquired Eagle Island Farms in Okeechobee, FL. Eagle Island grows and ships cabbage, potatoes, sweet corn and sweet onions from about 2,000 irrigated acres. The company is also experimenting with broccoli and plans to harvest new acreage of Napa and Bok Choy in February and March.
Mack grows and ships Florida potatoes from early February through June, and watermelon from April through early June. Watermelons are marketed through its subsidiary, McMelon Inc. Mack Farms.
"This move allows us to increase our irrigated acreage with good cropland, and will help with crop rotation," Arnold Mack, president of Mack Farms, said in a press release. "We will continue to grow and ship fresh cabbage and sweet corn from the 40,000-square-foot Eagle Island packing facility, which has pre- cooling and refrigerated storage. It also gives us a second packinghouse for our spring watermelons."
Arnold Mack entered the produce industry by growing watermelons in South Alabama in 1976. He was a pioneer of growing seedless watermelons, and during the 1980s started his Florida growing operations.
Food Lion announced that Meg Ham has been named president of Food Lion effective Nov. 1. She succeeds Beth Newlands Campbell, who is leaving the company for personal and professional reasons.
"We are extremely pleased to tap into internal talent to ensure a seamless transition of Food Lion operations to Meg Ham," Kevin Holt, chief executive officer of Delhaize America, said in a press release. "I have full confidence in Meg to continue to lead Food Lion's transformation and to deliver on the company's Easy, Fresh and Affordable...You Can Count on Food Lion Every Day strategy to enhance the customer shopping experience. Meg has an extensive retail operations and merchandising background with a strong focus on the customer experience and associate engagement."
Ham will lead all Food Lion banner operations, including strategic direction, financial performance, product assortment, pricing, customer service and marketing. She will continue to report to Holt.
"I'm honored to take on this new role at Food Lion, a company that I have been passionate about for many years," Ham said in the press release. "I look forward to maintaining our positive momentum at Food Lion by continuing to deploy our new strategy, serving our customers well and caring for our communities through Food Lion Feeds."
Previously, Ham served as president of Bottom Dollar Food. She joined Delhaize America in 1988 and has held a wide range of leadership roles at both Food Lion and Hannaford.
"I want to thank Beth for her 27 years of service at both Food Lion and Hannaford," Holt added in the release. "She has led significant improvements at Food Lion during the past two years, with a strong focus on enhancing the customer shopping experience and ensuring that Food Lion's communities can count on us through our Food Lion Feeds hunger relief efforts. I know our associates join me in wishing Beth and her family all the best in the future."
Newlands Campbell joined Hannaford, Food Lion's sister banner based in Maine, as a retail management trainee. During her tenure, she held a variety of leadership positions, from store manager to company president.
In other Delhaize America news, Gene Faller, vice president of operations for Bottom Dollar Food, will assume leadership responsibilities for the banner. JJ Fleeman, currently senior vice president of Food Lion Strategy, has been promoted to Delhaize America's chief strategy and development officer. Faller and Fleeman will report to Holt.
With California’s coastal and San Joaquin Valley vegetable deals winding down prior to the volume coming on in the desert deals, many items are in a demand-exceeds-supply situation that could remain in effect through Thanksgiving.
On Monday, Oct. 27, the Iceberg lettuce market hit $20 f.o.b. and there is every indication it could go much higher over the next couple of weeks. While demand was solid the week of Oct. 27-31, it will only increase as the Thanksgiving pull is felt. Thanksgiving demand is expected to pick up around Nov. 11 and supplies are expected to be short.
Mark McBride, who is on the sales desk for Coastline Produce in Salinas, CA, and a longtime veteran in the vegetable business, said warm weather and the California drought have combined to create “a very challenging situation.”
He explained that fields have been running ahead of schedule for the last couple of months because of warm weather.
“We are running out of acres to harvest,” he said Oct. 29.
He further explained that the drought and changing cropping patterns have reduced the fall vegetable deal in Huron in the San Joaquin Valley “to a fraction of what it used to be. Say what you want about Huron, but it played a very important role.”
Today more and more grower-shippers have tried to extend their coastal deals and switch directly from the California coast to desert production in California and Arizona in the fall.
The California drought has also led to decreased San Joaquin Valley acreage causing the October-November time slot occupied by Huron to shrink considerably.
McBride said celery from the Oxnard to Santa Maria corridor appears to be in good shape, as are green onions from Mexico, “but the leaf items, cauliflower and broccoli to some extent, are short and I don’t see that changing until after Thanksgiving.”
Douglas Schaefer, president of EJ’s Produce Sales Inc. in Phoenix, told The Produce News Oct. 29 that a very difficult situation was brewing.
“Salinas is about finished, yields from Huron are off and Yuma is late,” Schaefer said, noting that late August and early September rains in Arizona greatly affected planting schedules and threw everyone off. “It’s all because of H20.”
He said these factors — Arizona getting too much water and California not getting enough — are going to lead to a very short situation for the rest of November.
In addition, Schaefer said many other crops, including watermelons and tomatoes, are having supply issues leading to high prices.
When asked how high the market could go on lettuce, Schaefer said the sky is the limit. “It’s like a hot air balloon,” he quipped. “How high is it going to go? Until it runs out of oxygen.”
Schaefer added that he is already getting inquiries for the Thanksgiving pull with retailers and wholesalers trying to set up advance sales beginning during the week of Nov. 7.
“Strap on your boots and fasten your seat belts,” he said, indicating that a wild ride is in the works.
Domex Superfresh Growers, a global leader in the growing and shipping of fresh apples, pears, cherries and apricots, has launched a new social media and in-store promotion called "Share Your Perfect Pear" sweepstakes.
Domex Superfresh Growers will offer retailers a suite of in-store and online partnership opportunities, including ready-to-post social content, turn-key point-of-sale materials and co-branded #EatPears Twitter parties.
"Domex Superfresh Growers is focused on creating more meaningful consumer connections and building a more powerful social partnership with our retail partners both in-store and online with delicious fruit and great content," Howard Nager, vice president of marketing Domex Superfresh Growers, said in a press release. "Consumer-focused marketing programs like our "Share Your Perfect Pear" sweepstakes paired with proven category business intelligence is one of the many tools we offer to our retail partners to help them prepare for the changing demands of the modern marketplace."
The "Share Your Perfect Pear" sweepstakes will utilize the Superfresh Growers hashtag #EatPears and the company's Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and Pinterest social properties to connect consumers to pear recipes, new usage ideas and messages about health, wellness and a diet rich in fruits and vegetables. The photo-sharing sweepstakes will start Nov. 1 and end Dec. 31.
The promotion theme and artwork reinforce contemporary pear-consumption trends and supports peak pear availability during the holiday months.
"While we know consumers love to eat our pears fresh out-of-hand, they also consume pears with cheese, wine, chocolate and as part of charcuterie plates," Nager said. "We designed our promotion artwork to reinforce these "pairing" trends and recommend that our retail partners cross promote pears with these items as part of their holiday displays."
To enter, consumers are asked to upload an original photo to Twitter, Facebook, Instagram or Pinterest showing off their favorite pear recipe or usage idea. The image caption should include the hashtag #EatPears and the company should be tagged @Superfreshgrowers.
Through a random drawing held in January, three winners will be announced. One grand prize winner will receive $1,000, one first prize winner will receive $500 and one second prize winner shall receive $250.
Retailers who would like to find out more about the "Share Your Perfect Pear" sweepstakes and other potential partnership opportunities should contact Howard Nager, Vice President of Marketing at email@example.com.