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Apple harvest is winding down in Washington state just as apple promotions are ramping up in produce departments. Retailers are in the midst of celebrating October’s National Apple Month and preparing for big holiday promotions around apples. Stemilt Growers, one of the nation’s longest and leading suppliers of organic apples, is reminding retailers to use the fall and winter time to keep their market share of organic apples with new and ample promotion opportunities from its Artisan Organics program.

2016-Apple-Display-Bin “The organic apple crop in Washington state is very high quality this year, with high-colored fruit and slightly larger-than-normal sizing that lends well to bulk promotions,” said Stemilt Marketing Director Roger Pepperl. “This time of year is historically a time when local apples are merchandised and organics can take a backseat since they aren’t readily available in all regions. However, now is not the time to ignore one of the fastest growing items in produce — organics. Organics are growing rapidly — especially in the produce department – and the fall and winter is the ideal time to promote organic apples with the same vigor and excitement as conventional apples.”

According to the Organic Trade Association and Nielsen Fresh Facts scan data, more than half of households in the United States purchase organic produce. In 2016, organic produce grew by 16.4 percent in dollar sales when compared to the year prior. The 2015-16 organic apple crop was down in volume from normal, but increased 6.2 percent in dollars over the year prior, making up nearly 10 percent of the total apple category dollar sales, and 7 percent of the volume sold. The fastest growing organic apple varieties last season were: Fuji, Honeycrisp, Gala, and Pink Lady, which highlights the fact the organic shoppers are not only willing to pay a premium for organic, but also for new, flavorful varietals.

“Organic apples are an important part of the overall apple category, and need to be promoted regularly between now and June. We encourage retailers to include organic produce in every weekly ad, and apples should be a big focus in those ads since they are in season and incredible in quality this year,” said Pepperl.

Stemilt has been growing apples organically since 1989 and long before organics became trendy. The company grows organic apples in Washington State, where an arid climate and little precipitation results in cleaner, higher color organic fruit. Nearly 30 percent of Stemilt’s apple crop is grown and certified organic, with a focus on the varietals that consumers demand, including Honeycrisp, Pinata, Pink Lady and more.

This year, Stemilt’s industry leading Artisan Organics program has grown to include a new 4-pound pouch bag of organic Fresh Blenders apples, as well as a full line-up of organic offerings in its popular Lil Snappers kid-sized fruit pouch bags.

Harbinger Group LLC, parent company of Green Wave Farms, Vertical Foods, Epic Foods and Fresh Produce Partners, announced that it has acquired organic specialty salad pioneer Misionero Vegetables, effective immediately. Terms of the transaction have not been disclosed.

The new organization reunites Stephen Griffin of Misionero with Todd Koons and Thomas Minnich of Harbinger, each of who were on the forefront of the organic revolution. The team will build upon Misionero Vegetables’ founder, Floyd Griffin’s, vision of “growing today for a greener tomorrow.” Their original thinking and foresight also forged the way for more respectful labor treatment and the creation and development of farming practices that transformed both farming culture and business practices today. Together they helped shape the healthy eating revolution now taking place around North America.

Creating one produce powerhouse

The firm also announced it will use “Misionero” as the new business name encompassing brands and products that include Misionero Vegetables’ Garden Life and Earth Greens Organics, along with Epic Foods, Green Wave Farms and Vertical Foods. Collectively these brands share deep expertise in smaller scale farming and a commitment to best practices around organic and conventional growing methods for quality and safety.

Combined under the Misionero name they will have the opportunity to gain efficiencies in packing and logistics, and drive innovation across the business. Customers, however, will still be able to find their favorite familiar brands and products.

Pete Donlon, formerly a key member of Earthbound Farm, has joined the team as vice president. Joel Rudnick moves from general manager at Green Wave Farms to vice president. Peter Meehan, Newman’s Own Organics president, and Mike Thurlow, chief executive officer of Mountain View Fruit Sales, will serve as board members.

Minnich, Misionero’s new chairman and CEO, said in a press release, “With more than 40 years of experience, Misionero Vegetables has long been a highly regarded pioneer in the organic specialty salad category. I had the honor of serving as president of sales from 1988 to 1998 when we were a part of spearheading organics and helped to establish new standards that have since been adopted broadly across the marketplace. In this new organization we will maintain Misionero Vegetables’ commitment to providing fresh quality products that are easy to use, delicious and nutritious without compromising quality or harming the environment. All of us are dedicated to investing in our planet’s future and the long term health of our families and future generations from the fields to consumer’s plates.”

“The Harbinger team’s stellar reputation in our industry is based on their track record of consistently bringing timely and meaningful innovation to organic produce since the late 1980’s,” said Griffin, the former CEO of Misionero Vegetables, who is now a Misionero partner and board member. “I speak for our entire organization when I say we are pleased to reunite with our former colleagues and bring forward new advancements in the produce world.”

David Jones, a Green Wave Farms grower, said, “I’m proud to be associated with our larger group of growers and look forward to collectively achieving our fullest potential. Sharing growing practices will create new efficiencies for us all and will allow our group to expand growing opportunities into new regions more seamlessly.”

Thurlow noted, “Mountain View has been looking for the right entry point into organic farming. This was the right opportunity and the right group of people for us to collaborate with.”

Stewardship of the land

Realizing that sustainability is an important factor in how customers and consumers look at food purchases, Misionero’s focus will be on production practices with environmental benefits such as water management practices, no-till or minimum tillage, habitat maintenance and biological pest control. These ecologically protective practices contribute to enhanced ecosystem services and benefit water quality, soil health, and biodiversity.

Misionero’s new president and COO, Joe Merenda, added, “We fully recognize and appreciate the trust consumers have in our brands. We want to build upon their confidence and incorporate their evolving needs across our companies. We will do this with a proven team built around new product innovation, superior execution, and a customer-centric culture.”

Potatoes are the leading vegetable crop in the United States, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture Economic Research Service. The nationwide crop contributes about 15 percent of farm sales receipts for vegetables each year. Annually over 30 billion pound of potatoes are produced in the nation.

Over 50 percent of potato sales are to processors for french fries, chips, dehydrated potatoes and other potato products. The remainder goes to the fresh market.

Economists who crunch food consumption data collected by the USDA have determined the average American eats 142 pounds of potatoes a year, or almost 365 potatoes per person. That’s an average of a potato a day. Potatoes are grown commercially in every state from Florida to Alaska, but about 30 states produce the commercial crop, including Maine.

In terms of nutrition, the potato is best known for its carbohydrate content, about 26 grams in a medium potato. That potato, eaten with the skin, provides 27 milligrams of vitamin C, 620 milligrams of potassium, 0.2 milligrams of vitamin B6 and trace amounts of thiamin, riboflavin, folate, niacin, magnesium, phosphorus, iron and zinc.

P1040927 The fiber content of a potato with its skin is equivalent to that of many whole grain breads, pastas and cereals. But unlike most of its processed carbohydrate-cousins, that medium potato has just 110 calories and is sodium and cholesterol free.

According to the Maine Potato Board, the state’s industry prides itself on producing a high-quality product, regardless of where the potatoes are destined.

Before potatoes can bear the red, white and blue State of Maine Quality Trademark -- a guarantee that the contents of the potatoes are only the highest quality -- they are inspected and pass requirements stricter than the USDA’s U.S. No. 1 grade.

Technology and innovation have changed the way Maine growers plant, cultivate and harvest potatoes. And technology and innovation have changed the way they communicate. Smartphones, social media, websites, YouTube videos and more now provide innovative ways for them to communicate with one another, their customers and consumers.

While every technological development spurs industry and company growth, the Maine Potato Board knows that consumers grow right along with it. Every step of the way, the consumer has become more knowledgeable, more savvy and harder to market to through traditional means.

Maine’s geography requires minimal reliance on irrigation to produce a crop. Growers there are blessed with a production area that receives nearly all of its crop water needs through rainfall. In a growing season that might have a typical five- to six-week dry period, Maine’s industry averages five inches of water per acre. This means that irrigation is only applied to about 25 percent of its total acres, compared to irrigation being required on 100 percent of crops in other production areas. The energy saved and environmental impact diminshed by not having to rely on irrigation to supply all of Maine’s crop water needs is significant.

Maine also stands out as a natural production area. With long cold winters, fumigating the soil is not necessary, resulting in significantly fewer pesticides used. When compared to other North American production areas, Maine uses 10 times fewer total pounds of active ingredients per acre.

Potatoes have been grown in Maine for over 200 years. The advantage of having warm days, cool nights and productive soils make it a prime production region.

Additionally, Maine’s potato growers have multigenerational family histories.

The Maine Potato Board promotes itself as helping to Growing Maine’s Economy. And its grower-members are committed to being good stewards of the land, planting the best seed, taking extreme care during growing, harvesting with the best practices and working continually on food safety and traceability.

There were 900 picking crews back in the Mexican avocado groves on Saturday, Oct. 15, and more than 1,000 crews were picking fruit Monday, Oct. 17, so the expectation is that millions of pounds will soon be flowing to the United States to start to fill the empty pipeline.

“We have ample fruit on the trees and will be harvesting and sending it to the U.S. market in an orderly fashion,” APEAM spokesperson Ramon Paz Vega told The Produce News via email on Oct. 17. “We project to ship more than 40 million pounds this very week, which will help us get back on track quickly.”

For the past couple of weeks, supplies have been very limited as a dispute in Mexico kept pickers away from the fruit. APEAM, which is the trade organization representing Mexico’s avocado producers and exporters, noted that while the impact of the dispute was spread throughout the avocado-producing region, in reality it was more localized in nature.

vegaVegaVega said that out of the 28 municipalities authorized to export to the United States, only four were driving the protest, “and not all growers within those four municipalities were in agreement with the methods of the movement.”

He revealed that the “primary issue revolved around internal differences on sales negotiations between growers and packers.”

Some of the more radical protesters wanted a set price for the entire season and all types of fruit. Of course, this is not allowed and the governmental mediators and APEAM made this clear to the protesters.

“The other issues pertain to payment in U.S. dollars vs. Mexican pesos, and who should be responsible for phytosanitary sampling fruit costs required by the USDA. Negotiations on these two topics continue,” he said. “It is important to note that none of these topics fall within APEAM’s purview as APEAM has no role in the private negotiations between growers and packers. However, APEAM has been using its influence to promote dialogue and agreement between the parties.”

Vega acknowledged the impact the disruption had on the U.S. marketplace, where the limited supplies created very high prices.

A carton of avocados was selling for $60-$70 last week, with some terminal market operators said to be getting more than $100 per carton.

“We recognize that interruptions work against the interest of all,” Vega said. “The causes of the interruption have been addressed with the mediation of the federal and state governments. We are confident that our industry will continue working without major interruption going forward.”

Vega also noted that the interruption was rare and the Mexican industry shouldn’t be harshly judged by this unique situation.

“For more than 19 years, the supply of avocados from Mexico to the U.S. market has been consistent and timely with good, reliable quality,” he said. “Based on that strong foundation, we have deployed one of the most successful promotion programs in the fresh produce industry in recent years. We have always and will continue working according to our plans for the season, crop estimates and general forecasts for weekly shipments. Our marketing team will continue implementing innovative, year-round programs to drive excitement and purchase for the Avocados from Mexico brand that also fuel category growth.”

He noted that APEAM has relayed its concerns to U.S. companies involved in the avocado trade. “We have asked importers and retailers for their understanding and patience during this process, and we greatly appreciate the support they have shown. We believe that all members of the supply chain, including importers and retailers, are now more aware of the needs and challenges facing 20,000 growers, most of whom are small, family farmers working to make an honest and decent living from growing avocados. Like everyone throughout the supply chain, they want fair prices and good value for their role and support of the industry.”

Several U.S. shippers discussed the situation with The Produce News off the record during the Produce Marketing Association Fresh Summit convention Oct. 14-16 in Orlando, FL, as word was filtering out from Mexico that avocados would soon be flowing into the United States again.

There was a difference of opinion as to how long it will take for supply and demand to again reach equilibrium. Several noted that the high prices at retail have tamped down demand and so a quick influx of supplies could result in a rather quick return to a more normalized situation.

Others argued that with the pipeline virtually empty, it will take several weeks to fill that up and then the United States will be moving into heavy demand periods such as Thanksgiving and Christmas.

The Christmas season also means a several-day picking holiday in Mexico, which may mean another demand-exceeds-supply situation as the new year begins. And on the heels of that is the Super Bowl, which is another high-demand period.

These shippers, for the most part, were predicting that it could be after the Super Bowl before avocados are selling for a price less than $35 per carton.

They noted that with a smaller crop than last year and these marketing dynamics at play, there may well be a new normal this year at prices higher than last year.

However, this discussion was taking place before crews started picking and sending fruit to the United States. In none of the discussions did anyone predict that 40 million pounds would be picked this week. As that fruit is distributed throughout the United States, a new dynamic will undoubtedly emerge.

NOGALES, AZ — California fruit and vegetable growers are expanding their production interests to Mexico.

A strong indicator of this is increased membership interest by Californians in the Fresh Produce Association of the Americas. FPAA President Lance Jungmeyer said he has had multiple meetings with Californians interested in joining his association and thereby becoming involved in Mexican production and exports.Lance-GonzaloLance Jungmeyer, president of the Fresh Produce Association of the Americas, with Gonzalo Avila, the association’s chairman. When he is not doing volunteer work for his industry, Avila is vice president and general manager of Malena Produce Inc., which has offices in Tucson and Rio Rico, AZ.

According to the Nogales-based association website, “the FPAA provides a powerful voice for improvement and sustainability, serving the needs of more than 100 North American companies involved in the growth, harvest, marketing, import and distribution of Mexican produce.”

The Mexican state of Baja California has been a source for California shippers, with a heavy strawberry deal in May that runs into June and July. The Baja tomato deal is also important to California interests. Due to being directly south of California, Baja “is a little different” than the rest of Mexico “and has a differ season. Baja is a natural source” for California shippers, Jungmeyer said.

“But, from April into October, November and December, for anyone who wants to be shipping, West Mexico — Sonora, Sinaloa and Jalisco — offers options that you don’t necessarily have in Baja.”

One of those options is shipping Sonora asparagus from January through April.

Because Nogales is the natural port of entry for West Mexico shippers, over time, “California will likely be bringing produce through Nogales,” Jungmeyer said.

He noted that it is difficult to gauge the extent of California investment in Mexico.

Mexican laws have recently changed to permit foreigners to own more land in Mexico, but that does not include farmland, Jungmeyer said. Thus, for foreign entities to invest in Mexico, “they have to make limited partnerships” with Mexican growers.

“My gut feeling is that they already have customers and contracts, so they find other supplies to fill the niche. They are used to selling so many boxes per year.” If produce buyers and their California shippers can’t fill those orders from California, other options will be sought.

Jungmeyer said that this makes Foreign Supplier Verification Programs, which are part of the FDA’s Food Safety Modernization Act of 2011, all the more important. “California companies probably have not been importers before” and FPAA con supply some of the necessary training.

Jungmeyer said that one of his members, Bobby Astengo, was in Washington, DC, in the first week of October receiving FDA training on the verification program. That information will be shared with FPAA membership.

Astengo is the managing partner of Peppers-Plus LLC, based in Rio Rico, AZ.

Jungmeyer noted that his organization’s reach is extending to Texas, as well as California, membership.