Instacart expands into Indianapolis

Instacart’s on-demand grocery delivery service has begun in Indianapolis, the company's 17th market. Indianapolis customers can order groceries and other items from Whole Foods Market, Marsh Supermarkets, Georgetown Market and Costco stores and have them delivered straight to their door in as little as one hour.

"There were many factors that made Indianapolis a great place for us to bring our service," Apoorva Mehta, founder and chief executive officer at Instacart, said in a statement.

The company said it saw a tremendous number of requests from the Indianapolis community to bring Instacart to their hometown. "From the influx of young people who are staying and working in the city, to the families and seniors who need more flexible shopping options, Instacart is uniquely positioned to help meet the growing customer demand for convenient, speedy and quality grocery delivery," Mehta said.

The company also saw very high interest from grocery stores in the city — from national retail partners to new local partners, Marsh Supermarkets and Georgetown Market. By partnering with both local and national grocers, Instacart’s shopping model helps expand its reach to even more Indianapolis residents.

"As our launch here in Indianapolis demonstrates, Instacart can be a part of the solution for cities of all sizes across the country when it comes to expanding access to convenient and affordable grocery options for their communities–and we are thrilled to be here in such a great city," Mehta said.


Union files charges against Haggen, Vons and Albertsons

Union leaders have filed charges against Haggen, Albertsons and Vons for illegally laying off and reducing hours for workers, failing to fully inform workers about job protections, and failing to adhere to legally binding protections negotiated by their union. The grievances also cite the companies for prior plans to close a large number of stores shortly after Haggen’s acquisition of nearly 150 Albertson’s locations.

Earlier this month Haggen announced plans to close 22 stores and layoff or fire as many as 1,100 employees. However, the union's claim that it planned all along to shut and sell those stores "is completely and unequivocally false," Kris Ellenberg, a spokesperson for Haggen, told The Produce news. "Throughout this process, Haggen has abided by the terms of the union contracts and is continuing to do everything it can to ensure the success of all of our stores and employees."

Brian Dowling of Albertsons said the charges the company reviewed thus far "are completely without merit."

Haggen acquired nearly 150 stores divested by the Albertson’s chain earlier this year at the order of the government, and prior contractual guarantees gave employees the choice to stay at their current Haggen-owned store or transfer to another Albertson’s or Vons store. The union said workers were led to believe they would retain their jobs, seniority and contract protections if they chose to work with Haggen.

"Haggen has great respect for the labor unions’ role in supporting our associates," Ellenberg said. "We care about the people who work for Haggen and are disappointed that factors beyond our control have led to layoffs and closures in some of the new communities where we had expected our stores to thrive."

Kroger, looking to hire 20,000, focused on veterans

The Kroger Co. family of stores will hold open interviews nationwide on Tues., Sept. 15, for all veterans and their family members. Nationwide, the company is hiring to fill an estimated 20,000 permanent positions in its supermarket divisions.krog

Kroger hired more than 6,000 veterans in 2014, and has hired more than 29,000 veterans since 2009 as part of its commitment to active duty troops and the nation's 23 million veterans through "Honoring Our Heroes," a multi-faceted program the company designed to show its deep gratitude.

In addition, Kroger is proud to have helped the "100,000 Jobs Mission" surpass its original goal in January 2014, seven years early. The "100,000 Jobs Mission" is a coalition of more than 130 companies with the common goal of hiring more than 100,000 transitioning service members and military veterans by 2020.

"Kroger is deeply committed to the nation's veterans and their families, and we continue to seek out opportunities to honor heroes through career opportunities," Tim Massa, Kroger's group vice president of human resources and labor relations, said in a press release. "Kroger is a place where you can come for a job and stay for a career," he said, noting that about 70 percent of Kroger's store managers started as part-time clerks.

"Kroger is a company that veterans can be proud to work for because of its robust involvement in our local communities," Clifton Thomas, Kroger's category strategy manager for Corporate Brands and Marine Corps Veteran, said in the release. "It has given me the opportunity to be part of a team and connect to something bigger."

Through the Honoring Our Heroes program, Kroger stores have raised more than $11.9 million since 2010 to help support USO programs, which represents the largest cumulative gift to the USO in its nearly 75-year history.

Washington apple growers embrace varietal access to China

The Washington apple industry will begin shipping fresh apples to China this season following the earlier announcement that full varietal access had been granted. Todd Fryhover, president of the Washington Apple Commission, provided The Produce News with his comments and insights about the effects the announcement will have upon the state's apple exports during the 2015-16 season.

With this being the first season during which the United States will have full varietal access in China, Fryhover estimates 5 million cartons of apples will be shipped from Washington.ExportOVThis season, Washington apple growers are expected to export 5 million boxes of fruit to China. (Photo courtesy of the Washington Apple Commission) “It’s very difficult to predict since the market has been closed for two years, and the grey market channel is very difficult to assess,” he commented. “My best guess in the past has been 2.5 million. This would be 80 percent of Hong Kong shipments plus China.”

Although Red Delicious, Gala and Granny Smith are the three primary varieties for Chinese export, Fryhover said, “I do expect to see interest in many other varieties due to the purchasing power of the rising middle class.”

Chinese exports were expected to begin mid-August, coinciding with the Gala harvest. “I would expect Gala shipments to continue until Southern Hemisphere arrivals in late March/early April,” he commented. “Red Delicious could continue to arrive in China until August, like it is this year.”

He summarized the benefits of full varietal access this way. “The largest benefit is in duty. With direct legal access, the cost of business decreases since the grey market channel is taken out of the equation and fixed duties, at much lower rates, kick in,” Fryhover stated. “This should decrease the overall cost of Washington apples to China and increase consumption. Of course, providing Chinese consumers ‘all varieties’ will support prices in every other market.”

Because the agreement as negotiated provides for two-way access, the U.S. market will be open to Chinese apples. “We believe import protocols and requirements negotiated will be followed, supported and monitored by the proper U.S. authorities and expect no health or pest issues,” Fryhover said.

Wisconsin potato outlook is strong

“The crop is currently fantastic,” Mike Carter, the chief executive officer of Bushman’s Inc., said of Wisconsin’s potato crop on Aug. 19. “The size profile is excellent. We’ve had near-perfect growing conditions in the fields. It was a temperate summer. There was no long period of heat. The rains have been timely. It’s all positive.”

Carter said that Wisconsin’s potato acreage is similar to last year on the fresh side, while processing and chip acreage was somewhat up.WI-potatoPlowing Wisconsin potato fields.

Carter cautioned, “It is still August” and digging will continue into the fall. “Rain or heat could still effect the crop. We’re certainly optimistic but we have a ways to go.” While new crop shipping was underway in August, much of the Wisconsin crop was going into storage. When all of the crop was either sold or in storage in October, “then we can sleep well.”

Tamas Houlihan, the executive director of the Wisconsin Potato & Vegetable Growers Association indicated; “We have had a very good growing season. There has been plenty of moisture.” Growers started planting in April, which was more than two weeks ahead of schedule. This was an advantage over a “very cold” spring in 2014.

Wisconsin potato yields will be average and I believe the quality will be very, very good,” Houlihan said. “We have good color on our yellows and reds and Wisconsin seems to be growing more niche potatoes like fingerlings, yellow and specialty potatoes. These are faring very well and we’ve had a good growing season, although there is still a ways to go” until the harvest is completed.

Of the national potato crop this fall, Carter said, “I see this year shaping up a lot similar to last year. Idaho has bigger sizes, so the premium we got for large potatoes may not be as great as last year. There will be plenty of potatoes to go around. We won’t know until they’re all in storage but it looks like everybody’s crop has gone well. There will be enough to fill the storages. Nationally, you will see a lot of promotions early in reaction to the large volume. If we sell enough early, it could mean a possibility of maybe we have stronger prices later in the season.”

Wisconsin’s early varieties — red and round whites — started to be harvested in mid- to late July. In mid-August, Houlihan said Wisconsin Russets would be started in late August. “The early Russets have excellent quality,” Houlihan said. “The vast majority” of the state’s potato crop will be harvested in September.