By MATTHEW ENIS
DALLAS — The United Fresh Produce Association will host its annual trade show here this week at the Dallas Convention Center, May 1-3. And, for the first time in two years, the show will be co-located with the Food Marketing Institute’s biennial FMI2012 show. So, produce industry executives can expect a crowd.
Since last year’s show, United Fresh has continued working with the Let’s Move Salad Bars to Schools Initiative, the U.S. Department of Agriculture unveiled its widely praised MyPlate nutritional education program and the rollout of the Food Safety Modernization Act began.
Looking ahead, it’s an election year, so hot-button issues like immigration reform will likely have to wait for another time. But, the drafting of the 2012 Farm Bill is inevitable and the federal budget is already under intense pressure. The produce industry’s representatives in Washington may have a fight on their hands.
SN spoke about these and other issues with David Krause (left), president of Paramount Citrus and United Fresh’s incoming chairman of the board. The following are excerpts from that conversation. For show attendees interested in hearing more from Krause, he will be speaking after former First Lady Laura Bush during the morning general session on Wednesday, May 2.
SN: United Fresh has been a key proponent of the Let’s Move Salad Bars to Schools initiative. Could you update our readers on recent donations or events?
DAVID KRAUSE: Leading up to this convention in Dallas, we’ve had a focus on getting more salad bars into Texas schools — part of being involved in the local area. The Texas industry has responded and so has the rest of our membership. They’ve continued to support this salad bar initiative around the country, not just in Texas. And, at the show, we’re going to be making an announcement about our Texas program.
Since we started the program, we’ve placed about 1,400 salad bars in schools. We’re happy with that, but we’d like to do more. In partnership with Produce For Kids and Publix, we just finished a campaign that placed 39 school salad bars in the Southeast.
And, we’re continuing to get support from leading produce companies, placing them in schools in the markets that they serve. We believe it’s a great strategy for building brand awareness and a love for fresh produce at an early age.
SN: Shortly after the United Fresh 2011 show, USDA unveiled its new MyPlate program, which was widely praised by the produce industry and by supermarket nutritionists. In your opinion, how has the program benefited United Fresh and its members during the past several months?
DK: We really do believe in the program. It’s going to help advance public education about eating right, so we’re very supportive. It’s simple, straightforward and it makes it easy for consumers to understand that half their plate needs to be fruits and vegetables at every meal. It can’t get much simpler than that.
We’re really happy that the USDA is getting behind that kind of messaging, and that produce companies and health officials are also using the concept to spread the word.
SN: Food safety has been another key focus for the produce industry in recent years. Could you give our readers an update on the rollout of the Food Safety Modernization Act as it affects United Fresh members? How has United Fresh been involved in facilitating that rollout for members, or giving the industry a voice in Washington?
DK: The new food safety law was signed by President Obama almost a year ago already, and we’re still waiting to see what regulations [will result]. There’s a lot of anticipation around it, because it’s expected that this is going to impact almost everything we do in the market, including retail.
There are three different proposed rules that we think are going to affect our industry. One is the produce safety rule that will cover on-farm operations or Good Agricultural Practices. Two is the preventative controls rule, which will cover operations such as packing, processing and distribution, what we call [Good Manufacturing Processes]. And then the third is a foreign supplier verification rule, which will apply to all of the imported products.
So, we’ve been working very closely with the FDA’s Mike Taylor, the deputy commissioner. And we’ve tried to keep our membership very informed about this as it’s coming out. Mike actually spoke at our January session. So, our membership has stayed abreast of these things as they do come out, and are prepared to deal with them as best as they can, as quickly as possible.
Produce Traceability, Immigration Reform
SN: Could you also give an update on the progress of the Produce Traceability Initiative?
DK: We’ve had various different milestones along the way, and the industry has met some better than others. But, over the past year, the market has moved slowly but surely, with some companies at a pace faster than others.
The early adopters on the supply side, in many cases, are already labeling cases as a standard business practice. Others are labeling on request, based on their trading partner.
And then there are some that are waiting for something more to happen. Either increased quality of the technology or increased demand from buyers.
We’ve seen different degrees of implementation across the spectrum. But, the industry as a whole is moving along this line.
As you see early adopters further refine their processes, then the entire supply chain benefits. We’re starting to see some of those implementations turning out some really valuable information. And, we believe that one unintended consequence of that will be that [electronic traceability systems] show a better return on investment for the industry and the trade.
SN: Illegal immigration is a challenging problem, but federal efforts at developing comprehensive immigration reform programs have been a political non-starter for the past decade. A stable supply of commercially grown fruits and vegetables in the U.S. essentially requires a well-trained migrant labor force. Could you give our readers an update on the e-verify issue? Is United Fresh at all hopeful about the possibility of reform in the future, or at least some improvements to programs like H2A1 visas?
DK: Immigration reform is such a big topic of very high importance for the association. And, even though we’ve been talking about immigration reform and agricultural labor for many years, the dialogue amongst industry groups and lawmakers is never quite the same. There’s always a new tone to the discussion based on what’s [currently] going on, such as state activities that change the discussion.
The fact that we’re in an election year will undoubtedly have an effect on how we discuss this or what we get discussed. It’s a politically charged issue, and there’s no way to predict what’s going to happen this year.
What we do know is that industry remains very concerned about the impact of [laws] that individual states have been enacting, and laws that are being considered.
We’ll remain engaged with key members of Congress to find solutions that address concerns not only about protecting our borders and national security, but also having a workable guest worker program.
Without a guest worker solution for agriculture and the produce industry, we just can’t support E-Verify or other measures that disrupt our labor force. It’s a very critical issue for us.
SN: What are some key items on United Fresh’s legislative agenda for the coming year?
DK: Perhaps one of the biggest ones that we haven’t talked about is the Farm Bill. The current Farm Bill is set to expire Sept. 30 of this year. So, it’s probably the top legislative priority for the industry right now.
United Fresh is a leading voice for the produce industry in Washington, working with the Specialty Crop Farm Bill Alliance, which consists of a lot of different organizations representing various different [fruit and vegetable] commodities.
Everyone on Capitol Hill is talking about the pressure that the budget is going to be under, and how tight it’s going to be this time. So we’re really working to fight to preserve the gains that we made with the 2008 Farm Bill, on items [for the produce industry] such as block grants, market promotions, research and nutrition.
What we don’t want to do is lose ground in those areas. We’re working hard to get those established in the new Farm Bill.
SN: What are some of your personal goals as chairman of United Fresh?
DK: I’m going to take the approach as chairman that it’s not about my agenda, it’s about the governing body. My place is to further what the industry’s needs are, working with the board. We have a tremendous leadership group, and it’s their agenda, not mine.
SN: What are some highlights of this year’s United Fresh show that your retail attendees can look forward to?
DK: We’re excited about Dallas, and how could you not be? There’s a million square feet of exhibit space, and there are expected to be 25,000 food industry decision makers. The co-location with FMI, the American Meat Institute and the National Association of State Departments of Agriculture is going to be an incredible show format. There’s going to be a lot of opportunity for sharing ideas and innovations with a broad spectrum of retailers and others within the food industry. So, we’re very excited about that. One show ticket is going to get you exposed to a tremendous amount of people.
And, our speakers. We’re going to have FMI Chairman and Harris Teeter President Fred Morganthall, we’ll have former First Lady Laura Bush, sharing insights about leadership in difficult times. So, it feels like we’ll have a great convention, and we’re really looking forward to it.
Drinks With Fresh Ingredients Popular at Restaurants
By JENNA TELESCA
Fresh food isn’t enough. Now restaurants are taking beverages to a new level with house-made drinks that incorporate fresh fruits and vegetables.
Culinary cocktails — savory, herb-infused or made with fresh ingredients — were mentioned as one of the top 20 overall restaurant trends in the 2012 National Restaurant Association’s “What’s Hot in 2012” chef survey.
And it’s not just cocktails that are being created with innovative ingredients.
“Beyond cool cocktail bars, we’re seeing so many restaurants in various regions offering house-made sodas with fresh and seasonal ingredients,” said Melissa Abbott, director of culinary insights at the Hartman Group, Bellevue, Wash.
In fact, chefs surveyed by NRA voted house-made soft drinks and lemonade as two of the top nonalcoholic beverage trends for 2012.
The house-made soda at We, the Pizza is an example of this growing trend, Abbott noted.
To create the sodas, the Washington-based restaurant makes its own fresh fruit purees, syrups and juices in-house and mixes them with seltzer water, according to Jordyn Lazar, the restaurant’s marketing manager.
We, the Pizza has a dozen different soda flavors such as grape, coconut, sour cherry and egg cream, each playfully named.
“Most popular is probably our orange soda which we call ‘I’ve Gotta Orange Crush on You,’” Lazar said, adding that the second best seller is “Don’t Forget Your Ginger Roots” made with fresh ginger.
The restaurant — which opened a year and a half ago — has an actual soda drip where customers can watch the “fizzician” put together the different concoctions.
“It’s a fun thing that people do while they’re waiting for their pizza to be ready at the restaurant,” Lazar said.
The handcrafted $3 sodas complement We, the Pizza’s menu — which includes unexpected pizza toppings like Brussels sprouts and highlights fresh, quality ingredients such as wild forest mushrooms, applewood bacon and free-range chicken.
Higher-end restaurants are using herbs, produce and fresh-squeezed ingredients in beverages to differentiate themselves, said Darren Tristano, executive vice president at Technomic, who said these drinks give customers a better-for-you perception.
“And it may be better for you, but I think there’s a perception,” said Tristano. “The word ‘fresh’ has taken on a new meaning, which has kind of a health halo around it — that it’s healthier, it’s better.”
Restaurants like McCormick & Schmick’s Seafood & Steaks now have fresh-squeezed juices in its alcoholic drinks, and Starbucks Coffee Co. recently opened a retail store for its Evolution Fresh juice brand, in addition to selling juice and smoothies at regular Starbuck’s locations, Tristano pointed out.
“So the next part of this trend is the premium positioning ... Not every consumer is willing pay for or pay more for fresh, but there is an affluent consumer and a more contemporary Millennial that’s willing to pay more because they perceive the value as being much higher for this type of product,” Tristano said.
Organic and higher-end supermarkets, Tristano noted, have been focusing on offering juice and smoothie bars in-house.
At Woodland, Calif.-based Nugget Markets, customers can build custom-made juices and smoothies at the retailer’s coffee and juice bars.
“We encourage our guests to mix and match splashes of apple, carrot, beet, orange, cucumber and celery juices, or any other of our fresh squeezed selections,” Nugget Markets’ Tammy Campbell said in a post on the retailer’s website last month.
The nine-unit chain also made sure to promote the vitamins and nutrients and convenience of juice and smoothies, noting that juices’ retail price starts at $2.75 and smoothies’ at $3.50.
The ability to customize the flavors in their smoothies and juices can be a significant attraction to consumers, Tristano said.
The lack of preservatives in these fresh drinks can also be appealing to specific consumer groups, Tristano added.
Hot Weather Kick-Starts Gardening Season at Lin’s
By JENNA TELESCA
ST. GEORGE, Utah — This year, the early hot weather here prompted Lin’s Marketplace’s customers to get a jump on their gardening.
“We actually started early this year; we started on Valentine’s Day, so we’ve been in operation for two months already,” said Sandi Probst, floral manager and events coordinator at Lin’s Marketplace.
The nursery at the desert-based Lin’s location typically runs from the first week of March through Memorial Day weekend.
This season has been a good one for the retailer, with shoppers enthusiastically purchasing plants for their home plots. Nursery sales so far “have been absolutely awesome, especially in the vegetables, because we carry those hot weather tomatoes that are raised by the high school here,” Probst told SN.
Word has gotten out about the store’s hot-weather tolerant tomato plants. Customers waited in line before Probst was even able to get the tomatoes — only available in the area at Lin’s — on the shelf.
“It was amazing. Within, I would say, less than a two-week period they were totally cleaned out.”
Food gardening interest has remained strong in the area, and Probst approximated that 60% of nursery sales come from vegetables.
Customer preference for growing vegetables could also be seen in the seed rack in Lin’s produce department. The vegetable seed side of the display was empty by the first of March, according to Probst.
For Mother’s Day, Lin’s will offer an assortment of different bouquets, green plants and potted flowers. Probst is shying from offering many higher-priced options after customers were purchasing more lower-priced items on Valentine’s Day.
“Looking at the sales for Valentine’s Day ... the higher-dollar items were not selling as much as, say, something around $19.99,” Probst said, noting the store will be careful to balance having enough merchandise and keeping it within a price range that’s appropriate for the current economy.
While Probst did order roses for Mother’s Day, she said it was a smaller volume than in previous years.
The store puts out signs notifying customers that bouquets have a longer shelf life, and there’s usually someone on the floor near displays to offer help and suggestions to shoppers.
Single roses and bouquets starting at $5.99 or $7.99 usually sell out first, she said.
Lin’s will also be offering more of a customer favorite, African violets, for Mother’s Day. The plants offer variety and value with many colors to choose from and a typical retail price of $3.99 for a four-inch pot.
“I actually ordered quite a few more than I did last Mother’s Day, and I don’t worry about ever having to shrink them out. They just seem to move really, really fast.”
Rise in Healthy Home Cooking Spurs Herb Growth
By JENNA TELESCA
Growing interest in cooking fueled by consumer focus on healthy eating has motivated consumers to purchase more cut and potted herbs.
Volume sales for potted and cut herbs sold in the produce department grew 4.3% during the 52 weeks ending Feb. 25 compared with the year before, according to data from Nielsen’s Perishables Group.
In fact, the herb, spices and seasonings category — which includes sun-dried tomatoes, seasonings, vanilla beans, garlic, spices and herbs — grew 6.4% in unit sales, for the year overall.
Steven Wright, Tops Friendly Market’s produce and floral director, said the MyPlate guidelines that suggest consumers fill half their plates with fruit and vegetables have been resonating with shoppers, making cooking and eating healthier “in vogue.”
“You can’t turn on any channel … without being exposed to more cooking shows and more culinary shows than I’ve ever seen in my entire life, and it’s really impacted that category,” Wright said, noting he used to call herbs a specialty item 10 years ago and that stores had to throw more herbs away than were sold.
“Now it’s a full scale thing … we’re moving major units out of there,” he said.
Potted and cut herbs in the produce department gained 14% in sales last year at Tops, Wright said. This year has continued the upward trend, with herb sales up by 15% in the first quarter.
Wright pointed out that the herb trend also helps sales of other fresh foods.
“I like it because you just don’t buy herbs. It’s an incentive to buy something else. If you’re going to buy herbs, you’re going to buy something to make with herbs.”
At Lin’s Marketplace’s St. George, Utah store, Sandi Probst, floral manager and events coordinator, also said has also heard from a lot of customers talking about cooking with fresh herbs. Probst swaps recipes with customers who visit the nursery.
Floral consultant Tom Lavagetto described growing interest in cooking as a change in the ultimate consumer.
“The family has kind of come around, gone almost 180 degrees from everybody going out all the time. There is more and more family eating being done, dining, I should say, in the home,” said Lavagetto, president, Floral Consulting Group, Spokane, Wash.
In addition to cooking shows, magazines and websites giving cooking inspiration to consumers and driving more interest in using herbs, Lavagetto noted a change in the national culture. He noted the rise in “staycations” instead of vacations during the recession kept families unified, similar to the way they were 40 years ago, when families typically sat down to the dinner table.
At Tops, depending on the store location, there can be as many as 35 potted and cut herb SKUs in the produce department, Wright said.
And the SKUs continue to grow. About two months ago Tops recently partnered with Eden Valley Growers, Eden, N.Y., to start a new locally grown potted herb program that will run year-round.
“We feel like the potted herbs make sense and actually partnering with somebody locally in the area to produce them obviously makes good sense as well. It’s so far, so good,” Wright said.
Eden Valley has built racks for Tops to merchandize the potted plants, and Tops promotes that the herb plants are locally grown, Wright said.
More consumers have been growing their own herbs, according to the National Gardening Association.
“Last year about 18 million households nationwide, 15% of all households, grew their own culinary herbs,” said Bruce Butterfield, market research director at the National Gardening Association.
In comparison, five years ago, 14 million households, or 12% of all households, grew their own herbs, he said.
For the customer who wants to try out cooking with fresh herbs for the first time, Tops also offers a quarter ounce tube of different herbs.
“It’s a single-serve one. We do run that one in like a 10-for-$10 promotion just to get people into the category,” Wright pointed out.
Basil reigns as the major mover in the herb category at Tops, bringing in approximately 30% of sales.
“Basil is very fast selling if you can get it from the grower to the store fast enough; it sells very well, ” said Lavagetto.
Lavagetto cautioned retailers to be careful handling herbs in general, which tend to be delicate.
“Any herb or herb garden … those products require proper care and light and they don’t hold up very well when they go through a lengthy distribution system,” he said.
BrightFarms to Build Largest Rooftop Greenhouse
By MATTHEW ENIS
NEW YORK — BrightFarms, a designer, financer and operator of rooftop hydroponic greenhouses, has announced plans to build the world’s largest rooftop greenhouse on top of Liberty View Industrial Plaza, a former U.S. Navy building in Brooklyn’s Sunset Park neighborhood. The 100,000-square-foot facility is ultimately expected to grow up to 1 million pounds of produce per year — including tomatoes, lettuce and herbs — which will be sold to local retailers.
“The partnership between BrightFarms and Salmar Properties to build the world’s largest rooftop farm is an exciting new model for sustainable, urban agriculture,” New York City Council Speaker Christine Quinn said in a press announcement. “The farm will contribute meaningfully to the mission of FoodWorks, my vision to improve NYC’s food system by dramatically increasing local food production while positively affecting public health, the economy and the environment.”
The facility will also prevent about 1.8 million gallons of storm water runoff from entering local waterways each year.
The administration of New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg has been making efforts to revitalize Brooklyn’s industrial waterfront, and Paul Lightfoot, chief executive officer of BrightFarms, said that the city had approached his company about developing a greenhouse after the site was zoned for light manufacturing.
“The city of New York and the borough of Brooklyn have been green partners,” Lightfoot told SN. “They brought us into this project, actually. So, in many ways, it’s a model for, we think, other cities that are interested in local food. It’s one of the best public-private partnerships we’ve seen.”
BrightFarms is still a relatively new company. From 2008 through 2010, in its previous incarnation as BrightFarm Systems, the company was a commercial design consultancy that provided support to supermarkets and other companies interested in developing rooftop greenhouses of their own. The current company was formed from a merger of BrightFarm Systems and Better Food Solutions in January 2011, and is now set up to finance and build greenhouses on its own, and then sell the resulting produce to local retailers as part of long-term agreements.
Last October, BrightFarms announced that it had developed one of these arrangements with Langhorne, Pa.-based McCaffrey’s Markets.
“That project is well under way,” Lightfoot said. “We’re going to be breaking ground in late June, and we’ll be shipping to McCaffrey’s stores by the fourth quarter this year. We couldn’t be more excited about it.”
And, the company recently announced that Best Yet, a local New York supermarket chain, had become the first retailer to carry its produce, sourced from a facility in Huntington, N.Y.
DAN’L MACKEY ALMY HONORED
DALLAS — Dan’l Mackey Almy, president of Irving, Texas-based DMA Solutions, will be the guest speaker at the United Fresh Produce Association’s 15th annual Reception Honoring Women in Produce here at the Dallas Convention Center on Wednesday, May 2, at United Fresh 2012. “Dan’l’s passion has influenced everyone around her from the first day she entered the produce industry,” said United Fresh President and Chief Executive Officer Tom Stenzel. “Today, she continues to inspire through her creative vision and innovative strategies that guide successful marketing initiatives for many companies, and also drive industry success whether promoting produce to celebrities like Ellen DeGeneres or raising funds for salad bars in schools. Dan’l is a shining example that there are no limits to what one can achieve with passion.” Mackey Almy’s career began in 1995 with a position at Standard Fruit & Vegetable in Dallas, where she ultimately became director of marketing. After later serving as Vice President at Fresh Del Monte Produce, she founded DMA Solutions Inc. in 2004.
NEW PRODUCT FINALISTS NAMED
DALLAS — More than 25 fresh fruit and vegetable innovations are up for the United Fresh Produce Association’s 2012 New Product Awards. The products will all be on display in the lobby of Hall A of the Dallas Convention Center, where attendees from the United Fresh, FMI and AMI shows are welcome to cast votes.
• Best New Packaging: Fruit Pop Pouches, Maxwell Chase Technologies; Garden Highway Salad Essentials Salad Toppers, Renaissance Food Group; Live Gourmet Squircle Clamshell and Harness Style Shipping Carton, Hollandia Produce / Live Gourmet; Naturipe EarthCycle Packaging for Organic Berries, Naturipe Farms; Rock Garden Breathable Herb Bag, Rock Garden; Safe-T-Fresh Grab and Go Cups, Inline Plastics Corp; SUNSET Fresh Tomato Soup Kit, Mastronardi Produce.
• Best New Food Safety Solution: FlashCheck Real-time Bacterial Enzyme Detection Kit, DeltaTRAK; Freshness Management with the Intelleflex CMR-6100 Cellular Reader and Intelleflex ZEST Data Services, Intelleflex; PTI Lite, RedLine Solutions; The HydroDose-High Dilution Dosing System, BioSafe Systems.
• Best New Packing/Processing Equipment: Bosch Pack 301 IN Inverted Horizontal Flow Wrapper, Bosch Packaging Technology; ECM-200 Slicer with exit Conveyor, Nichimo; High speed counting and packing device, Abracad Technoworks BV; MCT 25 OS “Onion Slicer,” Maxwell Chase Technologies; NicePack, BrimaPack.
• Best New Fruit Product: Crunch Pak Dipperz, Crunch Pak; Fresh Fruit Parfaits, Ready Pac Foods; Naturipe Cold Processed Dried Blueberries, Strawberries and Cherries, Naturipe Farms; Welch’s New Grape Bag — Picnic Pack, C.H. Robinson; Yonanas, Dole Food Co.
• Best New Vegetable Product: Aurora Bites mini peppers, Pure Hot House Foods; Delano, Mastronardi Produce; Farmhouse Heritage Beefsteak Tomato, JemD Farms; Fresh Express Organic Baby Sweet Lettuce and Organic 50/50 Mix, Chiquita; Gourmet In-Store Salad Kits, Tiffany Gate Fine Foods; The Culinary Garden Unique Salads & Coleslaws, Freshway Foods.