C&S Wholesale Grocer’s bid to purchase Associated Wholesalers Inc. and its subsidiaries has been approved. AWI, a regional cooperative food distributor based in Robesonia, PA, operates two distribution centers in Pennsylvania and also provides retail services to its customers and members. Its subsidiaries include White Rose, which operates three distribution centers in New Jersey, and Nell’s Shurfine Markets, which operates four retail stores. The acquisition, expected to be finalized before Thanksgiving, would include substantially all of AWI/White Rose’s assets as well as their 2,200 employees.
“We are excited to have the opportunity to partner with Associated Wholesalers’ and White Rose’s strong team and customer base of independent grocers,” Rick Cohen, C&S chairman and chief executive officer, said in a press release. “My grandfather founded C&S to supply independent retailers, and while we now proudly service grocers of all sizes, this transaction will give us an even greater capacity to provide the unique services required by independents and regional chains.”
AWI entered into Chapter 11 bankruptcy Sept. 9, with C&S named as the “stalking horse” bidder, although SuperValu Inc. was also a bidder for AWI. Now that C&S’s bid has been approved, the transaction is expected to close on or about Nov. 11.
“Our first priority is to provide exceptional service to the customers, especially as we approach the holiday season,” Christopher Brown, C&S senior vice president of independent sales, said in the release. “We are committed to maintaining and enhancing the services provided to the numerous retailers who have relied on AWI and White Rose for their grocery supply needs.”
Mushroom Council board members met in Kennett Square, PA, to finalize a new marketing plan to focus on the enormous market potential of mushroom blendability, which will be the primary focus of the its marketing efforts. The new targeted approach will develop mushroom blendability pilots, promotions and events in retail and foodservice. This is a shift away from the nutrition communication and influencer platform previously performed by the council to a focused market activation strategy.
“The board feels very optimistic about the new direction and plan we have developed over the past several months for 2015," Council Chairman Anthony D’Amico, president of To-Jo Mushrooms, said in a press release. "We believe 2015 will go down in history as a pivotal year for the Mushroom Council and the evolution of mushroom blendability. The industry believes strongly in the potential of the mushroom blend. We are willing to position our marketing strategy to fully support this growth.”
Mushroom blendability, the culinary technique of blending fresh, chopped mushrooms with ground meat entrees, has taken off largely in the non-commercial foodservice segment, including school nutrition, university dining, health care and corporate dining. Several commercial foodservice outlets — such as Seasons 52, Macaroni Grill and Cheesecake Factory — have also started featuring the mushroom blend on their menus. The natural progression of the blend will be deeper infiltration into foodservice and introduction to retail.
The council will develop mushroom blend pilots and promotions with retailers across the United States. Mushroom blendability opens up an entire new market for the industry by expanding the consumer experience opportunity of fresh mushrooms past the fresh produce section and into the deli, meat case and more.
“The mushroom blend is the solution to the changing consumer landscape, focusing on the transitional meat consumer which makes up one-third of the U.S. population,” Bart Minor, council president, said in the release. “The council’s new focus on the blend will allow the program to fully develop the existing tremendous blend momentum.”
The conversation about healthy food choices is “pervasive among most Americans” who generally recognize that “fruits and vegetables are building blocks for a healthy diet,” said Emiliano Escobedo, executive director of the Hass Avocado Board in Irvine, CA. Yet “despite what we all know,” studies show that most Americans are still not yet consuming as many fruits and vegetables as suggested by dietary guidelines and continue over-consuming sodium, sugar and saturated fat.
“Unfortunately, today in the United States, one-third of adults in our society are categorized as obese and another one-third as overweight,” Escobedo told The Produce News.“That is a serious issue because obesity is related to conditions like stroke and heart disease, type II diabetes and cancer, some of the leading causes of preventable death.”
Because of the exceptional health benefits of Hass avocados, “we see this as an opportunity,” he said.
There is “clearly a need to educate Americans on the link between diet and disease,” he said. “There is room for growth in the consumption of fruits and vegetables,” including avocados, and “we think that avocados have nutritional properties that can help Americans live a better life, so we want to leverage that.”
Avocado consumption in the United States has been rising dramatically in the last few years, but there is still much room for growth.
HAB studies have shown that consumers buy avocados for two principal reasons: they like the taste and they recognize the health benefits. “Those are the two main drivers,” Escobedo said.
HAB focuses most of its efforts and most of its funding on additional scientific research into the health benefits of avocados and on promotional programs to increase consumer awareness of those benefits.
“We have invested nearly $5 million in nutrition research in the areas of heart health, weight management, diabetes and healthy living” and developed a promotional program called Love One Today, backed by a multi-million dollar budget, to promote the research findings and increase consumer awareness of the benefits of including Hass avocados in the diet on a regular basis can bring.
Recently published clinical trials by University of California at Los Angeles and Loma Linda University found that adding avocados to a meal helps reduce inflation markers and that adding avocados to lunch “reduces hunger for a longer period of time,” leading to less snacking and, therefore, reduced total calorie intake, he said.
The most recently published study, by Ohio State University, “found that avocados boost the absorption of nutrients and antioxidants that are found in products that are consumed with avocados.” Eating avocados with tomatoes, for example, boosts the body’s consumption of the antioxidants in tomatoes by a factor of 10. “So avocados are definitely a nutrient booster,” Escobedo said.
Current studies, one at Penn State and one at Tufts University, are looking at such things as the potential of avocados in the diet to reduce bad cholesterol levels in the body and to improve cognitive function among older population, he said.
The research “is generating a lot of media attention,” both consumer media and publications targeted to dieticians and other health professionals. Through the efforts of HAB, “we have obtained hundreds of millions of impressions” in various health and fitness publications in the United States as well as on radio and television, Escobedo said, emphasizing that this is editorial coverage, not paid advertisement. Studies to track the influence of those impressions on consumer attitudes demonstrates that “they are becoming more aware of the benefits of avocados, and as a result, we are seeing demand increase.”
It is not HAB alone that is leveraging the health message for Hass avocados, he said. Other stakeholders are doing so as well, including Avocados from Mexico and other industry organizations representing all other major sources of Hass avocados marketed in the United States.
The California date industry in its promotional efforts focuses on a series of special events at various times of the year, beginning with participation at the Produce Marketing Association’s Fresh Summit expo, which was held in Anaheim, CA, this year.
The Produce News talked to Lori Cooper, manager of the California Date Administrative Committee and the California Date Commission in Indio, CA, on Oct. 10, just days prior to PMA, about that event and others upcoming in which California Dates would be participating. “We’ve got a new chef” representing California dates at the show, she said.
Eric Theiss is executive chef of the Renaissance Indian Wells Resort & Spa near Palm Springs, managing the resort’s six restaurants. “He is very excited about attending the event, and he’s got quite a menu planned” for recipes using dates that show attendees will have the opportunity to sample,” Cooper said.
In early February, California Dates will be participating in a one-evening event called Dates & Wine at the J.W. Marriott Desert Springs Resort & Spa, in conjunction with the American Heart Association. The event is “a prelude to the Go Red for Women Luncheon” held a week later, also in the Palm Springs area, she said.
For the Dates & Wine event, AHA issues invitations to its top donors, “and we give them the opportunity to have tastings” of recipes with dates in them, she said. California Dates have been participating in the event for several years, and “it is really a beautiful evening.”
California Dates will also attend the AHA’s Go Red for Women Luncheon. “We have a small exhibit there, and we provide date tastings for the ladies and gentlemen who attend the luncheon event and the seminars” which are put on by AHA.
That is followed in mid-February by the National Date Festival held in conjunction with the Riverside County Fair in Indio, CA, which attracts nearly 300,000 visitors. At that 10-day event, “we present daily cooking demonstrations with professional chefs throughout the [Coachella] Valley. The audience has the opportunity to enjoy the cooking demonstrations” and sample the results, Cooper said.
In April, California Dates will again work with the California Dietetic Association at its annual conference in Riverside, CA. “We will be exhibiting there and giving out samples, educating dieticians and nutritionists about the nutritional benefits of eating dates on a daily basis,” she said.
The California Date Administrative Committee is a federal marketing order covering date growers in Riverside County, encompassing the date-growing regions of the Coachella Valley. The California Date Commission is a California state marketing order also embracing the date industry in Riverside County.
While there are about 30 varieties of dates grown in the valley, the two largest commercially grown varieties are Medjool and Deglet Noor.
When The Produce News talked to Cooper, the 2014 Medjool harvest was nearing completion and was expected to be finished by about Nov. 1. The Deglet Noor harvest, which started late September, was in full swing and expected to continue through December and “maybe into January,” she said.
“Handlers and growers are telling me that the fruit is looking really good this year — some of the best fruit they have seen in a while,” Cooper said. Yields are a bit lower than in the last few years, “but nothing to be concerned about. They are probably going to end up with a total harvest of somewhere around 40 million to 45 million pounds.” Because of the quality of the crop, the volume of whole dates available for the fresh market is expected to be higher than last year.
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.’“