NFL Hall of Famer Mike Ditka to deliver keynote address at United Fresh 2015

NFL Hall of Famer and the Chicago Bears beloved Coach Mike Ditka will deliver the Wednesday Keynote Address at the United Fresh 2015 General Session, Wednesday, June 10, at McCormick Place in Chicago. Ditka will share insights from his decades of experience as an NFL player, coach and analyst on the importance of leadership and the value of teamwork.

His name is synonymous with the Chicago Bears. "Da Coach or Iron Mike," Ditka played for, and coached the Bears for 17 seasons. Over a single decade (1982-1992), he coached the Bears compiling a win-loss record of 112 to 68 during that time. He guided the Bears to six NFC Central Divisional titles, in addition to three NFC title games. Most notably, the '85 Bears are considered amongst the NFL's "Best Ever Teams" going 18-1 that year culminating with the Super Bowl XX title. Twice, Ditka was named the NFL's Coach of the Year ('85 and '88). From 1985-1988, he led the Bears to 52 wins — the most ever by an NFL team in a four-year span in NFL history. He left the Bears football organization in 1992.

Ditka has won three Super Bowls, as a play (Dallas- Super Bowl VI), as an assistant coach, (Dallas-Super Bowl XII), and as a head coach (Chicago Super Bowl XX). He was elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1988.

Continuing to play a notable role in the NFL, Ditka serves as a commentator and analyst for ESPN.

“The drive and execution that Mike Ditka has shown throughout his successful NFL career is astonishing,” said United Fresh President and CEO Tom Stenzel. “We are excited to have him share his career highlights and inspire our audience with his perspectives on achieving personal and professional success.”

The Wednesday Keynote Address will be held at the General Session, Wednesday, June 10, from 7:30-8:45 am in the Vista Ballroom at the McCormick Place Convention Center. Participation in the keynote session is available only to those attendees who have purchased United Fresh’s educational packages.

Co-located with FMI Connect 2015 and the International Floriculture Expo, United Fresh 2015 will bring together retail, fresh produce and floral leaders who are searching for unique products and looking to enhance relationships with valuable business partners. Registration is available at www.unitedfreshshow.org.

Haggen, FirstFruits Marketing help 'Take A Bite Out of Hunger'

West Coast grocery store chain Haggen will make a donation of more than 45,000 pounds of apples to Northwest Harvest and the Oregon Food Bank to help feed the hungry in local communities in Oregon and Washington. This donation is part of the Take a Bite Out of Hunger Program sponsored by FirstFruits Marketing of Washington and supported by Haggen and Charlie’s Produce, Haggen’s primary produce supplier.haff

FirstFruits Marketing of Washington created The Take a Bite out of Hunger campaign to help feed underserved people while bringing attention to the problem of food insecurity in the United States and Canada. This is the first year they have partnered with Haggen to make donations to local charities.  

“Take a Bite Out of Hunger is a great way to provide fresh produce to our local food banks, something that is often lacking on their shelves,” Clement Stevens, senior vice president of merchandising and marketing at Haggen, said in a press release. “This program nourishes people in need by donating fresh and healthy apples in the communities where we work and live.”

According to Feeding America, food insecurity exists in every county in America. In 2014, 14 percent of all U.S. households were food-insecure. Of those, 32 percent of the people in those households were children.  

“We love working with wholesalers and retailers like Haggen who are committed to serving the communities where they do business,” Tim Corkill of FirstFruits Marketing of Washington said in the release. “Together, we’re not only making a donation but we’re also raising awareness of food insecurity in the U.S. and Canada.”

Since the program’s introduction in 2010, approximately 1 million pounds of fresh apples have been donated to local food banks in the name of the participating retailers. This year over 10 retailers have joined the Take a Bite Out of Hunger effort with donations going to local food banks throughout the U.S. and Canada. 

Haggen’s support of the community has been extensive this spring. The company is in the midst of converting 146 Albertsons and Safeway stores into Haggen stores. With each store conversion, Haggen is donating $1,000 to a single organization on the first day each store opens.

In the weeks following the conversions, Haggen will partner with four local non-profits and donate 2 percent of sales to four additional organizations on four consecutive Saturdays.

“We have a long history of giving back to the communities we serve," John Clougher, Haggen CEO of the Pacific Northwest, said in the release. "We want to demonstrate that commitment both in our new stores as well as our existing stores.”

Village Farms introduces Darren Brown as executive corporate chef

Heathrow, FL-based Village Farms International has appointed Chef Darren Brown, located in Vancouver, BC, as the executive corporate chef for the company. He comes to Village Farms with over 25 years of experience across numerous facets of the food industry.

Chef Brown's former position as executive chef for all the restaurants at Fairmont Pacific Rim Hotel in Vancouver is where he originally came in contact with the brand, incorporating Village Farms produce extensively onto the menus there.  setting-rebel-saladChef Darren Brown, executive corporate chef of Village Farms.

“We are elated to have Chef [Brown] on board with Village Farms as a tried and true brand ambassador," Helen L. Aquino, director brand management and communication, said in a press release. "His food expertise is perfectly suited in discerning our exclusive varietal flavor profiles.”  

According to Aquino, Chef Brown will be responsible for creating unique recipes that focus on health and wellness for consumers.  In addition he will be on hand at company events including tradeshows. 

Chef Brown will be representing the company on a chef panel at the upcoming third annual Indoor Agriculture Conference March 31 and April 1 in Las Vegas Nevada.

“Village Farms has so many exciting new varietals that are exclusive to them alone.  Chef Brown said in the press release. "Their quality is only surpassed by their flavor and when incorporated into a dish really allow the food speak for itself."

New record for table grape crop

Setting a new record for crop value at $1.76 billion, California’s table grape growers harvested their second-largest crop ever, sending 110 million 19-pound boxes of grapes to consumers worldwide.

Export volume and value were also the second highest in history, with 44.5 million 19-pound boxes shipped at a value of $857 million. The top volume export markets included Canada at 11.4 million 19-pound boxes, followed by Mexico at 5.7 million and China/Hong Kong at 5.5 million. Just over 40 percent of the total crop volume was exported.

“Overall, 2014 was a good year for most growers,” Kathleen Nave, president of the California Table Grape Commission, said in a press release. “The industry was able to successfully harvest and ship a large crop at good prices over a very long season.”

According to Nave, the 2015 season is expected to mirror 2014 in timing, beginning late April and running through January. With the season only a month away, the commission is gearing up its global campaign. “The commission campaign focuses on motivating the trade to promote, and consumers to buy, more grapes from California more often,” said Nave.

United Fresh supports national solution to GMO labeling debate

WASHINGTON — The food industry is throwing its support behind a bill introduced last week that would create a uniform, certification program for labeling foods free of genetically modified ingredients, bypassing state initiatives that would mandate labeling on all GMO foods.

Facing staunch consumer group opposition, however, it’s uncertain how far the bill will go.

The legislation, introduced by Reps. Mike Pompeo, (R-KS), and G.K. Butterfield, (D-NC), would make the Food & Drug Administration the sole authority over GMO labeling and create a voluntary certification program similar to the USDA organic label, while preempting states from enacting mandatory labeling requirements. Mandatory state labeling laws are misleading because genetically modified foods are safe, the bill’s advocates argue.

The bill comes just days after FDA announced that genetically modified Arctic apples are safe for consumption, along with six varieties of Innate potatoes genetically engineered to lower the potential for acrylamide and black spot bruising.

"Any labeling standard — whether for labeling of GMO foods or non-GMO labeling — must be a national framework, not a state-by-state hodgepodge,” the United Fresh Produce Association said in a statement. “We encourage Congress to take steps to ensure that federal standards prevail in food labeling, and that FDA determine what labeling is necessary in accordance with its food safety responsibility.”

The produce industry is not alone in calling for a federal solution. Other sectors of the food industry say the state and local labeling laws will force companies to build multiple supply streams, design new labels, acquire new warehouse space and even create new transportation routes. Food companies estimate up to 80 percent of the foods in the United States contain ingredients that have been genetically modified.

“A voluntary program, administered by FDA, to evaluate food labels that claim the presence, or absence, of genetically-enhanced ingredients will bolster consumer confidence, while giving frozen food and beverage makers the certainty they need to meet the needs of America’s consumers,” said Kraig Naasz, chief executive officer of the American Frozen Food Institute.

While the food industry has spent millions of dollars fighting mandatory labeling legislation in more than two dozen states, consumer groups have poured on the pressure, too, and vow to continue fighting the Pompeo bill.

Some retailers have jumped into the fray. Whole Foods has announced it will require labeling of all genetically modified products sold in its U.S. and Canadian stores by 2018.