Driscoll's sets sights on increased organic strawberry volume

Driscoll Strawberry Associates Inc. is set to launch the first phase of a strategic business plan to increase organic strawberry volume in the coming decade. Driscoll's is one of California's premier strawberry growers, riding the cutting edge of the industry since the turn of the 20th century.

The initial step in this direction involves the transition of cultivated land to organic, a process that takes three years to complete before organic plant stock can be certified. “We've been doing research for the past seven years,” Executive Vice President Soren Bjorn told The Produce News. “We've consistently seen we could do this. We felt the time was right, and it's the right thing to do.”

Although organic strawberries currently comprise approximately 5 percent of the company's overall volume and 15 percent of overall sales, Bjorn said opportunities in the coming 10 years show strong potential. “Total sales will be 20 percent in five years and 25 percent in 10 years,” he stated. “I think that's realistic.”

The move to expand availabile organic nursery stock is supported by data the company has gleaned showing that consumer interest in organic strawberries is strong, with demand definitely outstripping available supply.

“We're deliberately pushing ourselves,” Bjorn said of the move to fill this gap.

He said strawberries plants are subject to ground-borne pest and disease pressures. The transition to organic nursery stock production will meet California's high organic standards, ensuring that plants can be shipped between counties without fear of relocating pests or diseases.

The process has begun to transition land to organic production. “Right now, the limiting factor is organic-certified ground,” he said about production in 2015.

Driscoll's works with an extensive grower network that is supportive of the move. “From the grower side, it's a healthy business, and growers are interested,” Bjorn stated.

Although the company will move plants this year that have been raised under organic conditions, Bjorn said the plants cannot be labeled “organic” until the transition process is competed three years from now. At that time, Bjorn said  organic strawberry volume will begin to show increases.

Driscoll's plans to distribute its organic strawberry nursery stock within growing areas in California at the current time. In the future, Bjorn said he expects similar expansions will take place at the company's nurseries in Mexico.

Cherry volume reaches annual peak

Cherries-on-the-tree

It doesn’t matter if the crop is large or small. It doesn’t matter if the weather is good or bad. Every year in the Northwest, at some point the cherry season peaks. When the peak comes, it presents retail buyers with the best cherry sales and promotion opportunities of the entire season.

“This is the week,” Steve Castleman, senior vice president of sales at CMI, said in a press release. “We are hitting our seasonal high point for cherry availability and promotional pricing right now.

“After this week, we expect statewide volume to really start to drop off,” said Castleman. “Our CMI warehouses received a huge volume of cherries that were harvested over the holiday weekend. It’s the big receiving rush that we expect to see every year. Using harvest history as our guide, we see this week as one of the final opportunities for retailers to buy cherries at the peak of the season.”

Castleman added that there will certainly be cherries in the market for several weeks but the seasonal peak this week is much earlier than normal. “We knew the crop was early," he said. "But from what we’re hearing from our own horticulturists and other orchardists around the state, after this week the cherry supply will begin to decline. Retailers that jump on cherries right now will see the best quality and pricing of the season.”

Produce legend Sal Vacca retiring from A.J. Trucco

For 86-year-old Sal Vacca, the former owner of A.J. Trucco located on Hunts Point Terminal Market in the Bronx, NY, retiring from a company he has been so deeply involved with since it was formed in 1960 is tough. But he says he’s ready.

Vacca’s story about being a U.S. emigrant from Italy started in 1949. Born in Capri, he was in school learning English World War II ended in 1945. He also had a business buying locally made espadrilles and taking them to Naples to sell. It was that year when a cousin of his father, Domenico D’Angiola, approached him with the idea of coming to the United States.salvaSal Vacca

“Domenico had already moved to the U.S.,” Vacca told The Produce News. “After the war he returned to Italy to re-establish his import business dealing in grocery items, including chestnuts. He asked me if I would like to come here, and I said yes, without even asking my parents.”

Vacca arrived on U.S. soil in 1949 and worked for D’Angiola until his death in 1956. Within a few years he started his own business selling chestnuts and canned tomatoes from Italy. Alfred Trucco, who dealt in dried fruits and nuts at the Washington Street Terminal Market in Manhattan, was one of Vacca’s customers.

“Alfred suggested we join companies, and we formed A.J. Trucco,” said Vacca. “We incorporated in 1961. When Hunts Point opened in March 1967, we were among the first to relocate.”

The company evolved over the years, and in 2000 it again joined forces with another firm and reorganized.

“We were doing business with Nick Pacia, who was supplying us with kiwifruit and other items,” explained Vacca. “We had developed a great relationship and agreed to join forces. I’ve sold my shares to Nick, and today he is the president and owner. In fact, I don’t even have a title. I’m fully retired — a free man — but something keeps drawing me back to the office most days.”

Much of that draw is due to the many close relationships that Vacca has developed with colleagues and associates over the years. Some say he’s irreplaceable.

One example is his long-time friendship with Anthony Sharrino, president of Eaton & Eustis Co. at the New England Produce Center in Chelsea, MA.

Sharrino agrees with Vacca that success in the fresh produce business is all about strong and healthy relationships.

“My father gave Sal Vacca his first order around 1949,” said Sharrino. “We have spoken by phone every day since then. Even if he’s on vacation in Italy, he’ll call just to stay in touch.”

Vacca has no apprehension of leaving A.J. Trucco in what he says are in the “best hands possible under the guidance of Nick Pacia. It’s only going to continue to grow and evolve tremendously in the future.”

And he’s not short on plans of what to do with all of his free time once he does decide to not go to the office every day. He and his wife plan to travel back to Capri in August to visit his 90-year-old brother and large extended family. They also plan to go to India next spring and to South America in the future.

“I hear there are 80 museums in New York City,” said Vacca. “I have only been to five. I plan on seeing as many as possible.”

He noted that when he came to the United States in 1949 he lived in Hell’s Kitchen for two years.

“The woman who ran the boarding house at 441 W. 44th Street cooked dinner for us every night,” Vacca reminisced. “It cost $1.50 a meal, and the room was $6 a week.

“America has served me very well,” he continued. “It provided me with a great opportunity, which it still does today if you work hard. And it afforded me the greatest group of people with which to work and form friendships, from suppliers to customers and especially our neighbors and friend at Hunts Point.”

Ahold's Fresh Formats EVP resigns

Ahold USA has announced that Bhavdeep Singh, executive vice president of Fresh Formats, has made the decision to resign from the company. Bhavdeep SinghBhavdeep Singh

Scott Miller, senior vice president of operations, will oversee the Fresh Formats team on an interim basis until a permanent replacement is announced. At the end of May, veteran produce retailer Paul Kneeland left Kings Food Markets to lead fresh food merchandising for Fresh Formats LLC.

"It has been a real pleasure working with Bhavdeep over the last four-and-a-half years and we thank him for setting the fresh formats team up for success," James McCann, chief operating officer Ahold USA, said in a press release. "Personally, I wish him every success in his future endeavors.”

Ahold said Singh had a very successful career at Ahold USA since 2011, leading the human resources, operations and then the Fresh Formats teams.

PEI food-tampering reward raised to $500,000

The Prince Edward Island potato industry announced a $500,000 reward for information leading to the arrest and conviction of the individual or individuals responsible for several cases of food tampering involving the deliberate insertion of metal objects into potatoes. peipb

The potatoes containing metal objects were destined for human consumption, and the Prince Edward Island industry said it "remains concerned about the effect cowardly acts such as this have on the confidence of consumers in the food supply."

For this reason, the value of the reward was increased to $500,000 until Aug. 15.  Tips received from Aug. 16 until Oct. 31 will be eligible for the previously announced amount of up to $100,000. Anonymous tips are eligible for the reward.

“We have had tremendous support from the grower community in an effort to identify the person or persons responsible for recent cases of food tampering," Alex Docherty, chair of the Prince Edward Island Potato Board, said in a press release. "However, the scope of the investigation has widened in recent weeks, and recent incidents of food tampering involving Prince Edward Island potatoes have led our industry to increase the profile of this reward in order to maximize the chance that those responsible will be brought to justice.”

The purchase and installation of foreign material detection equipment by Prince Edward Island potato growers and packers is expected to cost well in excess of $5 million, and potato farm operations affected by food tampering have already faced a significant financial burden in terms of product that had to be destroyed, market disruption and lost productivity. 

The Prince Edward Island Potato Board said the industry appreciates the recent financial contributions by the federal and provincial governments toward the purchase of detection equipment, as this shows that they also take this threat to public safety seriously. None of the recently announced funding will be used toward this reward fund.

Anyone knowing the individual or individuals involved, or who has information that would assist police in this investigation, can provide information anonymously to Crime Stoppers.  Information may be provided to Crime Stoppers by phone, 800/222-8477 (TIPS); Web, www.peicrimestoppers.com; or by text, Text “TIP162” plus the message to 274637 (CRIMES).

If they do not wish to remain anonymous, persons may contact the Prince Edward Island Royal Canadian Mounted Police toll-free at 844/592-2774.  Alternatively, an email can be sent to graeme.shaw@rcmp-grc.gc.ca and an investigator will respond.