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Rivermaid installs new defect grader for cherries

Rivermaid Trading Co., a Lodi, CA,-based cherry and pear packer, has installed a GP Graders AirJet Defect Grader in its Lodi facility. The 40-lane cherry line is the largest ever installed by GP Graders.

Patrick Archibeque, chief executive officer of Rivermaid, and his team traveled extensively last year to evaluate all the cherry grading machines and software on the market and found the GP Graders AirJet Defect Grader with Ellips software to be the most impressive.

Commenting on the decision, Archibeque said, "Our team was most impressed by the consistent product produced by the GP Graders' AirJet. The Ellips software accurately graded and sized the cherries with the precision we know our customer's expect. The machine is an important tool in meeting our customer's requirements."

The Rivermaid team evaluated the cherry packouts intensively by size and defect, analyzing how the grader detected splits, cracks, softness, size and color, and were very impressed by what they saw.

"The installation of this line was our next step - and our most significant step - toward achieving our goal of being California's highest-quality cherry shipper," Archibeque added. "I think our customers, and the consumer, will be pleased with what we will be offering this season."

The new line changes the way cherries are graded with up to 85 percent of defects detected and 97 percent sizing accuracy, which significantly reduces labor costs, increases productivity and enables the consistent execution of a strict, manageable quality standard. The line includes a twin feed submersible dumper, new style cluster cutters, hydro-cooling shower conveyors, a 40-lane defect grader and 36 exits all designed to fit within a 22,500-square-foot shed.  

As one of California's largest cherry packers, Rivermaid plans to process 26 tons per hour at peak season.

Rivermaid Trading Co. unveiled the new line at its annual grower party April 17.

HAB survey reveals need to educate consumers about dietary fats

Despite years of effort by numerous organizations to help the public understand the pros and cons of consuming different types of dietary fats, a new survey by the Hass Avocado Board reveals that most Americans are still unclear about the definition and role of "good" and "bad" fats.

In the HAB survey of more than 1,000 adults, nearly half (42 percent) of people incorrectly thought that all fats play a role in increased cholesterol levels, and if the "don't know/unsure" responses are included, the number increases to 51 percent of people.

In addition, over one-third of people responded inaccurately that monounsaturated fats and polyunsaturated fats are bad and should be reduced or eliminated from the diet.

"It is clear from the survey that more consumer education is needed on the differences between good and bad fats, and the role they play in people's diets," Penny Kris-Etherton, a research scientist at Penn State University, said in a press release. "The different types of fats can be confusing to consumers, but all fats are not created equal and the impact on one's health can be significant."

According to the U.S. Food & Drug Administration, saturated and trans fats raise LDL (or 'bad') cholesterol levels in the blood, thereby increasing the risk of heart disease. Dietary cholesterol also contributes to heart disease. Unsaturated fats, such as monounsaturated and polyunsaturated, do not raise LDL cholesterol and are beneficial when consumed in moderation.

Therefore, it is advisable to choose foods that contain naturally good fats and that are low in saturated and trans fats and cholesterol as part of a healthful diet.__

Additional findings include:

• Less than one-third responded that they feel more educated today about which foods to eat and which to avoid. Perhaps even more concerning, one-quarter (26 percent) say they do not really pay attention to this type of information.

• Eighteen percent of people mistakenly think that trans fats are good fats. The number increases to 30 percent among African Americans.

• Less than four in 10 correctly identified monounsaturated fats (39 percent) and polyunsaturated fats (37 percent) as good fats.

• People mistakenly think the following foods contain good fats: spinach (79 percent), sweet potatoes (71 percent) and kale (62 percent).

• Women (76 percent) try harder than men (67 percent) to make some effort or a strong effort to eat more foods high in good fats.

• More women (87%) know that avocados are a source of good fat than men (80%).  

"Good fats, like monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats, are an important part of a balanced diet," Harley Pasternak, celebrity fitness trainer and nutrition expert, added in the press release. "Protein, fiber and fats, like the naturally good fats found in avocados, are a good way to keep you full between meals."

Pasternak is working with HAB on its "Love One Today" campaign promoting awareness of the benefits of eating fresh avocados.

According to the dietary guidelines, when eaten in moderation and used to replace saturated or trans fats, unsaturated fats can help to reduce blood cholesterol levels.

Foods containing naturally good fats include avocados, nuts and fish high in omega-3 fatty acids.

More than 75 percent of the fat in an avocado is unsaturated, making it a great substitute for foods high in saturated fats. Avocados are virtually the only fruit that has monounsaturated fat. In addition, avocados are cholesterol free.

"It is a misconception that you should not eat avocados because they are high in fat," Kris-Etherton added in the press release. "Avocados can fit into a wide range of healthy eating plans."

Avocado consumers already know a bit about healthy eating, as they more closely adhere to the Dietary Guidelines for Americans than those who do not eat avocados, as measured by the Healthy Eating Index, according to the National Health & Nutrition Examination Survey released in 2013.

For more information on good fats and avocado recipes, visit

In the trenches: Drive produce sales with leading-edge items

Are your produce sales vs. a year ago kind of flat? If so, then it may be time to take a good wise look at where your operation has been for the past five years and where it now needs to start heading. After doing that, plan on how you will start turning those flat sales around.

The past few years have been an experience of dramatic changes for the majority of businesses. The retail supermarket activity was no exception, as it went through multiple stages of cost-cutting, including some unpleasant labor losses. Emphasis was placed on trying to salvage the business rather than expand it.

Tomato-Display1Promoting key drivers in the produce department, like tomatoes, will make the difference in boosting sales levels and profit dollars.Now that most grocery stores have pulled through the financial crisis and business has started on an upward swing, it’s a good time to start focusing on moving produce sales from a survival mode to a growth mode once again.

There are several sales-boosting strategies that can be applied, but it should always be for profitability purposes other than just sales. Always remember that sales without a profit is like eating soup with a fork.

Much of the grocery store advertising programs have been to promote popular items at rock bottom prices to protect the customer base and also keep the company from declining during the weak economic period. Those attractive low retails may have accomplished that urgent need, but it managed to just about even out sales while reducing the profit in the long run.

Normally, produce retailers often look at the gross profit percentage of an item first, while the more important aspect is the gross profit dollars. Obviously, the more product that is sold, the more gross profit dollars are generated. Those valuable profit dollars are mainly built from high-volume items.

Promoting the key drivers in the produce department will make the difference in boosting sales levels and profit dollars faster than the less-demanding items. Therefore, putting a heavy emphasis on the major items throughout the produce department will get companies back to building that profit growth again.

Concentrate on these volume items to drive sales and turn faster profit dollars: Berries, grapes, bananas, apples, stone fruit, melons, citrus, cherries, tomatoes, Iceberg lettuce, packaged salad mixes, asparagus, potatoes, onions, peppers, carrots, cucumbers and mushrooms.

When setting displays, expand the space allocation of these listed items whether advertised or unadvertised. Build some massive waterfall displays to create a visual impact in attracting shoppers. Set up wing displays alongside table endcaps and auxiliary displays for incremental sales.

Nothing captures customers more during this time of the season than a very attractive berry display. A front entrance display of California strawberries along with red raspberries, blackberries, blueberries and other varieties will surely score big in sales and pump up those profit dollars.

Summer stone fruit, grapes, cherries and melons are all huge sales generators. Asparagus, tomatoes, peppers, potatoes and lettuce should also be planned for display space expansion. Large-scale commodities like these deserve massive displays on table endcaps and entrance locations in order to capture customers’ attention and draw them over to make ample purchases.

Just consider that the vast choices of tomatoes and peppers made available to consumers today are bringing in some hefty supplemental sales. Recognize also that most of the red, orange and yellow peppers are retailing at an average of a dollar each in most markets. Those dollar sales add up fast and return more profit to a company.

The other area to look at is the case retail of each item. For example, while an 18-pound case of grapes at $1.99 per pound generates $35.82 worth of sales, a case of 14 one-pound bag radishes selling for $1.49 will return $20.86. When planning your merchandising, make sure to calculate the dollar value of each display.

In other words, if it takes 15 cases of grapes at $1.99 per pound to set up a nice massive display, then the value of that display is $537.30. Always know how much in sales each display will be contributing to your overall department sales. Make the labor effort you put into each display pay off.

It’s time now to think bigger and expand on the top items that drive most of the sales dollar volume. High-volume strategy is the key to produce growth. Always measure your key drivers to find out how they are performing. It will tell you where and how to focus your efforts for increasing sales.

Onion harvest in state’s Imperial Valley expected to start late April

With favorable weather during the growing season, onion growers in California’s Imperial Valley are expecting good yields, good size and good quality this year. Anticipating start dates for harvest in truckload volumes range from April 21 to May 1, although some early harvesting had already begun as of the second week of April.

“As you drive through the valley right now, you can really smell the onions,” said Kay Pricola, executive director of the Imperial Valley Vegetable Growers Association, April 11. “It smells wonderful.”

The Imperial Valley, one of California’s major onion growing districts and the earliest to harvest, is located at the southern tip of California, about 130 miles inland from San Diego. “This was a former sea,” said Pricola. “We are below sea level.” It is a desert area irrigated with water from the Colorado River “thanks to some brilliant pioneers.”

02-CalOnions-displayA retail display in a California supermarket. (Photo by Rand Green)When the current water contracts and agreements were made in the 1930s, “no one wanted the water, because at that point it was not considered great water. Now everyone wants it,” she said. “All things are relative.”

Although California is in its third year of a severe drought, onion growers in the Imperial Valley say they have sufficient water for this year’s crop. However, they are concerned about the water situation should the drought continue for another year.

From a soil perspective, the valley is well suited to onions. “Our soil is fairly unique, because it is an old ocean bed,” Pricola said. “There is high salinity to our soil, and there are a lot of soil types. Farmers around here have creatively figured out how to get high production on those varieties of soil” with crops that will tolerate the salt content of the soil, and onions are among the crops that do well in those soils.

“All types of onions” are grown in the valley, she said. That includes red, yellow and white storage onions, sweet onions and even green onions.

The total acreage planted to onions in the Imperial Valley in 2012, the most recent year for which final data are available, was around 8,500 acres. Roughly half of the production grown is for the fresh or fresh-cut market and a similar amount for processing. Seed onions are also an important crop.

Statewide in 2013, total bulb onion production in California was about 50,000 acres, a figure that normally doesn’t fluctuate much from year to year, according to Robert C. (Bob) Ehn, chief executive officer and technical manager of the California Garlic & Onion Research Advisory Board, which represents processed onion producers in the state.

According to a publication from the University of California Research & Information Center entitled “Fresh-Market Bulb Onion Production in California,” the main production areas for onions in California are “the low desert (Imperial and Riverside Counties), the San Joaquin Valley (Fresno, Kern and San Joaquin Counties), the Southern and Central Coast (Monterey, San Benito, Santa Clara and Ventura counties) and the high desert (eastern Los Angeles County). Bulb onions are planted September through May. Harvest begins in April or May and is usually completed in September.”

Fresh market and fresh-cut onions make up about 45 percent of total bulb onion acreage in the state, according to the UC publication. California ranks among the top fresh-bulb-producing states in the United States.

Great Big Idaho Potato Truck hits the road with health message for women

The head-turning, jaw-dropping Great Big Idaho Potato Truck is back on the road for its third consecutive cross-country tour with a new message for women: Take care of your heart.

The five-month 2014 Big Idaho Potato Truck Tour kicked off in Boise, ID, with waves, cheers and hugs from the students of Riverside Elementary School and salutes from soldiers at the Air Force Base in Mountain Home.

In 2011, fresh Idaho potatoes were certified by the American Heart Association's Heart-Check Food Certification Program by meeting the program's nutrition requirements and they now bear the highly recognized and respected Heart-Check mark on the packaging.

This recognition is profoundly helpful in reminding consumers that Idaho potatoes can be a part of their everyday diet. Knowing that heart disease is the No. 1 killer of women (mothers, sisters, daughters, friends) and is more deadly than all forms of cancer combined, it's more important than ever that women understand the role both diet and exercise play in achieving a healthy lifestyle.

"The Idaho Potato Commission's support of the American Heart Association's Go Red For Women movement provides another new and exciting way we can remind consumers, especially women, of the nutritional benefits Idaho potatoes offer," Frank Muir, president and chief executive officer of the Idaho Potato Commission, said in a press release. "In addition to a new charity beneficiary, we've rebranded the truck so it showcases fresh Idaho potatoes prepared in various ways and creatively communicates the potato's nutritional benefits."

"The American Heart Association's Go Red For Women movement is grateful to the Idaho Potato Commission for supporting us in our fight against heart disease in women," Bernie Dennis, chairman of the American Heart Association national board of directors, added in the press release. "This is an exciting opportunity for the Idaho Potato Commission to help educate consumers on ways they can prevent heart disease through diet and exercise."

In 2014, the truck will visit 26 states and travel close to 19,000 miles during a five-month period. The truck and its seasoned traveling Tater Team will stop at high traffic events like the Kentucky Derby, the Art Car Parade and Festival in Houston and the 55th World Lumberjack Competition in Hayward, WI. In between events, the truck will visit key retailers and foodservice operators, and local places of interest it finds along the way.