San Luis Valley reporting good crop for 2015, organic acreage on the rise

Monte Vista, CO — With 52,900 acres of potatoes on the receiving end of good rainfall and not much hail throughout the growing season, Colorado’s San Luis Valley was getting ready in August to harvest what growers and shippers were describing as a good crop size-, yield- and quality-wise.

Jim Ehrlich, executive director of the Colorado Potato Administrative Committee based in Monte Vista, said he had spoken with a crop consultant in mid-August, and Ehrlich said, “I think it’s going to be a good crop. There’s no reason to think otherwise.”potatofieldopenercoloradopotatoesAbundant moisture and plenty of summer sunshine have resulted in a good crop of potatoes from Colorado’s San Luis Valley. (Photo by Kathleen Thomas Gaspar)

In June Ehrlich said the area had received more rain in May “than we ever had before,” and in August, he said, “We will have an above-average runoff for the year at 650,000 acre feet. I think we’re in very good shape. Well pressure and the water table came up in June, and we basically made it through another year.”

The director said new state regulations are coming out that will require the formation of water subdistricts on the south side of the Rio Grande River, which runs on the diagonal west-to-east through the valley.

“If the regulations do come out and no one sues, they’ll be enforced,” Ehrlich said.

While potato vines were being killed and the area prepared for harvest, Ehrlich shared figures from the 2014-15 shipping season, saying by the end of July the region had shipped nearly 14 million cwt of fresh market spuds. That number was closer to 15 million with process counted, he said.

The Aug. 6 issue of Spud Item, CPAC’s monthly newsletter, showed 2,561 shipments for the month of July, compared to 2,291 in July 2014 and 1,839 in 2013. Shipments to date were 30,325, compared to 29,344 in 2014 and 31,988 in 2013.

Of note this year is the increase of organic acreage, which multiple sources said is now more than 4,000 acres. Ehrlich could not confirm that number, but he did say the category continues to grow.

“Our conventional yellow market is also expanding,” he said. “It grows between 8 and 10 percent each year nationally, and it’s gaining traction. Russet Norkotahs continue to represent the most overall potato acreage in the area, he said. Reds are a considerably smaller percentage, and the Sangre is the No. 1 variety.

Fingerlings and specialty spuds are also on the increase in San Luis Valley production.

Looking at marketplaces, Ehrlich said Mexico remains a good buyer for Colorado spuds. Though U.S. potatoes are only allowed as far into Mexico as the current 26-kilometer buffer zone, the National Potato Council and the U.S. Potato Board, along with the USDA, are working to reverse decisions by Mexican courts that stop U.S. potatoes from going beyond that point.

Ehrlich said the first of eight hearings in Mexican courts was favorable to the United States when an injunction to prevent shipping was ruled invalid by a Mexican judge.

U.S. shippers, Mexican importers and Mexican grocery stores have all challenged such temporary injunctions, and this first ruling was cause for optimism.

“But it doesn’t really change anything at this point,” Ehrlich said. “We still have to go through the legal process. If the interior of Mexico were to open up, huge opportunities would be available to the entire potato industry. In the meantime, we have a trade mission coming from Central America and Mexico through the Western U.S. Trade Association and the Colorado Department of Agriculture, and we have a consultant in Mexico working on market research.”

New Domex 'Superfresh Kids' pear pouch bags feature eat brighter! artwork

superfresh-kids-pear-pouches-2

This fall, Domex Superfresh Growers will debut a new line of two-pound gusseted Superfresh Kids-themed pear pouch bags with "Sesame Street" characters in support of the eat brighter! campaign.

The eat brighter! campaign is a unique and powerful partnership with Sesame Workshop and the Produce Marketing Association, in collaboration with the Partnership for a Healthier America, that encourages kids ages 2 to 5 to eat more fresh fruits and vegetables.

"Pears are a terrific fruit for kids of all ages. The many different varieties provide ample flavor and snacking opportunities with a variety of uses," Howard Nager, vice president of marketing Domex Superfresh Growers, said in a press release. "In addition to showcasing 'Sesame Street' characters, our new bags will also carry our own Superfresh Kids-theme branding, which features artwork of kids participating in various outdoor activities. We didn’t forget about all the moms and dads out there, the back of each bag provides ripening tips for achieving optimal flavor. We feel very strongly about connecting the grower with the consumer in an effort to showcase their dedication, energy and passion for growing the safest, best-tasting and most-nutritious products.”

There will be a separate pouch for Bartlett, Bosc, Anjou and Red Pear varieties. Individual varieties will be available in both conventional and organic options and each bag will feature bilingual information satisfying Canadian export requirements.

"This year’s pear crop is shaping up to provide excellent eating quality and flavor," Nager said. "Sizing will lean toward smaller fruit, which is ideal for the two-pound pouches. IRI data for the 52-week period ending June 14, 2015 has shown that dollar sales of bagged pears increased 15 percent over the previous 52-week period and it now represents 9 percent of dollar sales in the pear category.”

Domex Superfresh Growers works closely with its partner, Blue Bird Inc. of Wenatchee, WA, to grow, pack and ship some of the finest quality pears in the Pacific Northwest while representing almost 10 percent of the Northwest pear crop and over 25 percent of the organic supply.

Domex will conduct a social media campaign this fall supported by the hashtag #eatpears, where consumers will have an opportunity to win prizes.

QPMA convention unites members around ‘A Healthy Industry, a Shared Responsibility’

QUEBEC CITY — With the theme “A Healthy Industry, a Shared Responsibility,” the Quebec Produce Marketing Association held its 68th annual convention Aug. 20-22 at the Fairmont Le Château Frontenac, here.

Convention delegates found a unique and enriching convention waiting for them, starting with a warm personal welcome from 2014-15 QPMA board president Sammy Cacciatore of Sun Grape Marketing and convention chairman Patrice Alain of Metro, followed by three days of networking, conferences, meetings and special themed evenings.

A new year — and new faces

The annual general meeting of the QPMA membership included election of a new board of directors and appointment of officers. Roland Lafont of Vergers Saint-Paul is now QPMA second vice president, while Pascal Guérin of JAG - Les Jardins A. Guérin et fils was elected to the board, representing the Growers-Packers-Processors-Shippers sector. Marie Gosselin of Mûr conseil joined the ranks of QPMA governors.

The event was also an opportunity for outgoing board president Sammy Cacciatore to thank his fellow board members for their active support during the past year.

“Each of you, each of us, shares the responsibility of fulfilling the QPMA mission, each according to our abilities and talents,” Cacciatore said. “And ours is certainly a healthy association, when you think of all the terrific projects the QPMA continues to deliver.”

The annual QPMA activities report was presented by Gosselin, one of the association’s acting directors while CEO Sophie Perreault is on maternity leave.

Guest speakers deliver the goods

Among the opportunities for convention-goers this year was a stimulating conference on the issues involving e-commerce in the produce industry led by Jacques Nantel, head of the marketing education department and director of programs at HEC Montréal. Nantel’s talk provided a major overview of new trends in e-commerce and their impact on consumer behavior patterns.

A session entitled “Stress on the Job,” was presented by Sonia Lupien, who explained to her audience what stress really is and how to better understand and cope with their own stress-related reactions. Lupien also offered some practical, down-to-earth tools to help control our responses to stress in real life.

Later, at the industry brunch, Julie DesGroseilliers, nutritionist, consultant and official spokesperson for the QPMA “I love 5 to 10 Servings a Day” campaign since day one, announced the campaign’s latest and greatest spinoffs – plus names of the participants and winners in the 10th annual “I Love” contest. 

Last, but by no means least, Senegal-born humorist Boucar Diouf led the audience on a cross-culture food odyssey, “The Migration of Fruits and Vegetables.” Diouf, a former peanut farmer, charmed QPMA attendees with a presentation that featured tales from his own fascinating life.

A fun-filled convention for all

On Friday morning, participants had three activities from which to choose. Sports-minded convention-goers ignored overcast skies to take part in the morning’s “Quebec Fit & Fun” program, starting with a group warm-up and followed by a fitness-focused tour around Quebec City. QPMA epicures opted for “Workshops & Flavours,” a wine-tasting adventure featuring advice from professional sommeliers, a tapas buffet and a chance to create their own original cocktails. Food lovers, meanwhile, went on an excursion to the Île d’Orleans, where they savored the island’s unique charms, including a guided tour of local food delights.

On Thursday night, the Muse de l’Amérique Francophone chapel, which was deconsecrated in 1992, opened its doors wide to help guests celebrate the grand opening night of the convention. The chapel’s otherworldly atmosphere, enhanced by a capella vocal music and original arrangements by the group Qw4rtz, was the perfect setting to get convention goers in the groove.

On Friday evening, guests donned black and white for a James Bond-themed “007 Night” of elegance, action, martinis, gadgets and romance “from Quebec City with love.” During the evening, guests gave their best in tackling a series of mysteries posed by the emcee, or played secret agent in the video booth. Later on, they lit up the dance floor to music delivered by DJ Yo-C with backup by the talented Valérie Daure.

At the Saturday night banquet, guest of honor was Sebastian Proulx, MLA (Jean-Talon), appearing on behalf of the Quebec minister of agriculture, fisheries and food, Pierre Paradis. It was a memorable evening, led with spirit and flair by moderator Alexandra Diaz.

On this occasion, Alain Paré of Metro was honored as the 2015 Pillar of the Industry in Quebec for his distinguished professional career and personal qualities that have contributed to the advancement of the produce industry.

Next, Stephan Schmekel of Fresh Del Monte Produce (Canada) proudly accepted the QPMA board presidency for 2015-16, with “Building the Future” as his special theme in the year ahead. In his acceptance speech, Schmekel made a special appeal to young people in the produce industry.

“I’m proud to see that our association is positioned for renewal, thanks to the contributions of young men and women who are just as enthusiastically committed as all the rest of us,” Schmekel said in his address. “Those who know me personally are well aware of the importance I place on the next generation. So I’d like to take this opportunity to put out a message: If you’re young, please, get involved, because you are our industry’s future. Show how much you care, show how much better you can do it all. The more involved you get in this industry, the more you’ll get back in return.”

The evening concluded on a different note, ranging from humorous to hilarious, in a show by comedian Rachid Badoury.

Members in the spotlight

For a fourth consecutive year, the QPMA carried on its commitment to young produce industry talent in the “Cultivating the Next Generation” program, with the selection of a new intern who will have the opportunity to work for a full year inside the association.

In a frank and sincere speech, the third intern, Pierre Jr. Landry of Sobeys Québec, shared an account of his experience working with the QPMA over the past 12 months, before passing the torch to his successor.  The recruit chosen by the selection committee, Julie Lefort of Serres Lefort, is the first woman to take part in the internship program.

This year the 10th annual “I Love” contest broke all previous records with 278 participants. This year’s lucky winners, chosen in a random draw, are:

  • Email Signature category: Nick Pitsikoulis of Canadawide
  • Websites and Social Media category: Les Producteurs de pommes du Québec (Quebec Apple Growers)
  • Projects with Major Impact category: Pommes Ma-gic Apples

To mark the 10th anniversary of the contest, a special “10 Years” category was created, open to any and all companies that had taken part in the contest over the last 10 years. The winning company drawn at random was Sun Grape Marketing.

At this year’s convention the QPMA once again gave members an opportunity to spotlight their latest developments in the fourth annual New Products Showcase. This year, 22 companies took advantage of the unique opportunity.

A&P requests $5 million for execs, key management

Days after sending WARN layoff notices to more than 22,000 employees, The Great Atlantic & Pacific Tea Co. filed paperwork in hopes of using $5 million to retain 495 executives and key management employees — less than 2 percent of the overall workforce. Nearly $1 million of the funds would be divided between just 11 employees. The request was filed with the U.S. Bankruptcy Court, Southern District of New York.AP

Averaging losses of $4.5 million a month, A&P said its "wind down and ultimate closure is not a secret, and the longterm employment uncertainty has understandably caused much concern and consternation among [its] employees." Since it filed bankruptcy in mid-July, 54 "valuable employees" have been lost due to voluntary resignations. 

The company went on to say "employees are resigning at an escalating rate," including its chief operating officer, the vice president of human resources and labor relations, the director of deli and bakery, and numerous store managers and district managers.

Of the $5 million, the average payment for corporate-level employees would be $25,000, with field-level employees averaging $7,000. Eleven employees would receive more than $50,000, including two unnamed individuals who would get $125,000 each. The retention payments range from 4 percent to 63 percent of each employee's annual base salary.

Currently, A&P and unions are at odds over the reduction and possible elimination of severance payments and job payments, and Christopher W. McGarry, A&P's chief restructuring officer, said it was not feasible to include union employees in the retention plan. He noted that they are "incentivized to remain with [A&P] and perform well to increase their chances of continued employment" if another company purchases the store.

Initially upon filing for bankruptcy protection the company said it would only sell about 120 stores and close an additional 25; however, since that time A&P has started to look for bidders for its remaining 153 stores. In its request, A&P said the loss of key employees was a distraction that could undermine the sale of its assets and its ability to maximize value and preserve jobs to the detriment of all stakeholders.

United Fresh defends benefits of school nutrition policy in wake of latest study

WASHINGTON — One month before Congress must act to reauthorize school nutrition standards, the United Fresh Produce Association defended government policies to increase fresh fruits and vegetables after a new study raised questions about consumption and plate waste.

The University of Vermont study, which was released Aug. 25, used digital imaging to capture students’ lunch trays before and after they exited the lunch line, and compared results before and after the U.S. Department of Agriculture rules went into effect.

Researchers found school children consuming slightly less of fruits and vegetables, despite the new offerings.

But United Fresh said plenty of studies have shown the benefits of offering a wide variety of fruits and vegetables in schools and the role of fresh produce in battling rising obesity rates.

Last January, the Gretchen Swan Center of Nutrition evaluated the current salad bar program and found that 57 percent of schools reported an increase in student participation in school lunch where salad bars are available, said Robert Guenther, senior vice president of public policy for United Fresh.

Another study at the University of Arkansas found USDA’s Fresh Fruit & Vegetable Program has been an effective tool in reducing obesity rates in children compared to schools that do not have the FFVP program. 

“The bottom line is there are a number of factors that contribute to a student’s lunch experience and what can be associated to their eating patterns,” Guenther said. “More important, the fresh fruit and vegetable industry continues to be committed to working with their school nutrition partners across the country to provide students the best possible options for a healthy and delicious meal during school.”

The latest study comes as the Senate Agriculture Committee Chairman Pat Roberts (R-KS) has scheduled a Sept. 17 markup of bipartisan legislation reauthorizing the child nutrition programs. The current law, the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010, is due for reauthorization by Sept. 30, 2015, leaving Congress few legislative days to get the job done.