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Are you ready for some football?

The produce industry sure is. No matter which way you cut it, the produce industry is sure to score big this Super Bowl season. After all, there’s no better way to watch the Big Game than with some fresh fruit and veggie-inspired snacks and dishes.CAC-Shoot-113-18

“Merchandising for the Big Game is a very smart idea for produce,” said Jan DeLyser, vice president of the California Avocado Commission. “For the avocado category, the weeks leading up to Super Bowl traditionally experience some of the highest volume of the year. Guacamole and Super Bowl are inexorably linked now, and beyond that, consumers are including avocados in their game day salads, sandwiches and snacks.”

Produce companies can certainly attest to that. Brent Scattini, vice president of sales and marketing for Oxnard, CA-based Mission Produce, said the Super Bowl generates around $60 million in avocado sales, which is second only to Cinco De Mayo.

“Last year, volume was up 17 percent vs. 2016,” he told The Produce News. “The great thing this year is supplies are ample, with good-quality avocados for all kinds of promotional activities nationwide.”

Scattini stressed the importance of having ripe fruit on store shelves, or the option for customers to buy product that is ready to eat in two to three days, or four to five days.

“Offering consumers a few different options in regard to ripeness is important,” he said. “And having ripe fruit on the shelf is the most paramount activity.”

Eye-catching displays and cross-promotions are key when it comes to Super Bowl sales, and the weeks leading up to the event are a great opportunity for companies and stores to up their merchandising game.

“Within retail spaces, high-impulse and unplanned purchases are driven by displays, so our merchandising team works with produce managers to build dynamic arrangements in the produce department and other high-traffic areas in the store,” said Valerie Sherman, communications and engagement manager at Bakersfield, CA-based Grimmway Farms.

Sherman noted that Grimmway’s party favorite Carrot Stixx and baby carrots are ideal for dipping and snacking while watching the Big Game.

“Cross-promoting our value-added carrots with hummus and guacamole plays right into the healthy eating and convenience trends that consumers are looking for when shopping for fresh options,” she added.

Speaking of snacking, Camille Balfanz, brand manager for Litehouse Foods Inc., headquartered in Sanpoint, ID, suggests retailers drive sales by creating in-store snacking destinations that align with the Big Game.

“For example, combining chicken wings, celery and Litehouse dressing in a secondary display has proven to be a huge success for retailers,” she said. “Consumers see a one-stop shop, maximizing convenience and increasing sales at the register.”

Balfanz noted a campaign that has been “highly effective” for Litehouse is its Bring on the Heat football promotion, which features Litehouse Chunky Blue Cheese and Homestyle Ranch dressings as the perfect dips to compliment veggies and hot wings.

“We create an integrated marketing campaign that included on-shelf promotion, in-store signage and POS materials and secondary display support,” she said. “To drive consumers to retail, we amplify the promotion with our 500,000-plus Facebook fans and across our other digital platforms.”

During this year’s promotion, consumers can also enter a sweepstakes to win a 65-inch flat screen TV when they vote for their favorite dip on the Litehouse website or Facebook page.

Litehouse isn’t the only one going big this Super Bowl season. Wadena, MN-based Russ Davis Wholesale also has some major plans and promotions in the works leading up to the Super Bowl, especially since the Big Game will be held right in its backyard in Minneapolis.

“Our vision over the last two to three years has been to make the produce aisle the new snack aisle,” said Pat Miller, vice president of Russ Davis Wholesale. “These next few weeks leading up to the Super Bowl is a great opportunity to stress that and get some healthy snack options for the Big Game and drive more retail produce sales.”

Russ Davis is a wholesale distribution company with its own Crazy Fresh Produce brand, which includes four different kinds of fresh tableside guacamole — perfect for Super Bowl festivities.

“We also do a quick-and- easy microwaveable spinach and artichoke dip,” Miller added. “If the consumer doesn’t want to buy all those ingredients, they can buy this off the shelf, throw it in the microwave for a few minutes and have an incredible dip.”

Crazy Fresh Produce also has its own line of white corn Gorilla Chips, which pair well with any of its salsas, guacamoles and dips.

“It’s a fantastic pairing and adding more items to the shopping cart,” Miller said. “If consumers are going to buy two or three dips, they’re going to buy tortilla chips.”

As far as game day promotions, Russ Davis is using the power of social media to incentivize consumers with contests and giveaways, including party packs, big screen TV, and Crazy Fresh Produce apparel. It’s also helping its retail partners out with in-store promotion contests and demos.

“Our main goal is to drive more sales for our retail partners,” Miller said. “Demos build bigger shopping baskets at retail — that’s such a key part to business.”

Fruit Logistica, the international trade fair for fresh produce marketing, attracts more than 75,000 trade visitors from about 130 countries each year. The 2018 event will once again be held at the Berlin ExpoCenter City and City Cube in Messe, Berlin, Germany, on Feb. 7-9.

More than 3,000 exhibitors from more than 80 countries will showcase products and services from all levels of the value chain, along with a variety of interesting innovations. This event is a key facilitator for business in the fresh produce trade and is intended to create more diverse offerings for retailers.USA-Pavilion MBThe USA Pavillion at Fruit Logistica 2017.

More than 30 U.S. and Canadian companies will exhibit in their country’s perspective pavilion. Potato, apple and sweet potato growers and distributors, as well as specialty producers such as POM Wonderful will have a strong presence. Approximately 30 U.S. companies will exhibit outside of the pavilion, including Nature’s Frequencies’ Food Freshness Card.

The trade show has much more to offer than impressive facts and figures. It serves as a valuable innovation platform for the international fresh produce trade.

The Fruitnet World of Fresh Ideas will take place on Feb. 6, one day before the exhibition opens. This event serves as a kickoff for inspiration and innovative solutions in the world of fresh fruits and vegetables. Drawing on a global network of fresh produce insights and contacts, Fruitnet Media International’s senior journalists bring together a panel of international experts to explore what’s new and inspiring in the world of fresh produce today.

The international scientific conference focuses on water efficiency across the fresh produce value chain, from production to the point of sale. Featuring about 40 scientific presentations, the FRUTIC Symposium offers an ideal platform for discussions and information sharing among experts from the research community and fresh produce sector. Scientists will also present their topics in the Fresh Produce Forum and Future Lab on the remaining Fruit Logistica trade fair days.

“A variety of conferences, seminars and panel discussions offer Fruit Logistica trade visitors a chance to learn about the latest industry issues, opportunities and trends,” said Fruit Logistica Global Brand Manager Wilfried Wollbold. “They include the Fresh Produce Forum, Logistics Hub, Tech Stage and Future Lab.”

One of the key questions facing the industry is what lies ahead for the fresh produce trade. “The comprehensive Fruit Logistica supporting program presents and discusses answers, innovative solutions and current trends. All events at the leading international fresh produce trade fair will be simultaneously interpreted into German, English, French, Italian and Spanish,” added Wollbold.

The Future Lab will feature products designed to enhance the product range and what’s new in production. The Logistics Hub offers information and answers for logistics professionals and beginners. The session includes topics such as understanding logistics’ costs, airfreight trends and temperature and ethylene.

The Fresh Produce Forum session examines the roll of traditional public relations compared to social media, and addresses the right way to communicate, both within the added-value chain and with consumers.

“Without the right technology, even the best product may be worth only half as much in the end,” said Wollbold. “The Tech Stage is where numerous exhibitors present interesting solutions.”

This includes: the digital dividend, which examines how big data can yield big results for the food industry; fruit trading 4.0, using ERP software to artificial intelligence; and Interko, the pioneering of revolutionary fruit ripening technology.

The Fruit Logistica Innovation Award is presented for outstanding new advancements in the fresh produce sector and related service industries. Over the past twelve years, the FLIA has gained international recognition and an outstanding reputation in the professional world.

The 2018 Innovation Award nominees are as innovative and impressive as ever. Show attendees can cast their vote on Feb. 7 and 8, and the award will be presented on Feb. 9.

“The FLIA has become the global fresh produce industry’s most important award because the selections are made by industry professionals,” said Wollbold. “It recognizes outstanding innovations across the entire fresh produce supply chain, from production to the point of sale. The innovations can be products, services or technical innovations.”

Brain foods and carb alternatives are two of the hottest healthy eating trends for 2018, and shoppers will be looking in the produce department to find what they need.image004

“Shoppers are always trying to make healthier choices at the beginning of the year, which includes seeking out fresh produce they read or hear about in the food trend lists,” said Alex Jackson Berkley, assistant sales manager of Frieda’s Specialty Produce. “Retailers must be ready to meet the demand.”

Many health publications, including Today’s Dietitian magazine, point to brain foods as one of the top trends for 2018. These are foods that help with cognitive function, memory, and alertness. Some brain-healthy foods include fresh fruits and vegetables high in anthocyanin, the antioxidant in blue-purple foods like blueberries, purple grapes, and Stokes Purple sweet potatoes.

The National Restaurant Association and Natural Grocers see a trend in vegetables as carb substitutes — from spiralized vegetable noodles for pasta to sweet potato slices as “toasts.” Adding vegetables to unexpected dishes like oatmeal, smoothies and desserts to add nutritional values, colors and flavors is also on trend.

“The Stokes Purple sweet potato is on those lists as a hip and healthy food to eat in 2018,” said Berkley. “In addition to being a source of brain-healthy anthocyanin, Stokes Purple sweet potato fans have been adding them to everything from breakfast burritos to brownies.

“Retailers can tie in the ‘Power of Purple’ with Ultra Violet being 2018’s color of the year for their promotions,” added Berkley. In December, Pantone, the global authority on color, announced Ultra Violet as the color of 2018 that will be seen everywhere from fashion to food.

Several different people in the produce industry are calling the current transportation shortages as bad as they have ever seen at this time of year, with mixed opinions about how soon relief might come.

“If it doesn’t ease up by February, watch out,” Kenny Lund, vice president of support operations for the Allen Lund Co., based in La Canada Flintridge, CA, said on Monday, Jan. 15. “The next two weeks are going to be critical. If there aren’t a lot more trucks out there in February, then we could have shortages all year. I have never seen it like this in January.”

Trent Bishop, vice president of Lone Star Citrus Growers, based in Mission, TX, echoed the same sentiments, noting that he has never seen such a truck shortage in Texas in the month of January in the two decades that he has been in the citrus business. “We have 20 loads that are uncovered,” he said in early January. “We’re banging the phones trying to find trucks.”

Bishop said the truck rate from the Rio Grande Valley to Los Angeles has doubled in a bit more than a month’s time. Looking at his books, he noted that in late November the rate was $2,700. “Today (Jan. 8), the rate is $5,500,” he said.

Lund said certain lanes — including coming out of Texas — are especially difficult. Across the board, he said rates are up about 20 percent in the last month.

Greg Paulson, president and owner of Giltner Inc., a transportation firm based in Jerome, ID, said he is trying to keep the rates down and not gouge his current customers. “We’re not up 20 percent, but I’d say we’re up 10. We’re using this to try to open doors and not abuse our customers. Hopefully they will remember us when trucks are plentiful.”

Both Paulson and Lund credited a robust economy for being the most important factor in the current truck shortage situation. “The No. 1 reason is the economy,” Lund said. “The economy is booming. There are a lot more loads out there. In 2017, our load volume was up 17 percent.”

He said all sectors of the economy are up creating a greater demand for the movement of freight. That creates a shortage of equipment and higher rates, using the basic economic principles of supply and demand.

Paulson agreed, adding that the strong economy is also producing jobs luring some truck drivers into work situations closer to their home. This increased demand and lack of equipment is especially impactful on the fresh produce industry. Paulson said that hauling fresh produce has its own challenges and truckers avoid it if they have other high-priced hauls available.

While neither Lund nor Paulson believe the new electronic logging device (ELD) regulation is the primary cause of the current shortage, they both said it has played a role. Lund said even if it reduces volume just 5 percent, that could have a big impact. He said the new regulations would cause the produce industry to change its standard operating procedures. The Allen Lund Co. offers a dock-scheduling program so he admits to being prejudice concerning the need to switch to scheduled appointments rather than a first-come, first-loaded protocol. “We just can’t have trucks showing up and having to wait four or five hours to be loaded. That just doesn’t work anymore,” he said.

The new ELD regulation doesn’t change the hours of service regulations but it does make drivers adhere to them electronically. With the demise of paper logbooks, stretching the truth is no longer viable. For example, wait time at a dock while being loaded counts toward drive time. Paulson said his company shifted to electronic logging devices several years ago, so to him the new regulation merely levels the playing field and prevents those who were fudging from breaking the rules.

Bishop said the end result is causing havoc for shippers. “The ELD mandate is causing problems that we have never experienced before,” he said. “We just can’t get trucks. Each of us on the sales desk is holding orders that we haven’t turned in because there are no wheels to put under them.”

Adam Cooper, vice president of marketing for The Wonderful Co., based in Los Angeles, also noted the transportation problems. “Transportation has been a challenging factor to doing business. Recent regulations have resulted in increased transit times and less availability of trucks, making logistics more difficult and more expensive,” he said.

To help alleviate problems, The Wonderful Co. has added distribution centers across the country. “We anticipate our newly added distribution points will be a big advantage moving forward,” said Cooper.

Paulson took a philosophic approach to the situation and said that over time the shortage situation will right itself. “It’s a fragile balance with 3-4 percent more movement creating a big shortage,” he said. “But right now there are record truck sales out there. It’s hard to predict when it will correct itself but it will. I have been a beggar and I have been a chooser. Right now I am a chooser, but I know I’m going to be a beggar again before too long.”

The Kroger Co. is actively recruiting experienced retail and digital and technology talent for new and open corporate and store management roles across its family of companies.krolog

"With so many recent changes in the retail landscape, we recognize there are talented individuals in our communities who may be searching for a new career with a new company," said Tim Massa, Kroger's group vice president of human resources and labor relations. "As we continue to grow and redefine the customer experience through Restock Kroger, there has never been a better time to join The Kroger Co."

As part of Restock Kroger, the company is also investing an incremental $500 million in human capital over the next three years. This will be in addition to Kroger's continued efforts to rebalance store associate pay and benefits while also focusing on certifications, performance incentives, advancement opportunities and training for associates.

"We want retail and digital and tech talent to know that we're hiring," Massa added.

Interested candidates are encouraged to apply at jobs.kroger.com.