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California Giant enters fall berry season

Autumn will begin just in time for California Giant Berry Farms’ fall strawberry crop from Santa Maria, CA, complementing the harvest still under way in Watsonville and Salinas. Typically this was considered the tail end of the season, but now with the added volume the company has fruit to support consumer demand for year-round fresh strawberries.fall-crop-2

The company is expecting the volume to be strong from both Santa Maria and the Watsonville/Salinas district well into fall through holidays in October and November if weather continues to be favorable. However, this year that is a double-edged sword with California farmers hoping for a strong rainy season due to drought conditions. 

At the same time, blueberry season is beginning again in South America as the Pacific Northwest season winds down.  California Giant expects excellent quality and promotable volume of fresh blueberries beginning in October from regions in South America and extending well into the Spring.

Holidays like Halloween and Thanksgiving are at peak times for retail grocery shopping, and California Giant is in constant dialogue with its consumers on ways to include their fresh berries in the mix, as well as featuring themed consumer promotions and contests. 

Programs on tap include back-to-school promotions, Halloween recipe ideas and a recipe promotion highlighting Breast Cancer Awareness Month in October.

Food Blogger partners are also creating unique recipes, entertaining tips and Pinterest pages featuring California Giant fresh berries that extend the company’s reach during this time period with innovative ideas.

United Fresh focuses on transportation, import rules at Washington Conference

WASHINGTON — The United Fresh Produce Association met with federal lawmakers recently carrying a short list of must-haves at its Washington Conference, but the three-day meeting also delved into a list of regulations the produce industry is closely scrutinizing.

The Food Safety Modernization Act's proposed regulation for sanitary transportation includes a provision that could easily render shipments adulterated if records show a variation in temperature controls, Jon Samson of the Agricultural & Food Transporters Conference said at a Sept. 9 session, here.

"This could substantially increase cargo claims," he warned. "We want more flexibility in the rule."

The Food & Drug Administration's first federal rule for hauling food underestimates compliance costs and exempts small trucking companies, which could hurt their businesses in the long run, he warned. More than 90 percent of trucking companies operate six trucks or fewer, and refrigerated truck companies are even smaller, he said.

The FDA needs to provide details on a range of issues, including how and who will maintain records, before the rule becomes final by March 2016.

Samson said the American Trucking Association also is working with Congress to suspend some provisions of the hours-of-service changes that were implemented in July 2013. The rule requires a 30-minute break during the first eight-hour shift. But depending on the shifts, carriers could end up having to take two 30-minute rest periods to comply with the rule, and that's costly, he said.

Legislation that would delay enforcement of the rules for at least a year while a study is undertaken is moving through Congress, Samson said.

Imports have their own issues, and Lance Jungmeyer, president of the Fresh Produce Association, said changes are needed to ease the flow of trade.

More Customs officials are needed on the U.S. side for the nation's busiest ports of entry, and a memorandum of understanding that would have the U.S. government recognize Mexico's food safety and quality inspections would go a long way, Jungmeyer said.

Importers are keeping a close eye on the FDA's plans to collect importer fees to pay for FSMA, a move that would affect border crossings, he said.

"Each new fee may invite retaliatory measures by foreign governments," Jungmeyer warned.

Other changes on the produce industry's plate include the Animal Plant & Health Inspection Service's proposed user fees for inspection services to prevent pests and diseases and changes to container inspections.

Food Lion bagged apples to help provide 1 million meals to families in need

Food Lion is partnering with its customers to help solve hunger by launching specially marked Food Lion Feeds bagged apples for sale in its stores. The effort will help provide 1 million meals to feed families facing hunger in local communities across the grocer’s 10-state footprint.

With the sale of each bag through Oct. 7, or while supplies last, Food Lion will donate five meals to local food banks, in partnership with Feeding America. The bags will maintain an MVP Sale price of $2.99 throughout the campaign, just in time for parents to pick up healthy snacks for children back in school.

Through Food Lion Feeds, Food Lion is uniting with customers and partners to help eliminate the difficult choices many families are forced to make when they are struggling with hunger. The specially marked bagged apples are the second of three in-store Food Lion Feeds campaigns in 2014.

Through the sale of special Food Lion Feeds reusable bags made available earlier this year, Food Lion will provide 1 million meals to local food banks in partnership with its customers. The specially marked apples are anticipated to provide an additional 1 million meals.

The in-store campaigns support Food Lion’s work toward its goal of providing 500 million meals to families in need in its local communities by the end of 2020.

Two new dehydration facilities in North Carolina to open, another possible

DEHYDRATION-SWEET-POTATOES1North Carolina is the nation’s leading grower of both sweet potatoes and tobacco, and two or possibly three new facilities opening Sept. 30 and in the second quarter of 2015 will build on both products to create new markets for farmers. The new companies will be located in Farmville and Nashville, and possibly Goldsboro, in eastern North Carolina where about half of U.S. sweet potatoes are grown.

The plants will produce dried sweet potatoes — sliced, diced or ground into flour — and juices that will compete in the $60 billion global health and wellness beverage market, the $143 billion U.S. healthy foods market and the global pet food market, expected to reach $74.8 billion by 2017.DEHYDRATION-SWEETSue Johnson-Langdon, executive director of the N.C. Sweet Potato Commission poses at its offices in Benson, NC, with chips, triscuits, pancake mix, baby food and other sweet potato value-added products that have expanded sales. The U.S. grows less than 1 percent of the world’s sweet potatoes, one analyst asserted, but imports have raised food-safety concerns that make U.S. domestic production more competitive.

An estimated 60 percent of North Carolina’s sweet potato growers also grow tobacco. There are about 1,800 tobacco farms in the state, employing 30,000 workers picking 400 million pounds of tobacco a year.

The original idea behind the facilities, first hatched in 2011 by researchers at North Carolina State University in Raleigh, is that farmers could use sweet potatoes as a crop in tandem with tobacco.

Sue Johnson-Langdon, executive director of the North Carolina Sweet Potato Commission in Benson, NC, said the new facilities will allow Tar Heel growers to compete with Chinese imports used in pet food and animal feed produced in the United States. She estimates that 25 percent to 30 percent of the sweet potatoes grown here are not harvested, or are culled out during processing because they are too big, too small or misshapen.

“The dehydration facilities will provide a value-added process that enables the entire sweet potato crop to be sold and used,” Johnson-Langdon said. She noted that value-added processes have improved sweet potato sales since 2001, as sweet potato chips and fries were added, along with microwaveable sweet potatoes, sweet potato vodka and beer, and even a sweet potato health drink.   

Carolina Innovative Food Ingredients operations in Nashville will be managed by Universal Leaf North America, a tobacco company subsidiary. John W. Kimber assumed duties in February as chief operating officer. For the past 13 years he was project manager of the North Carolina Sweet Potato Commission Foundation in Benson, where he secured and managed $2 million in public grants.

CIFI is a business-to-business operation, and has no plans to offer its own consumer products, Kimber said in a Sept. 15 interview. The company plans to start operations in the second quarter of 2015, spending $19 million over the first two years on new state-of-the-art facilities and hiring 64 employees when full production is reached.

Natural Blend Vegetable Dehydration LLC in Farmville, NC, will be managed by Ham Produce Co. in Snow Hill, NC. It will begin operations with an opening ceremony Sept. 30. Ham Produce will invest $12 million over next three years and create 57 jobs with average annual salaries of $38,123 plus benefits (average annual wage in Pitt County is $33,769, according to the N.C. Department of Commerce).

"Since we bought the Farmville facility in 2009, it has been our goal to bring jobs back to Farmville," Stacy Ham, vice president of Ham Produce, told The Produce News in an interview.

The potential operation in Goldsboro is still in the planning stages at Lansing Trade Group in Maumee, OH, and officials there declined to say when or even whether it would be launched. Lansing buys and sells commodities including whole grains, feed ingredients, energy products and freight in North America and internationally.

Love Beets unveils new branding as beet trend grows

lovebeetsLove Beets, a line of premium, all-natural, ready-to-eat beets, announced a company-wide rebranding campaign, featuring a fresh new look that more accurately reflects the brand's whimsical approach to preparing and eating beets. Its new, state-of-the-art packaging better aligns with its commitment to providing consumers with the best-tasting, highest-quality products. The new branding will hit shelves this month and will continue to roll out nationwide through the end of the year.

Love Beets' aesthetic shines a spotlight on both the brand's upbeat, cheeky personality and the beet itself, and challenges age-old stereotypes around eating this notoriously intimidating vegetable. The brand's logo, vibrant color pallet and signature smiley faces found on the front of its packages make beets approachable and remind consumers why they should incorporate this trending superfood into their daily diet.

"The creative evolution of Love Beets really brings to life the idea that beets are modern, fun and can be enjoyed by consumers of all ages," George Shropshire, vice president of Love Beets, said in a press release. "We're excited to reveal a whole new look and technology that make beets a hassle-free experience and even easier to snack on whenever, wherever."

Updated packaging for Love Beets products also adds greater visibility and accessibility for consumers on shelf and at home. Innovations include the following:

  • Marinated Baby Beets in five flavors: New packs feature state-of-the-art peel-and-seal technology to keep each beet fresher for longer and allow for easier portioning and storage across meals, snacks and recipes. The packs now stand upright and may be opened and closed several times.
  • Vacuum-Packed Cooked Beets (two varieties):  A new and improved seal keeps beet juices locked in and reduces the risk of refrigerator messes.
  • Beet Juices (three flavors): Beet Juice, Super Tasty and a new Organic Beet Juice boast new, sleek container designs and sizes. Consumers will now be able to choose a 14-ounce re-usable glass bottle or a larger 20-ounce plastic bottle, all available in late November.
  • Club Pack (two varieties): Labels have also been re-imagined with a series of delicious recipes and directions for how to prepare beets.

Love Beets' newly designed website and social platforms feature highly interactive and responsive sections, rich imagery and a lifestyle blog that will highlight health benefits of beets and their many uses — from salads and entrees to smoothies and desserts.

Love Beets' products are available in more than 6,500 retailers nationwide and in Canada.