September 30, 2010

In Today's Issue:
Child Nutrition Bill Stalls in House Until Lame-Duck Session in November

Despite late-night work from United Fresh and advocates from the National Alliance for Nutrition and Activity to secure votes and urge House leadership to bring the bill to the floor for a vote, the House of Representatives decided not to bring the child nutrition bill to the floor prior to adjourning until after the mid-term elections.

Both the House and Senate are recessed until November 15. 

The Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act (S. 3307)contained provisions that directly reflect United Fresh priorities, including an increased reimbursement of $.06 per school lunch which is tied to serving healthier meals consistent with the Dietary Guidelines, including more fruits and vegetables. This represents the first increase in the reimbursement rate in 40 years. The bill would have also provided additional training for schools to serve healthier meals and strengthened school wellness policies.

Over the past two weeks, United Fresh has increased advocacy on child nutrition, sending several communiqués to all 435 members of Congress, joining 90 other nutrition and public health advocacy organizations in letters to Congress, calling House leadership, and activating grassroots advocacy with members. United Fresh thanks all of its members who sent letters to their members of Congress supporting passage of the child nutriton bill.

For more information on United's efforts on child nutrition reauthorization, contact Dr. DiSogra at 202-303-3400, ext. 403.

With Donations to D.C. Schools, United Hits 50 Salad Bars Nationwide

Leadership from United Fresh, the Cambro Manufacturing Company and the Vollrath Company with representatives from Imagine Southeast Public Charter School and Friendship Public Charter School during the Washington Public Policy Conference earlier this month.

Officials from Friendship Public Charter School inspect their new salad bar.
Through the United Fresh Foundation's A Salad Bar in Every School campaign, two additional schools in the District of Columbia - Friendship Public Charter School and the Imagine Southeast Public Charter School - have recently received new salad bars. Officials from both charter schools received their salad bars at a ceremony at the Fresh Festival on Capitol Hill during the Washington Public Policy Conference earlier this month. With the donation, seven District of Columbia schools now have new salad bars and 50 schools have salad bars nationwide through the program.

"Both the Friendship Public Charter School and the Imagine Southeast Charter School have wanted salad bars for a long time and are committed to improving their student's access to fresh fruits and vegetables at lunch," said Dr. Lorelei DiSogra, vice president for nutrition and health at United Fresh. "We thank the Cambro Manufacturing Company and the Vollrath Company, two of the nation’s largest manufacturers of salad bars, for their generous donation of this equipment to District of Columbia schools."

During the display of the salad bars on Capitol Hill earlier this month, multiple members of Congress expressed interest in how schools in their districts could receive salad bars. 

"More than 25,000 low-income elementary school students are benefiting from these first 50 salad bars," continued DiSogra. "These students have greater access to a wide variety of fresh fruits and vegetables every day at lunch. School salad bars are an evidence-based strategy to increase children's consumption of healthy, fresh fruits and vegetables. The salad bars donated through the A Salad Bar in Every School campaign are helping schools in the District of Columbia and nationally to improve the school food environment and the health of schoolchildren. There are many schools that want salad bars and we look forward to donating many more during this school year."

Launched in February 2010, the United Fresh Foundation's A Salad Bar in Every School campaign is a philanthropic produce industry initiative to donate salad bars to schools to increase children's fruit and vegetable consumption. The A Salad Bar in Every School Campaign has pledged to donate 1,000 salad bars to schools over the next three years as part of United's support for First Lady Michelle Obama's "Let's Move!" initiative. Salad bars donated through the campaign are currently benefiting more than 25,000 students in California, Connecticut, the District of Columbia, Illinois, Louisiana, Minnesota, Nevada, New York, North Carolina and Ohio.

"Research shows that children significantly increase their consumption of fruits and vegetables when their school has a fruit and vegetable salad bar," said DiSogra. "Salad bars provide children with a wide variety of fruits and vegetables to try and this increased access helps them develop personal experiences that can shape their behavior far beyond the school lunch line. Our goal is for children to develop a lifetime of healthy eating habits."

More information on the campaign can be found by clicking here. A full list of salad bars provided through the program, along with their states and schools is available by contacting United Fresh Communications Manager Patrick Delaney at 202-303-3400, ext. 417.

As Dirty Dozen List is Dug up Again, Industry Responds

In response to another rehashing of the Environmental Working Group's"“Dirty Dozen" list of twelve commodities allegedly containing the highest levels of pesticides, this time by Dr. Mehmet Oz, host of The Dr. Oz Show, United Fresh has joined the Alliance for Food and Farming, Produce Marketing Association and Western Grower in issuing a stern response and encouraging future dialogue on and less sensational coverage of pesticide issues pertaining to produce.

"It's regrettable that a television program that purportedly offers scientifically-based healthcare information would mislead its viewers with distortions that could actually reduce their consumption of fresh produce," said Ray Gilmer, vice president of communications for United. "We've got to challenge this misinformation and proactively work with Dr. Oz's producers and other media to get the real messages out about the benefits of produce consumption."

According to the response, the Alliance for Food and Farming has had a toxicologist analyze the pesticide residues found on fruits and vegetables by the USDA Pesticide Data Program. The findings, which are based on the highest levels found (e.g. worst case scenario) and calculated for a "no effect level" on a child were as follows: For strawberries a child would have to consume 1,508 servings and still not reach the "no effect level" for pesticide residues. For spinach, a child would have to consume 2,564 servings. For apples a child would have to eat 154 servings. And for peaches, a child would have to eat 2,227 servings. The serving numbers for adults and teens is much higher."

This is the most recent in a string of appearances by the EWG list on major media outlets. United Fresh, PMA, Western Growers and the Alliance for Food and Farming continue to object, citing an admitted lack of peer review process by the EWG, and failure by the group to base the list on any specific risk.

A full transcript of the response may be downloaded here.

Have You Seen United’s New-Look Web Site?

Designed to be more user-friendly, the newly redesigned United Fresh website, accessible at, features industry and association news at users' fingertips, market segment-specific programming, features on United members in and out of the workplace, and a more visual interaction with United Fresh programs and priorities, as well as direct links to UnitedFresh.TV and United's pages on Facebook, Twitter and YouTube.

"We had gotten a great deal of feedback from members enthused by the amount and quality of information available on the site, yet frustrated with the user experience," said Gilmer. "The new site keeps the information-rich positives of, but employs a much more user-friendly interface, not to mention a cleaner look."

"We were able to pull from a large number of resources, employing strategies to make it easier for our members to easily find the information they're looking for," added Coleman. "The result is a crisper, cleaner that’s much easier to use."

Currently on the site's main page, users can find highlights of this month's Washington Public Policy Conference and news on public policy matters, as well as a link to video footage from WPPC at UnitedFresh.TV.

Fresh-Cut Training in Italy Draws Large Audience

The Fourth European Short-course on Quality & Safety of Fresh-Cut Produce, co-sponsored by United Fresh, attracted more than 90 participants to Mesagne, Italy this week. Hosted by Professor Giancarlo Colelli of the University of Foggia, the three-day course featured presentations from an international range of experts on subjects ranging from the biochemistry, physiology and nutritional benefits of fresh-cut products to advances in processing technology and shelf-life extension.

United Fresh Senior Vice President of Food Safety and Technology Dr. David Gombas contributed with two presentations on plant and worker sanitation and on food safety and situation management, while United Fresh Board member Alessandro Turatti spoke on key considerations for fresh-cut processing equipment.

"Fresh-cut continues to be a growing industry in Europe, with all of the same benefits and many of the same challenges as in the U.S." said Dr. Gombas. "This annual course offers a great opportunity for both sides of the ocean to discuss and learn from our differences; such as the greater diversity of fresh-cut products offered in Europe and the supply chain distribution advantages in the U.S."

For more information on the course, contact Dr. Gombas at 202-303-3400, ext. 411, and for more on United's efforts in Europe, contact Vice President of Membership Jeff Oberman at 831-422-0940.   

United Fresh Names Headquarters Hotel for the 2011 Fruit Logistica and FreshConex Exposition

United Fresh has designated the Berlin Marriott Hotel as its headquarters hotel during the 2011 Fruit Logistica and FreshConex Exposition, February 9-11. All United members and friends are invited to book rooms within the United Fresh block at the discounted rate of EUR175 per night, which includes breakfast. 

"A headquarters hotel provides our members from around the world with a central meeting place and with the Berlin International Film Festival being held at the same time as the Fruit Logistica and FreshConex, this hotel block is truly a great member benefit," said Jeff Oberman, vice president of membership for United Fresh. The room block is limited, so members are encouraged to book as soon as possible - before October 15, 2010.

During the exposition, United Fresh will host a membership pavilion that will serve as an important destination center for United Fresh members. In addition, United will once again partner with Fresh Convenience Magazine to deliver daily educational sessions in the FreshConex Business Forums. This year's forums will feature presentations on new marketing opportunities for foodservice, fresh produce convenience and cutting-edge technologies. United will also continue its tradition of hosting a Global Reception at the trade fair for members, visitors and guests in the member pavilion.

Click here to link directly to United's reservation page for the Berlin Marriott. For more information on United's activities at Fruit Logistica and FreshConex, please contact Oberman at 831-422-0940.

United Hosts Breakfast in Support of Jim Costa

Rep. Jim Costa (D-CA), second from right, with, from left, United Fresh Government Relations Director Julie Manes, Senior Vice President of Public Policy Robert Guenther and Vice President of Nutrition and Health Dr. Lorelei DiSogra.
Over a dozen representatives of key California agriculture interests met with U.S. Representative Jim Costa (D-CA) over breakfast at United's Pennsylvania Avenue headquarters this week to get the congressman's assessment of current ag-related legislative and regulatory activities. Costa, represents the San Joaquin Valley, which ranks among the top agriculture producing areas in the nation and sits on the House Agriculture Committee.

Congressman Costa provided an update on potential actions on issues of importance to the produce industry such as the Child Nutrition Reauthorization Act, in the remaining days of the 111th Congress. In addition, the congressman, who has long been supportive of the produce industry, also gave an assessment of the debate on tax policy and his efforts to secure administration action on the Mexican trucking issue, as well as opportunities for bipartisan cooperation in the upcoming 112th Congress.

After WPPC, Leadership Class 16 Takes on Wilmington, Philadelphia

Members of Leadership Class 16 during the 2010 Washington Public Policy Conference earlier this month.

Members of Leadership Class 16 visit the Philadelphia Regional Produce Market during last week's trip.
Members of United Fresh Leadership Class 16 wrapped up an action-packed trip to the East Coast this past week, the second of four trips for the class during the program year.

Following an intense political experience at the Washington Public Policy Conference, the class headed off to Wilmington, DE, site of DuPont's national headquarters, for "The Farmer & The Chef" dinner, followed by a full day of meetings with DuPont executives and researchers. The class had an opportunity to learn about current DuPont initiatives in the global specialty crop market, as well as a half-day of crisis communication training with DuPont's veteran crisis communications and issues management expert, Gil Meyer.

Also during the trip, the class spent time at Chesapeake Farms, a natural reserve devoted to the development of advanced agricultural practices, where they took part in some hard-hitting media training with United's media expert and Vice President of Communications Ray Gilmer.

Finally, the trip wrapped up in Philadelphia with a tour of the current Philadelphia Regional Produce Market and a sneak peek of the new market, scheduled to open soon.

The class will meet next in February in Southern California. The Produce Industry Leadership Program is presented through the United Fresh Foundation's Center for Leadership Development and is made possible through a generous grant from DuPont Crop Protection, sponsor of the program since its inception in 1995. For more information about the program, contact Julie Jacocks, United Fresh education manager, at 202-303-3400, ext.405.

Inspection Course Offers Classroom and Commodity Insights

Participants in this month's Produce Inspection Training Program examine pineapples at the USDA Fresh Products Branch National Inspectors' Training and Development Center in Fredericksburg, VA.
Last week, attendees from all sectors of the produce supply chain packed the USDA Fresh Products Branch National Inspectors' Training and Development Center in Fredericksburg, VA for the September United/USDA Produce Inspection Training Program.

During the week-long course, the class learned about the fundamentals of produce inspection that included topics such as the Perishable Agricultural Commodities Act, lot accessibility and sampling procedures, quality versus condition and grades, appeal procedures and much more.

The classroom training was followed by hands-on inspections in the lab on twelve different commodities. Attendees who participate in the full course receive a certificate of completion from USDA and United Fresh.

Course dates for the 2011 Produce Inspection Training Program will be announced shortly. For information on the 2011 program, contact United's Education Manager Julie Jacocks at 202-303-3405.

Meet Your Board of Directors

Brendan Comito
Chief Operating Officer
Capital City Fruit Company
Norwalk, Iowa

How long has Capital City been in business?

We have been in business since 1949. In fact we celebrated our 60th anniversary last fall.

What values are most central to your company?

Our 4 core values are Service, Quality, Caring and Ethical Behavior. These 4 values have been central to how we operate for decades and I believe staying focused on these values is why we are successful.

How do the dynamics of your business (family business, small business, etc.) factor in to your operation, and how does it help you fulfill the Capital City values?

There is no question that family plays a critical role in our operation as we are a third generation family business. I own the company with my brother Christian, our CEO, and my brother Kieran, produce account executive. My dad, Joe, comes to the office every day and serves as chairman of the board. The family dynamics present a huge challenge, but also offer tremendous benefits. I know that I can trust my brothers to stick together and do what is right for the company. We are in this for the long haul, something you don't find in non-family companies. Also, we see our employees as an extension of the family. They are intensely loyal and have bought into our vision.

What personal characteristics and experiences help you navigate those challenges and seize the opportunities?

Well, there is nothing like having a dad with nearly six decades of experience in your business. He often warns us of perils on the road ahead and shows us how the industry cycles back and forth over time. At the same time, my brothers and I bring a fresh, outside-the-box perspective that helps us creatively serve the customer in an operationally efficient manner.

Within the specialty crop industry and on the United Fresh board, you're surrounded by companies based in produce hotbeds like California, Texas, Arizona and Florida. How do you feel that being from the Midwest adds to your perspective?

Iowa is a major agricultural state but the predominance is towards corn and beans, although locally-grown produce farmers are really emerging. Where geography is really pertinent to us is that we cannot rely on a population base like produce companies near the major metro areas. We tend to be a few years ahead of those companies strategically because we have no choice as we are fighting for volume over a widely-spread area. Thus, we have to be that much more innovative and strategic just to survive.

Are you able to apply lessons learned from operating a produce business in an area heavily populated with livestock and commodity operations to your work with United?

The Des Moines metro area has a population of 400,000 and we sell into the other major cities in a seven-state area. Even though nearly 70 percent of the land in Iowa is dedicated to agriculture, less than 20 percent of Iowans work in the agricultural field. Thus, I am not really tied into the commodity and livestock businesses. I'm just a city boy trying to get more people to consume fresh fruits and vegetables.

What are some of the challenges you have faced in the past year?

Our biggest challenge was implementing a new accounting and operational software system, Edible Software. This has improved productivity and accountability at every level of the company, and positioned us for the challenges of the 21st century. We also had one heck of a winter with the most snow I have ever seen, but we were still able to manage over 99 percent on-time deliveries for the fiscal year.

Of the issues that we deal with as an industry, which strikes a chord with you the most and why?

All of the industry issues strike a chord with me, but the one issue I spend the most time on is food safety. We are constantly upgrading our procedures and protocols and that involves a lot of planning and training. It is frustrating that we are fighting an enemy that we cannot even see, but I look on the bright side: Millions of servings are consumed daily and illnesses are extremely rare. I think our industry does a great job when you consider the significant challenges involved in fighting micro-biological enemies. Plus, think how much healthier our society would be if people consumed more fresh fruits and vegetables instead of all the junk I see people eating.

How does Capital City interact with the surrounding community?

We have taken it on as a personal challenge to help alleviate hunger in our community. We realized early on that there are thousands of worthwhile charities but we wanted to focus on what we could be best at and that is using our food resources to help with the issue of hunger. We helped the Food Pantry develop a fresh fruit and vegetable program and we give quite a bit to the Catholic Worker and other hunger programs. We also are involved in Des Moines Hispanic Ministries which is run by a local Catholic parish and helps Latino immigrants. After all, with a name like "Brendan Comito" it is pretty clear that I would not be here were it not for open immigration policies. I don't think we do a very good job in welcoming immigrants and our country has lost sight of its mission to be the land of opportunity.

You mentioned that you're "doing your small part to see the industry prosper." What is it about you that keeps you integrated and involved with the overall industry mission?

I'm a big believer that if the industry prospers, my own business will be successful. We have a great staff here and they allow me the time to devote to the industry. I think it is extremely short-sighted to simply focus on your own business and ignore the industry. After all, we are the industry and it only works if we become involved and engaged.

New Member Welcome

Each week, United Fresh welcomes its newest partners in building a stronger produce industry:

  • Fruit Dynamics, Inc., Fresno, CA
  • Sugar Foods/Fresh Gourmet, Los Angeles, CA

United Fresh thanks all current members for their dedication to the Association and the produce industry. Please let us know whenever we can be of service to you.  For more details about the benefits of membership, please contact Jeff Oberman at 831-422-0940 or Miriam Miller at 202-303-3410.

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