December 23, 2010

In Today's Issue:

Industry Concerns Remain as House Passes Food Safety Bill

By a vote of 215 to 144 Tuesday, the U.S. House of Representatives passed the Food Safety Modernization Act, enacting large-scale changes to the nation's food safety system. United Fresh issued a statement of mixed feelings on the legislation, which will now head to President Barack Obama's desk for signature.

"For the past four years, the United Fresh Produce Association has been among the most vocal supporters of comprehensive modernization of the food safety system in the United States, working with members of Congress and the Bush and Obama Administrations, and testifying before House and Senate committees more than 10 times. The legislation passed today on Capitol Hill ensures a number of important provisions that we have long supported, including implementation of preventive controls for production and processing of specific fruits and vegetables when shown necessary by a risk-based, scientific analysis by FDA, will be integrated into the food safety framework moving forward," said United Fresh Senior Vice President of Public Policy Robert Guenther.

The bill represents the first update of food safety regulations in the United States since 1938, however it still contains a controversial amendment added in the final weeks of the congressional session.

"The good in this bill, however, is still accompanied by the bad, and the Food Safety Modernization Act still contains an amendment from Senators Jon Tester of Montana and Kay Hagan of North Carolina that threatens the health and well-being of a nation of consumers by exempting some producers and processors based only on the size of their business, their geographic location, or to whom they sell their products," continued Guenther. "This inclusion of exemptions based on non-scientific qualifications will limit the ability of the Food and Drug Administration to assure consumers that all foods they purchase, whether at grocery stores, restaurants, farm markets, or elsewhere, have met the same food safety standards. We remain fearful that this profound error will come back to haunt Congress, public health agencies, and even those who thought they would benefit from food safety exemptions, but more importantly, we are fearful of what may slip through the food safety loopholes created by the Tester/Hagan Amendment and adversely affect consumers in the United States."

United Fresh withdrew its long-standing support for the bill over the Tester/Hagan Amendment in November, but recognized that passage of the bill was nonetheless a watershed moment for food safety in America.

"United Fresh is confident that the Food Safety Modernization Act will do much good; it is, after all, the first overhaul of the food safety system in seven decades. However, the House and the Senate have both missed an opportunity to engage with one another to remedy the loopholes created by the Tester/Hagan Amendment," Guenther added. "Today is a day of mixed feelings for our members who have worked long and hard to pass food safety reforms, as this remains a job that is very much unfinished. Moving forward, as we always do, United Fresh will continue to work with our allies in the new Congress, voicing our strong support for uniform, risk-based food safety standards to which all can be held accountable, regardless of size."


United Fresh Applauds Passage of Tax Cut Bill

The House of Representatives late last week passed a sweeping bipartisan tax measure that includes estate tax reforms that have been a priority of United Fresh for many years. The tax bill, which now goes to the President for his signature, will allow couples to pass up to $10 million from an estate to their heirs tax-free, with assets above $10 million to be taxed at 35 percent.

"Our industry is built on the strength of multi-generational family businesses. The estate tax provisions in this bill will help many of our members who want to pass along family businesses and farms to their children, without having to sell their assets just to pay a death tax," said Tom Stenzel, president and CEO of United Fresh. "The unique nature of produce companies, often with the majority of assets tied up in farmlands and facilities, that have been family-owned for more than a hundred years, makes this landmark estate tax reform especially critical for these family businesses to survive."

In cheering the legislation, United Fresh also encouraged Congress to make the changes permanent.

"While we welcome this important step in shaping a fair estate tax law, this much-needed reform is for only two years.  We are resolute in our goal of permanent estate tax reform in order to provide certainty for our family-owned businesses to make sound business decisions," Stenzel said.

The tax bill also contains the full range of tax cuts and incentives negotiated by President Obama and Congressional Republicans, including extension of the Bush tax cuts, a reduction in the social security tax, extension of unemployment benefits, and business investment tax credits.

"For those who questioned whether the November election meant permanent gridlock, this is a positive sign of compromise when our elected leaders listen to the public," Stenzel added.


United Fresh to Kick Off 2011 with Dallas Industry Produce Leaders

United Fresh President Tom Stenzel and Brookshire Grocery Company Vice President of Retail Operations and United Fresh Retail-Foodservice Board Member Mark Walden will serve as guest speakers of United Fresh's first ever Town Hall Meeting in Dallas, TX on January 6.

Stenzel and Walden will lead an informal discussion on how the industry can grow produce sales through national nutrition programs, such as WIC and school salad bar and meal programs, as well as additional issues and concerns raised by attendees. The event will be hosted by Dallas-area volunteer leaders, including Dan'l Mackey-Almy, DMA Solutions; Jarrod Snider, Frontera Produce; and Craig Slate, IFCO Systems.

"I am thrilled to be serving as a co-host for United's first ever town hall luncheon in Dallas," said Dan’l Mackey-Almy, president of DMA Solutions and member of the United Fresh Board of Directors.  "What better way to kick off the New Year than by meeting with our colleagues to discuss opportunities to increase consumption of fresh fruits and vegetables and to ensure that our industry continues to grow and thrive.  I hope you make plans to join us and industry leaders so we can exchange ideas on our industry's strong potential."

The luncheon will be held on January 6 from 11:30 a.m. - 1:30 p.m. at the Hyatt Regency Dallas, which will also serve as the host property for United Fresh's 2012 convention.  The event is complimentary.

To RSVP, please visit the Town Hall Website or contact Miriam Miller, senior director of membership, at 202-303-3410 or email.


Apply Now for the 17th Class of the Produce Industry Leadership Program

The application period is now open for the 17th annual class of the Produce Industry Leadership Program, presented by the United Fresh Foundation's Center for Leadership Excellence. The program, made possible through a generous grant from DuPont Crop Protection, is a special opportunity for United Fresh members to advance their leadership skills and knowledge.

Launched in 1995, the Produce Industry Leadership Program is the only ongoing, fully paid national leadership program for the produce industry, and is developed around the four fundamental goals of leadership development, business relationships, government and public affairs, and media and public relations. During the year-long fellowship, participants will take part in a series of customized trips which include face-to-face meetings with leading industry players, hands-on training with top industry experts and educators, interactive experiences with influential leaders in Washington and much more. This year's schedule will feature trips to Central California, Washington, D.C., Wilmington, Delaware, and Central Chile. The class will graduate at the 2012 United Fresh Convention in Dallas.

Participation in the program is limited to 12 fellows who are selected by an Advisory Committee, chaired by United Fresh Board member and Class 10 alumnus Jackson Woodward of Horton Fruit Company. The fellows are chosen from a broad cross-section of the industry to represent the breadth of the United Fresh membership. Since the program’s inception, more than 190 industry members have participated.

"For a rising professional in the produce industry, this is the most comprehensive program available," said Woodward. "It blends industry knowledge and exposure with professional development and business training for a fully-rounded experience. I encourage anyone who is looking to advance their career and their leadership skills to apply today."

Candidates interested in applying for the program can download information and an application at www.unitedfresh.org/programs. The deadline for applications is Friday, March 4, 2011. The Leadership Program is an exclusive program for United Fresh members only. There is no cost to participate in the program and all regular expenses are covered through program funding. For more information, contact Julie Jacocks, United Fresh education manager at 202-303-3400, ext. 405.


USDA, Ad Council Reviews Food Safety Education Research

Representatives from United Fresh, USDA, Consumer Federation of America and others this week reviewed research to help develop a new consumer food safety education campaign. The campaign, which will launch the first public service announcements in July 2011, is spearheaded by USDA and the Ad Council, with consultation from members of the Produce Food Safety Education partnership and others.

The research will help guide the project's advertising agency in developing consumer messages about safe food handling practices. The campaign will include opportunities for grassroots awareness using social media and in-store messages, for example.

The Ad Council/ad agency team presents the campaign messages to the project partners in January, with message testing and campaign production to follow shortly thereafter. For more information, please contact Ray Gilmer, United Fresh vice president of communications, at 202-303-3400, ext. 425.


Produce Executives Agree, It's Worth the Investment!

One of United's most popular annual offerings, the Produce Executive Development Program, is receiving high marks from its alumni. Presented through the United Fresh Foundation's Center for Leadership Excellence and in partnership with the Cornell University Food Industry Management Program, the program will be held March 13-18 at the Statler Hotel & Executive Conference Center on the Cornell campus in Ithaca, N.Y.

"This [program] is an investment in human capital," said Scott McQuiston, vice president and food safety director at Dawson's Orchards. "The instructors are world class and have structured a program that's like a full MBA geared specifically to the produce industry that you won’t find anywhere else. The program was enhanced by the quality of the industry leaders participating and the continued relationships long after we left."

"The impressive roster of Cornell instructors and industry presenters sparked engaging and enlightening dialogue with everyone in the class," added Paramount Citrus Vice President of Finance and Accounting Matt Shekoyan. The ideas and insights I garnered from this program are already making an impact for my company and my career."

"I made the choice to attend this program based on the scope and relevance of the topics, and I was really impressed by how well the lessons matched my professional objectives and the challenges facing our company," said Pro*Act's Brian Kane, vice president of client services. "It was practically a custom-designed plan for making our business more competitive."

McQuiston, Shekoyan and Kane are alumni of the 2010 edition of the program, which is an intense, five-day course for mid- to senior-level executives that focuses on issues critical to both personal development and the larger challenges and opportunities faced by today's produce industry leaders.  Participants will take part in a unique learning experience characterized by cutting-edge theory, industry best practices and thought-provoking discussions about key business issues affecting the global produce industry.

"The Executive Development Program is built around the precept that the role of executive is not simply a finish line to be crossed or a career plateau to be reached, but that real learning and development must continue to occur even in the corner office," said Victoria Backer, United Fresh senior vice president of member services, foundation.

"The produce industry is constantly changing and being impacted by myriad internal and external forces," said Cornell Professor and Food Industry Management Program Director Ed McLaughlin. "As such, produce executives must adapt and grow their leadership abilities to stay ahead of the curve. This program does just that, providing a real opportunity for produce executives to come together, learn from one another and move the industry forward."

This robust program agenda will include McLaughlin and other Cornell professors, guest speakers, and industry experts. Some of the topics for the 2011 course include:

  • Today's Food Retailing & Foodservice Climate
  • Negotiation & Conflict Resolution
  • Team Dynamics and Decision Making
  • Competitive Strategy
  • A Survival Guide to Financial Planning
  • Strategies for Growth in Entrepreneurial Environments
  • Leading through Change
  • Work/Life Balance: The Power of Sleep

In the interest of keeping class size both informative and intimate, enrollment is limited to 40 participants. Tuition for the program includes five nights lodging, instruction, books, supplies, breakfasts, luncheons and several special dinners. For United Fresh members, the registration fee is $4995 if booked prior to January 21, and $5500 if booked after.  For non-members, the registration fees are $7995 and $8500, respectively. A complete program brochure can be downloaded here. For more information or to register for the program, click here or contact Julie Jacocks, United Fresh education manager at 202-303-3400, ext. 405.


United Fresh Launches GlobalGAP National Technical Working Group

More than 30 participants joined United Fresh Senior Vice President Food Safety and Technology Dr. David Gombas and GlobalGAP North America President Dr. Kristian Moeller for a webinar last Thursday to describe the goals of the GlobalGAP National Technical Working Group (NTWG).

"GlobalGAP is truly a global organization, having issued certificates to the GlobalGAP standards to more than 100,000 operations in more than 100 countries," said Gombas. "The goal of this NTWG will be to write the National Interpretation Guideline that will focus auditors who do GlobalGAP audits in the U.S. on what's important for U.S. operations to control, and will assure export markets that their needs are also being met."

United Fresh has agreed to serve as the North American host for the NTWG to facilitate GlobalGAP's eventual use of the Harmonized Standards, developed by the Produce GAPs Harmonization Initiative. However that result is not guaranteed.

"The GlobalGAP process is established, transparent, and cannot be circumvented," said Gombas. "The National Interpretation Guideline must pass GlobalGAP’s review in order for certificates issued under that Guideline to maintain their worldwide credibility."

The 20 to 25 members of the NTWG are currently being selected. Individuals willing to commit to serve on the NTWG should contact United's Erin Grether at 202-303-3400, ext. 402.


Webinar to Explore Consumer Perceptions of Food Terrorism

The results of an FDA study on consumers' beliefs and perceptions about food terrorism will be presented on Friday, January 7 by the Department of Homeland Security's National Center for Food Protection and Defense. As part of the center's Research in Food Protection Webinar Series, presenters Sara Eggers, Ph. D. and Linda Verrill, Ph. D. will share key findings from their research and discuss potential implications to the development of consumer-focused food terrorism risk communications strategies.

The webinar is free, however registration is required and may be completed on-line here. For more information, please contact Project Manager Lisa Brienzo at 612-624-2614.


Happy Holidays from United Fresh!

This is our last issue of Inside United Fresh for 2010. Many thanks to all United Fresh members for being part of a special team representing and serving our great industry. We wish you and your families a happy and healthy holiday season, and will return with more news and information on January 6.


Meet Your United Fresh Board of Directors: Rio Queen's Mike Martin Isn’t One to Back Down From a Challenge

Mike Martin
President
Rio Queen Citrus
Mission, Texas

You're a Midwestern guy originally, so how did you find your way to Mission, Texas?

Originally, I'm from Fulton, Missouri, and we moved to the Rio Grande Valley of Texas when I was 5 years old. My grandfather bought some citrus acreage in 1966, after coming to the area on a whim with a friend. It was cold and wet in Missouri and warm and sunny in South Texas, so he just fell in love with the place. On that very first trip, he bought a grapefruit orchard, and then over the next few years added acreage little by little. After accumulating about 55 acres, he hired a man to take care of the groves, but when he came to check on things and he found the weeds were growing, the trees were dry and things weren't what they were supposed to be. So, he asked my parents, who had two young children at the time - myself and my three month old sister - to move from Missouri to South Texas and start learning how to grow citrus in the spring of 1970. The company was incorporated in the fall of 1970, after we rented a small building, put together some used equipment, and started packing fruit.

Although the name highlights your citrus offerings, you do other things as well, right?

Some don't realize that in addition to citrus we're also the largest onion grower in Texas. We've got a very large facility, and I believe we handle more onions than anyone else in South Texas. We're a year-round onion operation in addition to the citrus operation, and we actually ship more onions than we do citrus. Citrus is certainly our roots and the foundation of our business, but we saw a need and had an opportunity to diversify, and started down that path a little over 12 years ago. The onion side has grown pretty dramatically, so here we are. The citrus side has remained fairly stable in terms of acreage and volume, and the onion side has surpassed that. I don't think that we're going to change the name of the company, though. We have grown, diversified and expanded by acquisition in addition to growing our programs from within. We continue to focus on our sales and marketing abilities and our relationships, and that has really helped that growth. We do other things as well, including mail order and Fruit-of-the-Month, which is a smaller, but nonetheless important part of our business. We ship our grapefruit and onions, as well as other products 52 weeks a year, all across the country.

Your son interned here at United. Do you have other children as well?

I do, I have four altogether. I have a daughter at St. Edwards University in Austin, a son at Texas A&M-Galveston, and another daughter that's a fourth grader here at home. My oldest son lives in Charlotte and works for FreshPoint.

You are very much into the government relations aspect of what United Fresh does in Washington. Is there a particular issue that spurred your interest in that part of the business?

It's not necessarily a particular issue, but what happens in Washington can have a huge impact on our businesses. There are all sorts of examples: wages, taxes, food safety, and regulation. My father was very involved in the organizations within the Texas industry - I am as well - and he told me, "if you want to have a voice, you've got to participate. If you don't participate in the process, you don't deserve to have a voice." I really took that to heart, and feel it's true. We can't sit at home and complain about what's happening in Washington if we're not willing to get involved and express an opinion. Some issues aren't going to be as important to us as an individual company as other things, but when I see that it's important, we're definitely involved.

In 2008, Rio Queen lost a significant part of its infrastructure in a fire. In terms of being a leader, what are some of the lessons that you learned in the recovery process and tried to incorporate as you moved your company forward?

We lost some things that can't be replaced, like mementos and photos and history, but we quickly realized that machines and structures and these things can be replaced. We have a very can-do attitude; it's just part of our blood.  I'm sure that it goes beyond my father's generation, but we tend to stand up to challenge. That's probably true of many people in the produce business. When things are tough, we roll our sleeves up, dig in and get it done. The day of the fire, we had been out of town for a few days and could only drive back so fast. By the time we arrived, everything was pretty well engulfed in flames, but the next day and in the days following, we were here, digging through and trying to find out if there was anything that could be saved. So what we inadvertently did was show our key people that we were going to do whatever it took to get things back in shape. Now we're better than ever, and though I would certainly never want to go through that again, as we enter the next chapter, we're stronger, more efficient, and able to do a better job at what we do. Working side by side with our key employees who helped us rebuild really showed them that we’re here for the long haul and we're not going anywhere.


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