September 8, 2011

United's Smith Tackles Sustainability on California Tour

Burleson Smith, United's vice president of environmental affairs and sustainability, joined other industry leaders and United Fresh staff last week on a tour of produce operations in Central and Southern California. Smith met with growers, packers and fresh cut market representatives to discuss practices they are taking to make their businesses more sustainable.

The week-long tour began with a meeting at the Grower Shipper Association offices in Salinas with local producers to discuss their questions and ongoing efforts regarding sustainability. During the meeting, Smith announced Gills Onions Director of Sustainability Nikki Rodoni as the first chair of the United Fresh Center for Global Produce Sustainability Advisory Board. Joining Smith and Rodoni at the meeting were Margaret D'Arrigo-Martin of D'Arrigo Brothers, Ocean Mist's Afreen Malik, Brian Stepien of Growers Express, Jocelyn Gretz of Rio Farms, Coastline Produce's Phil Adrian, and Grower Shipper Association President Jim Bogart, as well as United's Robert Guenther, Jeff Oberman and Barry Eisenberg.

Ocean Mist's Afreen Malik, far left, addresses sustainability issues with, from right, United's Burleson Smith, Gills Onions' Nikki Rodoni, Jocelyn Gretz of Rio Farms, and United's Barry Eisenberg.

"Participants at the meeting each agreed that defining ‘sustainability' is easier in principle, but more difficult in the details," said Smith. "Clearly, each company represented has displayed elements of sustainability, and we were able to discuss the practices that make them successful over the long term. There was a sense that much of what is taken as ‘common sense' approaches to become more efficient, like drip irrigation, may escape notice as an element of being more sustainable."

Through the Sustainability Advisory Board, United Fresh aims to work with growers and others to clearly communicate steps the produce industry is taking. The discussion clearly indicated that there are concerns that any discussions about sustainability should take into consideration differences in regional and crop production practices/demands.

Following the Salinas meeting, Smith met with David Gill of Gills Onions and Bob Martin of Rio Farms. Martin provided an in-depth discussion of their field practices and efforts to evaluate the efficiency of their operations.

Rio Farms' Bob Martin, left, and United's Burleson Smith take a break during a last week's tour in Salinas.

Smith then met with California Grape and Tree Fruit League's Barry Bedwell and Chris Valadez, a member of the Sustainability Advisory Board, before touring Central Valley packing operations. Key issues raised during these discussions related to documenting social responsibility efforts. Concerns were mentioned about publicizing practices that have been conducted as a part of the business' community support, but without fanfare. Audit costs, procedures and frequency were discussed during several stops. Many of the participants also expressed the need to balance sustainability objectives with food safety requirements, noting that certain sustainability practices may be unworkable as they either interfere with efforts to ensure food safety or decrease operational costs. A key area mentioned was the current effort to reconsider the use of returnable and reusable plastic containers.

California Citrus Mutual's Joel Nelsen, who recently joined the Sustainability Advisory Board, introduced Smith to several citrus producers who discussed water, vegetation and pest management practices on their operations, including remote sensing and bio controls. From these discussions, it was clear that such practices are highly specific to the demands of each operation, and no "one size fits all" practices exist. Several of the growers mentioned concern about someone not familiar with their local conditions dictating practices that might not fit their operation as well as practices that have already been adopted to improve operational and economic efficiency.

Meetings with representatives of Limoneira Company and Houwelling's Nurseries highlighted novel approaches to addressing various social and technical elements of sustainability in the grower/shipper sector. Both companies are addressing specific aspects of providing fresh produce to their customers, while clearly considering sustainability as a key component of their operating strategies.

While touring Gills Onions, Duda Farm Fresh Foods, and Sun Rich Fresh Foods in Ventura and Riverside Counties, the challenges facing the fresh cut and packaging sectors were discussed. It became clear that sustainable practices in these operations will differ markedly from field operations, but participants clearly indicated that improved water and energy efficiency are universal goals throughout the fresh produce industry.

For more information on United's work on sustainability, please contact Smith at 202-303-3400, ext. 427.

FreshFacts® Report Shows Consumers Willing to Pay a Premium for Preferences in Fresh Produce

Retail prices for both fruits and vegetables rose, driving an increase in weekly dollar sales in the second quarter of 2011 compared with the same period last year, according to the latest edition of FreshFacts® on Retail, the quarterly retail research report of the United Fresh Foundation.

Higher prices led produce sales volume to a slight decline, down one percent from Q2 2010, however volumes of value-added fruits, value-added vegetables and organics each grew in Q2 2011, indicating that consumers are willing to pay a premium for their fresh produce preferences.

The FreshFacts® on Retail report, produced in partnership with the Perishables Group and sponsored by Del Monte Fresh Produce, measures retail price and sales trends for the top 10 fruit and vegetable commodities, as well as value-added, organic and other produce categories.

Highlights of this quarter's report include:

  • Among the top 10 fruit, bananas, melons, avocados and specialty fruit had the most substantial dollar growth
  • Eight of the top 10 vegetables posted sales that exceeded Q2 2010
  • The mushroom category was the only vegetable in the top 10 to grow both volume and dollars in Q2 2011
  • A 12.5 percent increase in weekly sales of organic fruits
  • Growth in value-added fruit in dollar and volume sales, up 3 percent and 5 percent respectively; similar growth in value-added vegetables with increases of 5.6 and 7.0 percent

Each FreshFacts® report also features a Quarterly Spotlight on one industry segment in particular. This quarter, the report looks at the factors driving the rise in value-added produce sales in the past year. During that period, both dollar sales and volume of value-added fruits and vegetables showed consistent growth, fueled by an increase in the number of products offered within the value-added category.

The complete FreshFacts® on Retail report can be downloaded free of charge to all United Fresh members ($50 for non-members) by clicking here. For more information about how to obtain the report, please contact Patrick Delaney, United Fresh communications manager, at 202-303-3400 ext. 417 or For questions about specific data contained in the report, please contact Kelli Beckel at the Perishables Group at 773-929-7013.

United Fresh to Hold Two Town Halls in Pennsylvania, Join Industry for Tour of New Wholesale Market Facility

United's Tom Stenzel, left, addresses attendees at a United Fresh Town Hall in Watsonville, CA, last year.
Continuing the momentum from August's Fresh Impact Tour, United Fresh will hold two additional Town Hall meetings in September.

On Tuesday, September 13, United Fresh Senior Vice President of Public Policy Robert Guenther will join Wholesaler-Distributor Market Segment Board Vice-Chairman Ron Carkoski, CEO of Four Seasons Produce, for a town hall discussion for the Lancaster-area produce industry.

On Wednesday, September 14, Guenther will join the companies and staff of the Philadelphia Wholesale Produce Market for a second town hall meeting for wholesalers and distributors, as well as the broader Philadelphia produce industry. Attendees are also invited to participate in guided tours of the new market facility.

Town Hall meetings are an opportunity for the industry to meet with United Fresh staff and discuss how legislative and regulatory issues directly impact their businesses. So far in 2011, United Fresh has held eleven Town Hall meetings on topics including E-Verify, the Food Safety Modernization Act, GAP Harmonization and opportunities to increase produce sales in schools.

"Meeting directly with our members and learning how government policies affect their businesses is a high priority for United Fresh," said Guenther. "We will take every opportunity to meet directly with members of the industry and work with them to bring a united voice to Washington."

Interested attendees can register here or contact Miriam Miller Wolk at 202-303-3400, ext. 410.

Nine More Reasons to Come to D.C. for the Washington Public Policy Conference

With the Washington Public Policy Conference less than a month away, the United Fresh staff offers you few insider tips and tricks for your visit to D.C. this October. Everything from the best museums to their favorite watering-holes, the United staff is divulging information only the locals know about our nation's capital. Take a look, add a few to your itinerary and then register today for the Produce Industry's Most Powerful Public Policy Event!

"Check out the Capitol Visitor Center, the absolute best way to experience the history of this world-renowned building AND watch members of Congress debate, insult and wrangle their way through the job of making laws in the Capitol." — Angela Tiwari, Political Affairs Manager

"Since the days of George Washington, seafood lovers have come to the wharf in Southwest D.C. to enjoy fresh crabs, lobsters, and other varieties of seafood. Head to the Maine Avenue Fish Market to visit one of the few surviving open-air seafood markets on the east coast. The Fish Market is the oldest continuously-operating fish market in the United States." — Victoria Backer, Senior Vice President, Member Services

"Drive or walk through the Kalorama section of Northwest D.C. to see some of Washington's best addresses, home to many ambassadors and dignitaries. Presidents William Taft, Warren G. Harding, Herbert Hoover, and Franklin D. Roosevelt all called the neighborhood home at some point in their public service lives." — Shannon Young, Education Manager

"Stop by Zola, an elegant and modern American restaurant for dinner and drinks. I swear by their Zola Martini delightfully refreshing and tastes like a grown-up Fresca." — Julie Manes, Director of Government Relations

"Take a cab to the White House, walk across the street to the Hay Adams, and head downstairs to the Off The Record bar. It's a dark, smoky, red-leather Washington institution for those on both sides of the aisle. It boasts some of the best people watching in the District, so keep your eyes open for lawmakers and pundits alike. Make friends with John the bartender and (in addition to the best Old Fashioned in the country) you'll get some Washington stories that can't be beat." — Patrick Delaney, Communications Manager

"SushiKo in Glover Park is the oldest (and best) sushi restaurant in D.C. and serves everyone from the neighborhood crew to Vice President Biden who lives around the corner at Observatory Circle (trust me, I saw him there myself!)." — Marinell Saville, Marketing Manager

"Enjoy cocktails at POV, the rooftop terrace of the W Hotel, with breathtaking views of the Washington Monument, White House and Treasury Department." — Ray Gilmer, Vice President, Communications

"Go back in time and relive historical news moments at the Newseum. Check out exhibits such as the Berlin Wall and 9/11 Gallery. Don't miss the News History Gallery featuring the taped door that led to Richard Nixon's resignation. And be sure to visit the Pulitzer gallery for guest lectures by the photographers." — John Toner, Vice President, Convention and Industry Relations

"Head to the Uptown Movie Theater in Cleveland Park, it is on the National Register of Historic Places. Sit in the balcony just like an old time theater and afterwards grab a bite and a beer at Four Green Fields, known as the Four Ps to the locals, a neighborhood institution!" — Miriam Miller Wolk, Senior Director of Membership

Vaché Talks Washington Issues at IGSA Annual Convention

United Fresh Vice President of Supply Chain Management Dan Vach© took hot-button Washington issues to Sun Valley last week for the 83rd annual convention and meeting of the Idaho Grower Shippers Association.

Addressing the convention's Business Session, Vaché provided IGSA members with an update on industry topics, including congressional action on the debt ceiling and deficit reduction package, the 2012 Farm Bill, pending legislation requiring that employers use the federal E-Verify system, recent developments in trucking and trade relations between the U.S. and Mexico, the Produce Traceability Initiative and the Food Safety Modernization Act.

"These issues are just as important to the produce industry in Idaho as they are to the industry in other regions of the country," said Vaché. "The IGSA is invested in keeping its members updated on issues in Washington and aware of potential ramifications for their businesses. United Fresh looks forward to welcoming members of the Idaho industry to Washington next month for the Washington Public Policy Conference."

A unique feature of this year's IGSA convention was a display of historic photos and memorabilia, including original convention programs dating back to the 1940s.

"Many of the older programs included listings of United addressing IGSA attendees much the same as today; covering timely and important industry topics," added Vaché.

Don't Miss a Free Webinar on the Basics of Produce Coding Later this Month

United Fresh members will receive free access to an upcoming webinar on the basics of produce coding, presented by the Canadian Produce Marketing Association.

The webinar, Friday, September 16 from 1 to 2:30 p.m. Eastern, will feature GS1 Canada's Dan Clark, Jem D Public Relations and Marketing Manager Sabrina Pokomandy and CPMA Vice President of Policy and Issue Management Jane Proctor, who together will address general industry-specific coding, coding and GS1 standards and practical implementation from a grower-shipper-packer's perspective.

The webinar was developed by CPMA in response to a gap in understanding of produce coding and the process through which coded produce moves through the supply chain. The webinar will explain basic coding information, outline produce coding dos and don'ts, and provide an overview of GS1 standards and practical implementation at all levels of coding.

Attendees may register by clicking here, and may contact CPMA's Bev Appleby at 613-226-4187, ext. 227 for more information.

Meet Your United Fresh Board of Directors: Liberty Fruit and COO Scott Danner Use Golf to Give Back to the Kansas City Community

Scott Danner, Chief Operating Officer
Liberty Fruit
Kansas City, Kansas

Liberty Fruit has been named Company of the Year by several civic organizations there in Kansas City. How do you maintain those close community ties from an organizational standpoint?

It's very important, and it comes from Liberty's owner, Arnold Caviar, at the top. From day one, he's instilled that as part of our company's morals and ethics. If we're fortunate enough to "have," then we need to help and to give back. That wears off on a personal level too. I'm involved with the Kansas City Restaurant Association, and I think that it's really important to stay involved and give locally. We give to just about anyone and everyone. Even our golf tournament helps not just Children's Mercy Hospital, but other local charities as well. The tournament raised $325,000 last year, and we're on pace to do $345,000 this year. We try to add on a new local charity every year, but we don't give money simply to cover operating expenses. It has to go to something real and concrete; something that's really going to help other people.

How did you get started in the produce industry?

I grew up in New England, and started in the industry in seventh grade picking sweet corn. I worked on the farm all through high school and all through college. It paid for half my education, and my first day on the job, my boss said, "just remember, there are no holidays and no days off in this business." A couple people would raise their hands and ask questions, and he'd say, "well, son, if you can show me a way to keep the crops from growing, then I'll give you a day off." That was my start, and from there, it helped to build a work ethic I've had ever since, and I think that it's really paid off.

Was there a tipping point for you where this went from a job to a career?

All through college, my economics and business papers were all focused on the produce industry because it is a real supply-and-demand industry. My senior year, talking to my management professor, I hashed out my five- and ten-year goals. At that time, I wanted to be a produce buyer, but I wasn't sure how I was going to get there. I was fortunate to get there eight years later. I regrouped and figured out what my next goals would be.

Being in what might be considered a "meat-and-potatoes" town and not necessarily what you might think of as a "produce hotbed," many might be surprised to find that the donor roll for your golf tournament consists of produce companies in Salinas, in Florida, in Texas, and other big specialty crop areas. How does their involvement point to Kansas City as a vibrant market for fresh fruits and vegetables?

It absolutely is. I think that we have one of the best culinary scenes in the country, and some of the best restaurants anywhere. I'd put our chefs and our restaurants up against anyone, anywhere. Not to make a pun, but although we may not be the "Garden State," or Napa Valley, or where the growing areas are right there, I'd still put our chefs and our scene up against anybody. Also, the culinary school at Johnson County Community College is consistently one of the best, if not the best culinary program in the country. The JCCC team travels around the world and consistently comes back at the top of the ranks. I think that this points to the quality of the environment here and the talent of the people. We're very passionate about our food, not just the barbecue.

Kansas City has seen a resurgence in recent years. How has food, and fresh food in particular, played a part in that?

Arnold told me when he hired me away from my job in Dallas that, if I take the job and move to Kansas City, I'd find that it's the best-kept secret in the country. He wasn't lying. We've got everything here. Granted, maybe our pro sports aren't as great as some, but we have them. The infrastructure is here, with a new performing arts center that is state-of-the-art, we have the new Sprint Center, we have the best soccer facility in the country, and everything is 20 minutes away. You don't have to travel two hours to get somewhere. I think that people flock here for the food, too. It's amazing the spectrum that's here too. You can go to The American Restaurant, which is world renowned for its high-end cuisine, or you can go to Oklahoma Joe's, which shares space with a gas station and a liquor store, and have some of the best, if not the best, barbecue in the country. I've brought out-of-towners in there that look at me like I'm crazy, until they try the food. Where else can you go get gas, get beer, and the best barbecue around. When you go to the cities, you get the flash. We might not have the flair, but we have some of the best food around.

On your website, you highlight your audits through Silliker. How has the atmosphere created by FSMA and the heightened awareness of food safety changed or enhanced the way you do business?

I think that people are taking food safety very seriously, and they want to know where their products are coming from and that it's being handled properly. While I can't say for certain that a product is safe, because I didn't grow it or pack it or put it together, but I can say that we're handling it properly. I am confident, though that we're dealing with the top people in those individual supply chain areas that can make those claims.

Does the fact that you've had a culture of better food safety in place long before FSMA came along put you at an advantage?

Absolutely. All the things that are coming out through the new law, we're already doing. It's not life-changing for us, but it is it for people that haven't been doing it. It didn't happen overnight here either, it took four or five years, but change isn't an easy thing.

Chairman’s Roundtable Thanks 2011 Supporters

United Fresh’s Chairman's Roundtable provides extra support for programs in government relations, food safety, nutrition policy and other areas to help grow the produce industry. We are pleased to recognize the following companies who have committed to the 2011 Chairman’s Roundtable:

  • J. Marchini Farms, LeGrand, CA
  • Los Kitos Produce, Orange, CA

The Chairman's Roundtable is an opportunity for United Fresh member companies to contribute above and beyond their basic dues. Roundtable members are industry leaders who set the pace in building United Fresh's strength in areas that do not generate their own revenue. Members of Chairman's Roundtable enjoy special recognition throughout the year for their support. For more information on the Chairman’s Roundtable, please contact Senior Director of Membership Miriam Miller Wolk at 202-303-3410.

New Member Welcome

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

  • J. Marchini Farms, LeGrand, CA
  • USDA National Agricultural Library, Beltsville, MD

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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