Tag Archives: produce

Supreme Court Wants Quick Response On Citrus Veto

The Florida Supreme Court on Wednesday gave Gov. Rick Scott’s administration until noon Monday to respond to a lawsuit challenging the governor’s veto of $37.4 million intended to go to residents whose healthy citrus trees were cut down as the state tried to eradicate citrus-canker disease.

The Supreme Court set the deadline after the lawsuit was filed Tuesday on behalf of homeowners in Broward and Lee counties and their attorneys. Lawmakers included the money in the 2017-2018 budget after years of litigation about the state’s removal of trees in those counties and other parts of the state.

The money would satisfy judgments against the state, which destroyed healthy trees from 2000 to 2006 as officials fought citrus canker.

The filing Tuesday at the Supreme Court contended that Scott’s veto of the money was unconstitutional and asked justices to address the issue before the July 1 start of the fiscal year. In vetoing the money June 2, Scott cited “ongoing litigation” as the reason.

Story by Health News Florida.

Whole Foods stock rockets 28% on $13.7 billion Amazon takeover deal

Shares of Whole Foods Market rocketed 28 percent on Friday after Amazon said it plans to acquire the grocery store chain for $42 a share, in a deal valued at $13.7 billion.

Amazon’s offer represents a 27 percent premium to Whole Foods’ closing price on Thursday. With Whole Foods shares trading around Amazon’s offer price, investors appear to be speculating that another suitor could make a play for the grocery chain.

Whole Foods has been under pressure from activist investor Jana Partners and money manager Neuberger Berman, which have called on Whole Foods to sell itself. The investors have criticized Whole Foods for its poor performance, and have suggested the chain could be merged with another grocer.

“This partnership presents an opportunity to maximize value for Whole Foods Market’s shareholders, while at the same time extending our mission and bringing the highest quality, experience, convenience and innovation to our customers,” John Mackey, Whole Foods’ CEO, said in a statement.

Mackey will remain CEO of the grocery store chain after the deal closes, and the store will continue to operate under the Whole Foods brand.

Amazon has long been pushing to expand its online grocery business, seeing it as an emerging opportunity. Currently, very few people purchase their groceries online even as more shoppers switch to buying other goods that way.

Some analysts had seen Wal-Mart being best positioned to compete in the next phase of growth in online shopping because it was going to be able to use its vast footprint of stores to help distribute products ordered online. Also, Wal-Mart has been successful with its so-called click-and-collect model, where shoppers order online but stop by the store to pickup their orders.

Meanwhile, Whole Foods has been seen as a laggard in the online shift. Their stores tend to be in urban markets where there was an overlap with Amazon Fresh and Prime Now.

News that the e-commerce giants buying grocery store Whole Foods sent grocery stocks reeling on Friday.

Kroger sank nearly 16 percent before the bell. Supervalu dropped 11.5 percent while Costco dropped 6.5 percent. Sprouts Farmers sank 9.2 percent.

“This is an earthquake rattling through the grocery sector as well as the retail world,” Mark Hamrick, senior economic analyst at Bankrate.com, told CNBC in an email. “We can only imagine the technological innovation that Amazon will bring to the purchasing experience for the consumer. Now, we can see in hindsight that its recent dithering around the brick-and-mortar experience, as an experiment, was only a rumbling of the seismic event in the offing.”

Shares of Amazon were up about 3 percent following the news. The deal is expected to close in the second half year.

Jana Partners did not immediately respond to CNBC’s request for comment.

Story by Sarah Whitten at Cnbc.com

Aldi’s expansion puts grocery retailers on notice

Discount grocery retailer Aldi announced June 11 that it would invest $3.4 billion to expand its U.S. store base to 2,500 by the year 2022.

The German grocer currently operates 1,600 stores in the United States and said earlier this year it would expand to 2,000 by the end of 2018 at a cost of $1.6 billion.

The $5 billion move would have Aldi as the third-largest U.S. food retailer by store count behind Walmart and Kroger.

“It should absolutely be more than scary to traditional grocers and retailers,” Mikey Vu of the consulting firm Bain & Co., was quoted as saying in a June 12 article in The Wall Street Journal. Vu said Aldi has improved its stores and products in recent years, and is attracting a larger mix of shoppers.

A point of differentiation by Aldi and other discounters, such as Lidl, which is set to open its first U.S. locations this week, is their longstanding use of store brands to keep prices down, a common practice in Europe. U.S. consumers have traditionally been more brand loyal, but that is beginning to erode, especially with the millennial generation.

Millennials “are value-oriented and don’t hold the same stigmas about private-label items that older generations do,” Mike Paglia, director of the research firm Kantar Retail, was quoted as saying in the WSJ article.

“As we continue to expand and grow, our purchasing power continues to increase and allows us to bring products at better prices for consumers,” Scott Patton, Aldi’s head of corporate buying, said in an interview with CNBC.

Aldi said the new store openings would create 25,000 jobs over the next five years.

Story By Producenews

Florida packing houses struggle to maintain supplies amid greening crisis


Stories of the fatal bacterial disease, citrus greening, often focus on growers, who have seen their annual harvest decline by more than 70 percent because of greening.

Just as severely impacted have been Florida’s fresh citrus packinghouses, which buy a large portion of Florida’s annual orange, grapefruit and tangerine harvests and sell them to supermarket chains and retailers across the U.S. and ship to export markets, including Japan, Canada and Europe.

In the 2000-01 citrus season, Florida had 106 citrus packinghouses operating across citrus belt, which runs roughly south of Interstate 4, according to the Florida Department of Citrus. That was before greening was first confirmed in Florida in the fall of 2005.

Each of the top 24 packinghouses sold more than 1 million cartons of fresh citrus that season, according to the Lakeland-based Citrus Administrative Committee, a federal agency that regulates the industry. All packinghouses combined shipped 55 million cartons.

The 2016-17 season saw only 26 packinghouses operating in Florida, less than a quarter of the total from 16 seasons earlier, the statistics show.

Among them, only one, Egan Fruit Packing LLC in Fort Pierce, will ship more than 1 million cartons, and the industry output in 2016-17 will total just more than 12 million cartons, a 78 percent decline during the 16 seasons.

Few expect things to improve in the near future, which is why several of the remaining packinghouses, including Ben Hill Griffin Inc. in Frostproof, have already announced they won’t re-open for the 2017-18 season.

“We don’t have enough fruit to efficiently run the plant we have,” said Dennis Broadaway, general manager of the packinghouse operated by the Haines City Citrus Growers Association. “We’ve been sitting on this surplus equipment, thinking things may turn around. Obviously, it’s not going to turn around.”

Broadaway was referring to equipment on two of the three packing lines, which have been idle for the past three seasons, he said.

The Haines City Citrus Growers Association has put its packinghouse up for sale, although it expects to run the facility in 2017-18 and perhaps the following season until it finds a buyer, Broadaway said.

As Broadaway stated, locking up a supply of fruit is the key to survival until scientists can find a way to overcome citrus greening’s damaging effects.

Like the Haines City Growers, some packinghouses ensure supply by signing long-term agreements with independent growers that commit a certain portion of their harvest to that company. As citrus growers leave the industry, particularly small and medium-sized growers with less than 1,000 grove acres, those packinghouses are left with finding uncommitted fruit on the open market.

Others hope to survive by pursuing a grow-your-own strategy. That means packing mostly fruit from your own groves like the Peace River Packing Co. in Fort Meade.

“Our model is we have to secure our own fruit supply, and we’re planning aggressively to meet that goal,” said General Manager Larry Black. “We’ve increased the acreage we’re growing under from 1,800 acres to 2,700 acres in the last 10 years.”

About 80 percent of the oranges, grapefruit and tangerines that run through the Peace River packinghouse come from the company’s own groves, he added.

That percentage has increased in recent seasons because the supply from independent, or third-party, growers has dried up not just for Peace River but across the industry, Black said.

“We grew our third-party business in the past, but in the last three years that supply has really diminished,” he said.

Even with aggressive new plantings, however, the Peace River packinghouse’s output has fallen from more than 1 million cartons in 2008-09 and the following season to about 400,000 this season, Black said.

In addition to a diminishing third-party market, the contraction stems from the greening-related production declines in its mature groves, the same declines seen across Florida, he said. In addition, new groves don’t produce marketable fruit until at least the third season after planting.

“Over the next five years, we’re going to focus on rehabilitating groves that have not been productive,” Black added.

That means Peace River won’t be increasing its acreage, but much of that acreage will have newer, more productive groves, thus increasing supplies.

Another packinghouse pursuing a grow-your-own strategy is operated by the Hunt Bros. Cooperative, which has more than 5,000 grove acres in Polk County and the Immokalee area.

Frank Hunt III, president of the family company, agreed the supply of third-party fruit has dried up.

“In recent years, we haven’t purchased anything,” he said. “My volume is off 40 percent from what it was, but because I control my fruit, we are able to maintain packinghouse volume.”

Hunt Bros. has shipped 889,936 cartons of fruit through April 30, the second highest total in the state, according to Citrus Administrative statistics. Still, that’s down from 1.4 million cartons in the 2013-14 season.

One hope for maintaining supplies, at least in the near term, is the success of some new tangerine varieties that appear to tolerate greening infection better than the traditional varieties, Black said. The trees still become infected, but greening symptoms such as the smaller size of the fruit and increased pre-harvest drop appear to be not as severe.

About 70 percent of Florida’s “specialty citrus” crop, including tangerines and tangelos, is sold on the fresh market.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture forecasts the 2016-17 specialty harvest at 1.63 million boxes. A carton of citrus, the standard packinghouse measure, equals a half-box.

In addition to tolerating greening, the new specialty varieties are easy to peel and are seedless or nearly so, Black said. Both qualities are in high demand among U.S. consumers.

Shipments of the new varieties have increased from 33,061 cartons in 2013-14 to 258,289 cartons this season, a nearly eight-fold increase, according to Citrus Administrative statistics. The agency projects that total to rise to 400,000 cartons next season.

One popular new variety is the Sugar Belle tangerine, developed by breeders at the Citrus Research and Education Center in Lake Alfred and released to commercial growers in 2009.

Because of high demand from growers, Sugar Belle ranked second among all specialty trees grown last year in Florida citrus nurseries, according to Fred Gmitter, professor of citrus genetics and breeding at the Lake Alfred center who helped develop the variety.

“There’s been a high interest in new varieties from Florida growers,” Black said. “The Sugar Belle and other new releases are showing some encouraging signs against greening.”

Story by Kansas.com

Ample supplies expected for July 4th

Talk of freezes in the East and blustery rain in the West will be well in the past as volumes kick into gear for the Fourth of July.

Avocado prices remain high, and will likely remain so through July 4th, but supplies will remain healthy from California and Peru, even as Mexico’s season winds down, marketers say.

“Just kind of looking forward with what we expect supplies to be, it’s going to be fairly steady but not an overwhelming amount of fruit available,” said Robb Bertels, vice president of marketing with Oxnard, Calif.-based Mission Produce Inc.

Volume across the U.S. will continue to trend in the low- to mid-40 million-pound a week range, Bertels said.

“I don’t see any big peaks coming,” he said. “Demand will pick up and supply doesn’t have horsepower to keep up. Expect prices to strengthen as we get closer to the Fourth.”

Avocado prices have remained “relatively high,” and likely will stay so through the holiday, said Phil Henry, president of Escondido, Calif.-based Henry Avocado Corp.

“It doesn’t seem like there will be any major changes,” he said.

Rob Wedin, vice president of sales and marketing with Santa Paula, Calif.-based avocado gower-shipper Calavo Growers Inc., said prices could rise as the holiday approaches.

“We could see a relaxation in next couple of weeks, but as we get closer to Fourth of July, we’ll see some minor strengthening of prices, which is pretty normal,” he said.

Homestead, Fla.-based Brooks Tropicals is seeing increased volumes of Florida avocados, said Bill Brindle, vice president of sales.

“This year’s crop Is sizing up heavier than the last two years,” he said.

Berry supplies look strong

July 4th arrives just as New Jersey’s blueberry season is peaking, so supplies should be no problem, said Bob Von Rohr, marketing and customer relations manager at Glassboro, N.J.-based Sunny Valley International Inc.

“It will be a peak week,  no problem with quantity, Von Rohr said. “It’s one of our bigger weeks for promoting blueberries, with retailers looking for red, white and blue (for displays).”

A plentiful supply of strawberries will be available to cover the “red” part, said Cindy Jewell, marketing director with Watsonville, Calif.-based berry grower-shipper California Giant Inc.

“You can expect plenty of fruit. It’s one of those years that everything’s going to be in alignment with weather, quality and flavor,” she said.

Cal Giant’s blueberry, raspberry and blackberry crops should be ready for the Fourth, as well, she said.

“Strawberries coming into peak the last two weeks in June and will stay that way through mid-July, but you’ve also got blackberries and raspberries coming in, with blueberries and cherries coming in around July 4,” she said.

Watermelon crop shapes up

Quality and quantity won’t be a problem in the watermelon market for the Fourth of July, said Mark Arney, executive director of the Winter Springs, Fla.-based National Watermelon Promotion Board.

“I’d say if you called me a month ago, I’d be a little more concerned because there had been some cold weather in central Florida to further north and colder into Georgia, and some guys there had to replant,” he said. “But it doesn’t appear now that it’s as bad as people thought. I was in a field last Friday in Lakeland, Fla., and things were looking really good. We tested some, and the brix was great.”

Volume should be adequate as the holiday approaches, Arney said.

“Of course, we just don’t know; weather is always a wild card,” he said.

Sweet corn supplies build

Sweet corn growers said they’d be ready for the holiday.

“Should be standard issue, with good supplies out of Georgia,” said Jason Bedsole, sales manager with Duda Farm Fresh Foods Inc. in Wellington, Fla.

Calvert Cullen, owner of Cheriton, Va.-based Northampton Growers Produce Sales, said his crews will be harvesting sweet corn in Moultrie, Ga., until around July 4 and was getting set to start in North Carolina.

“We expect good supplies, as long as the weather doesn’t (interfere),” he said.

Northampton also was harvesting squash, cabbage and green beans in Moultrie, as well as bell peppers, hot peppers and eggplant in North Carolina.

Gilroy, Calif.-based Uesugi Farms is expecting promotable volumes of sweet corn in time for the July 4th holiday, said Pete Aiello, general manager.

“It’s a little far out there to anticipate what kind of markets we’re going to see, but the Fourth is always a popular pull for sweet corn, obviously, so the demand will be there and we will definitely have supply,” he said.

The crop was looking good June 1, he said.

“A couple of early plantings got a little messed up due to our (wet) weather in late winter and early spring, but we did need it. Certainly, by the Fourth we’re going to have some nice fields and good harvests.”

Oak Grove, Va.-based Parker Farms will actively promote its sweet corn coming out of Georgia for the holiday and will have enough of its Virginia crop to help supplement supplies, said Sean McFadden, business development director there.

“We have a lot of corn in Georgia that we will be supporting ads with,” he said.

Story by Jim Offner

Changes in the Apple Industry

Recent crop reports on Washington apples reflect significant changes growers for Columbia Marketing International have made in recent years and show how the industry overall is responding to evolving consumer demands.apples

“Market prices for apples send very clear signals to our growers on what varieties they should expand and which apple trees should be removed,” CMI’s vice president for marketing Steve Lutz said in an Aug. 6 news release.

“The message growers heard loud and clear from the 2014 crop is that retailers and consumers want more Honeycrisp and branded apple programs.”

The late summer crop estimate issued by the Washington State Tree Fruit Association shows a total crop estimate of 125,210 million cartons, compared with the previous year’s 140 million box crop. Lutz said in the release it is not surprising to see a predicted decline of more than 10% because bumper years are usually followed by lighter production.

The report predicts production of Honeycrisp will leap by 33% in the coming year while red delicious production is expected to drop by 26.2%. Golden delicious are expected to decline by 24.5%, according to the report. single-digit declines are predicted for galas and Fujis with granny smith production expected to be unchanged.

“Our growers are reporting they expect production declines in reds and goldens to be larger than the state average,” Lutz said in the release. “We will have significant increases in Honeycrisp, particularly from newly planted orchards with high-colored fruit.

“The hidden news in the 2015 crop report is that newer variety apples continue to make up for the erosion in production of the legacy varieties.”

CMI’s growers already stepped up Honeycrisp production and the company introduced its Happy Bee Honeycrisp pouch bag program to help retailers capitalize on the variety’s success, according to the release.

“We’ll also have significant increases in production of our popular branded apples like Ambrosia, Kiku and Kanzi,” Lutz said in the release.

Story from thepacker.com