Wednesday, April 23, 2014 by Lee Mannering

Specialty Crop Block Grant Program funds announced

Last week the U.S. Department of Agriculture announced the availability of approximately $66 million in Specialty Crop Block Grants to state departments of agriculture for projects that help support specialty crop growers, including locally grown fruits and vegetables, through research, programs to increase demand, and more. The Specialty Crop Block Grant Program, administered by the USDA Agricultural Marketing Service, is designed to enhance the markets for specialty crops like fruits, vegetables, tree nuts, dried fruits, horticulture and nursery crops, including floriculture.

AMS encourages states to develop projects solely to enhance the competitiveness of specialty crops pertaining to the following issues affecting the specialty crop industry:

  • Increasing nutritional knowledge and specialty crop consumption among children and adults,
  • Improving efficiency within the distribution system,
  • Promoting the development of good agricultural, handling and manufacturing practices while encouraging audit cost-sharing for small farmers, packers, and processors,
  • Supporting research through standard and green initiatives,
  • Enhancing food safety,
  • Developing new/improved seed varieties and specialty crops,
  • Controlling pests and diseases,
  • Creating organic and sustainable production practices,
  • Establishing local and regional fresh food systems,
  • Expanding access to specialty crops in underserved communities,
  • Developing school and community gardens and farm-to-school programs,
  • Enhancing the competitiveness of specialty crop farmers, including Native American and disadvantaged farmers.

Interested applicants should apply directly to their state department of agriculture. Several states have already published their requests for proposals, and the list of FY 2014 State Requests for Proposals is available on the AMS website. For more information, visit the Specialty Crop Block Grant Program website.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014 by Kathy Means

Coming soon: New consumer handling tips for produce

In mid-April, the folks who help spread the word about safe produce handling to consumers got a sneak peak at a new campaign on the topic from the Partnership for Food Safety Education. PMA, a longtime supporter of the Partnership, is helping fund the campaign, and we send a shout-out to the Food Marketing Institute Foundation, which is the primary funder.

During the webinar, Ellie Krieger, a TV food personality and registered dietitian, stressed the importance of consumer outreach on safe produce handling. She told the 400-plus participants (called BAC Fighters) that food safety conversations don’t have to be scary or depressing. Safe food handling should be integrated into all food conversations – even into recipe instructions (e.g. rinse the cauliflower and cut into bite-sized pieces). She noted that when her daughter was learning to cook, she started their time in the kitchen with: What’s the first step in cooking? Wash your hands, her daughter replied.

Ellie, a great promoter of fruits and vegetables, is helping the Partnership launch the fresh campaign in early summer. But I wanted to give you the same sneak peek that the BAC Fighters got. Stay tuned. We will let you know when the new materials are available for you to use – free. Industry and government play significant roles in food safety. And consumers have a role as well. We can help them by spreading the word about safe produce handling. We’ll ask for your help on that when the campaign officially launches.

If you have a role in helping consumers understand safe produce handling (including recipes, instructions on packaging, consumer outreach/contact), become a BAC Fighter so you get all the latest information on credible, science-based, consumer-tested outreach.

Thursday, April 17, 2014 by Kathy Means

Produce promotion in Europe, PMA coming to Rotterdam

We heard good news from our friends at Freshfel, the European Fresh Produce Association. In a mid-April press release, the organization noted that the European Parliament reformed agricultural promotion in ways that will benefit the promotion of fresh fruits and vegetables.

Freshfel’s press release noted: “The new framework will increase EU funding for agriculture promotion programmes from roughly 60 million EUR at present to 200 million EUR in 2020, of which the lion share is expected to remain with the fresh fruit and vegetable sector.

“Philippe Binard, General Delegate of Freshfel underlined that ‘the reform will open new opportunity for the sector to get access to increased resources to stimulate the consumption of fresh produce and indicates that the awareness at EU level to get better support for information and communication actions to boost fresh produce consumption’ Freshfel expects that the new promotion policy will come into force in 2015.”

Congratulations to everyone who helped make this happen. Greater consumption worldwide will yield global industry success!

Just a quick reminder that PMA will host Fresh Connections: Netherlands on April 29. If you are interested in the European market, consider attending this event to meet industry leaders and make information connections.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014 by Lee Mannering

Healthful eating remains a strong foodservice trend

Last week I shared with you some results from a study published in the International Journal of Hospitality Management which focused on the local foods trend at restaurants. Following up on this foodservice news, I recently came across some highlights from Technomic’s Menu Monitor database that complements the local trend.

More than half of consumers (59 percent) rated “socially responsible” as an important factor when deciding what restaurant they will visit, followed by; serves meat and poultry raised without hormones or steroids (58 percent), serves free-range poultry and/or grass-fed beef (45 percent) and serves natural and organic menu items (41 percent). More specifically:

  • With regard to “natural,” more than 9 percent of restaurants use “natural” when describing a menu item. Also, “natural” menu incidence posted a yearly growth of 7 percent, with a 20 percent increase on kids’ menus.
  • The number of restaurants offering “sustainable” menu items has grown more than 34 percent since 2011; sustainable menu items are up over 74 percent in that same period.
  • The use of “organic” in menu descriptions has grown 4 percent since 2011, with a 42 percent jump on kids’ menus in that same period. Currently, nearly 18 percent of the top 500 U.S. restaurant chains offer an organic menu item.

During this year’s PMA Foodservice Conference & Expo, we’ll be looking at a number of topics including social responsibility, food safety technologies, the impact of big data, and emerging consumer trends. The conference is July 25-27 in Monterey, California. If you’re planning to join us, please visit the PMA website where you can get complete details on all event activities, sponsorships, and more. Note that early registration rates apply until June 27.

Monday, April 14, 2014 by Kathy Means

Canadian retail leaders share insights on produce

From taste to safety to efficiency, retail produce expectations and predictions were the focus of a five-person retail panel at the recent CPMA convention. Moderated by retail guru Reggie Griffin, the panel included: Bernadette Hamel of Metro Richelieu, Sam Silvestro of Walmart Canada, Oleen Smethurst of Costco, Mike Venton of Loblaw Companies, and Frank Bondi of Sobey’s.

The panel’s chains represent nearly all the retail buying power in Canada, where the retail landscape is more consolidated than in the United States. I’ll share more of their insights in future blog posts, and to kick it off, these were some of their opening thoughts:

  • Venton: How do we make sure it tastes good? Sometimes we shoot ourselves in the foot being first to market with products that don’t taste good. We’re making progress, but we have a long way to go.
  • Smethurst: A message to organic growers: Be sure the premium for your products is reasonable. And everyone should be working toward continuous improvement.
  • Hamel: Suppliers can help us fulfill our promise to our customers. Understand our approach and help us deliver. 
  • Bondi: We are the food ambassadors for our customers. We need suppliers to be food ambassadors as well. Help us deliver quick, easy meals – meal solutions.
  • Silvestro: We’re a global company with regional offices. We have different specs in different countries, and we can take the full array of what growers offer. When it comes to direct sourcing, the sky’s the limit.

Stay tuned for more insights from these retailers.

Wednesday, April 09, 2014 by Lee Mannering

Study finds growth in local foods in foodservice likely to increase

According to a study published in the International Journal of Hospitality Management, restaurant chefs and food purchasing managers who bought local foods in the past are more likely to continue adding them to menus and store shelves; however, food purchasers also indicated they would not stock local food just because it is local, but it must have a unique selling point.

As for reasons why managers and chefs said they would continue to purchase local foods, certain actions of local food producers rose to the top. For example, a local farmer’s or producer’s response time – the time it took a business to respond to and process an order – was more important than delivery time as a factor when they considered buying local food products.

With regard to product uniqueness, study authors cited the example of a special variety apple used in an apple pie may be more important to the food manager than just a locally grown apple. They also cautioned that using “local” as a descriptor is not enough, as chefs want to provide their customers with a dish that is unique.

The study also found clear labeling is another selling point for restaurant managers who are purchasing foods in grocery stores and markets. The labels should be accurate and easy to read, containing specifications including weight, date and product details. Training staff to handle local foods properly and to communicate the advantages of local foods with customer was also an important factor that could explain the decision to purchase local foods.

During this year’s PMA Foodservice Conference & Expo, we’ll be looking at a number of topics including social responsibility, food safety technologies, the impact of big data, and emerging consumer trends. The conference is July 25-27 in Monterey, California. If you’re planning to join us, please visit the PMA website where you can get complete details on all event activities, sponsorships, and more. Note that early registration rates apply until June 27.

Monday, April 07, 2014 by Lee Mannering

Dietitians playing important role in in-store services

Last fall, I wrote about a Progressive Grocer survey that highlighted how retail dietitians partner with and promote health to consumers. According to a Food Marketing Institute study I read about last week, supermarkets are hiring an increasing number of registered dietitians, due to 66 percent of American shoppers believing their food choices are an important factor affecting their health.

FMI found that 85 percent of respondents to its Retailer Contributions to Health & Wellness survey stated they have a corporate registered dietitian on staff and 30 percent have in-store RDs. Twenty-five percent indicated they have regional dietitians.

When combined with the findings from Progressive Grocer (which can be accessed here), it’s clear that retailers using registered dietitians to make stronger connections with their customers, serve their community, and promote their health and wellness messages. If you missed it, Kathy shared RD Danielle Quigley’s story here on Field to Fork in January and her work in promoting fruits and vegetables to her shoppers.

Each October, PMA works with the Produce for Better Health Foundation to bring supermarket dietitians to Fresh Summit so they can see the latest healthful products our industry offers. And every year, we get some great insight from these folks. For example, the top three things the RDs want from brands to support their work are: recipes with images (76 percent), coupons (52 percent), social media tweets and posts (47 percent) and in-depth product information with nutritional information (47 percent).

Just some food for thought as our industry looks to increase sales and consumption.

Wednesday, April 02, 2014 by Lee Mannering

FSMA update: PMA comments on CGMPs, HARPCs for Food for Animals

Earlier this week, PMA submitted comments to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration regarding the agency’s Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) proposed rule on Current Good Manufacturing Practice and Hazard Analysis and Risk-Based Preventive Controls for Food for Animals.

In our brief comments, available on the PMA FSMA Resource Center, PMA Chief Science and Technology Officer Dr. Bob Whitaker described that the produce industry has a limited role in the production of animal feed – particularly as it relates to culling produce of insufficient quality from a harvest or process operation the purpose of animal feed.

Under the proposed rule, Dr. Whitaker notes that neither farms nor very small businesses are covered. While the agency proposes three different thresholds for a very small business (ranging from $500,000 to $2,500,000), each threshold is measured on its sales of animal food, and not total sales of the facility.

“We believe this is appropriate and will avoid inadvertently regulating farms or FDA-registered food facilities that may supply culled fruits and vegetables to livestock. It is important to note that while there are likely exceptions, generally culls supplied for animal feed are not a revenue-bearing activity (i.e., often the grower or processor has to pay to have the culls removed from their operations). In addition, the subpart B provisions of the proposed feed rule relating to good manufacturing practices do not apply to the holding or transporting of a raw agricultural commodity, and the rule exempts small or very small businesses that either pack or hold animal food, even when combined with animal food that comes from another farm,” said Dr. Whitaker.

He added that, with other FSMA proposed rules, PMA has maintained that public notice rules dictate that the actual regulatory language should first be made available for public comment. Moreover, the rules should acknowledge that the produce rule, which regulates the growing of fruits and vegetables, satisfies the supply verification requirements. Otherwise, by requiring supplier verification for animal feeds, FDA will negate its own decisions about when and if produce culls need to be regulated as animal feed.

For more details, visit our FSMA Resource Center to learn more about the various provisions of the FSMA and PMA’s interaction with FDA on these proposals.

Tuesday, April 01, 2014 by Lee Mannering

Sesame initiative rolls out to industry

Back in October, PMA (along with our partners at Sesame Workshop and the Partnership for a Healthier America) announced an agreement where members of the fresh produce industry will receive access to Sesame Street’s licensed characters, free of royalties for two years. After several months spent developing the components of this initiative, it was officially released to PMA members and industry yesterday.

The focus of this initiative is children aged 2 to 5 and their parents and caregivers, who are encouraged to ‘eat brighter!’ when it comes to fresh fruits and vegetables. The marketing toolkit for ‘eat brighter!’ provides turnkey resources for use of the Sesame Street characters in media placements, in-store signage, and packaging.

Among these resources are thematic promotions for distinct times of the year, such as Back to School, Fall Harvest and more. There are also customizable options for members who’d like materials with a look that fits their marketing strategy. Below is a video we produced that we hope will inspire members and industry to be part of this movement.

If the video embedded above does not display, you can view it here.

To help members understand the opportunities presented by ‘eat brighter!’ we have scheduled a Webinar for April 17 at 2:30 p.m. EDT. Speaking during this Webinar are Sam Kass, Executive Director of Let’s Move! and Senior Policy Advisor for Nutrition Policy; Maura Regan, Senior Vice President and General Manager of Global Consumer Products, Sesame Workshop; and Todd Putman, Chair, Sesame Workshop-PMA task force and Chief Marketing Officer, Bolthouse Farms.

This Webinar is being recorded and will be available for on-demand playback for those members unable to participate.

You can get more details on this new initiative, including how to register for the Webinar, by visiting the PMA website.

Monday, March 31, 2014 by Lee Mannering

Study explores Millennials and c-stores

According to Convenience Store News’ 2014 Realities of the Aisle consumer research study, Millennials frequent convenience stores more often than other consumers. Almost three-quarters of Millennials shop at a convenience store at least once a week, compared to 68 percent of total respondents. In addition, more Millennials also indicated they shop at c-stores almost every day – 15 percent vs. 11 percent for total respondents.

The primary reason Millennials shop at c-store is to buy beverages, followed by the need to purchase gasoline. Millennials differ from the total base, though, in that that they go to convenience stores to buy snacks and candy/gum much more than overall consumers. More Millennials also go to c-stores to buy prepared/fast food and to pick up health and beauty care items.

The study also noted that Millennials who shop at c-stores frequent grocery stores less often than other c-store shoppers; research showed that 72 percent of these Millennials shop at a grocery store at least once a week, compared to 77 percent of total c-store shoppers.

This finding made me think about what the recent NGA Supermarket Guru consumer study found as it relates to Millennials: Consumers age 24 and younger (59.5 percent) said they’ve downloaded a food or beverage app – the most among all surveyed demographic groups.

Perhaps one way for grocery stores to reconnect with Millennials frequenting c-stores is through enhanced store apps and social media/mobile marketing experiences that tout speed and efficiency to minimize their time in the store? Even though I am not a Millennial, a grocery store or retailer that provides self-checkout services is much more likely to get my business than one that does not.

What do you think of this study? Share your thoughts in the comments below or on PMA Xchange.