Archive for July 2011

Friday, July 15, 2011 by Lee Mannering

Using technology to drive locally grown promotions

Last week I tweeted about an effort here in the state that uses technology to help connect consumers with locally grown fruits and vegetables. The Delaware Department of Agriculture and the Government Information Center recently released a new mobile application for locating Delaware Fresh produce at all on-farm and farmers markets in the First State. The app provides:

  • A map of market locations
  • Market name, address, phone number, e-mail and/or website (if available)
  • Description of available items
  • Hours of operation

Advertisements supporting Delaware Fresh produce will contain a quick response (QR) code that smartphone users can scan to gain access to the app. I’ve talked about QR codes elsewhere here on Field to Fork and their potential to help our industry sell more produce, tell stories, educate consumers, and increase consumption.

Kudos to Delaware Agriculture Secretary Ed Kee and his staff for the work they’ve done on getting this new program up and running.

Thursday, July 14, 2011 by Kathy Means

Independent urban businesses – an untapped resource for boosting consumption

In June, members of PMA’s Government Affairs Committee met in Washington, D.C., and told government officials why increasing produce consumption is important to them and their businesses. Here at Field to Fork, we want to highlight a few of those stories. This one comes from Gene Casazza of Jetro/Restaurant Depot.

Gene has three daughters and one son and feels they need to build healthy habits and a healthy lifestyle, and that starts with fruits and vegetables. The same is true for other kids, and he appreciates that the government has programs to encourage healthy eating. The government needs to do even more to urge consumers to eat more fruits and vegetables – more with programs like WIC and SNAP (food stamps).

He also sees an untapped resource in the independent urban businesses – restaurants and grocery stores. He supplies companies like this and understands them. He believes they are not used effectively enough – they need education and they need some obstacles taken away. Not only can they help move more produce, they also create jobs.

From both a personal and business perspective, Gene knows why he supports increased consumption. What’s your story – and who should you tell?

Wednesday, July 13, 2011 by Glenn Boyet

Restaurants move to give kids healthy menu options

Earlier today, Lee Mannering posted information that consumers are eating out more, though their per-meal spending is down and may continue to decline. About half of the consumers surveyed said healthy menu options were extremely or somewhat important to them. I would be among those folks.

If you’ve dined out with your children, what’s the first thing that comes to mind? Running around the restaurant, the occasional tantrum. Not for me! It’s getting my 9-year-old daughter to move away from the chicken nuggets kids special with fries (and a sugar-laden soft drink as well).  Now don’t get me wrong, I don’t always practice what I preach. But I am impressed with today’s announcement by the National Restaurant Association, unveiling a new initiative called Kids LiveWell. 

With more and more attention being paid to healthy eating, from the USDA’s MyPlate and now with Kids LiveWell, children will have more tasty and delicious options highlighted when dining out. I certainly want to applaud the National Restaurant Association on this outstanding new program. It’s no surprise that increased servings of fruits and vegetables top the list for the program’s guidelines. This program enables our children to consume healthier foods at an early stage, and it also provides clear guidance to parents eating out with kids. This is an important step to further enhance the restaurant experience.

And now, just maybe, I’ll be able to get my girl to eat more produce without  the negotiations that take more time than eating dinner itself.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011 by Lee Mannering

Study finds restaurant industry rebounding, healthy menus relevant

A new survey by AlixPartners LLP has found that 70 percent of Americans dined out at least once per week over the last year, compared to 49 percent in a similar survey from the first quarter of 2010. Dining trends improved across all segments, with the best growth on the high and low ends, with convenience stores and fine dining outpacing other segments.

Despite this, restaurants can expect to face ongoing challenges. Diners remain budget-conscious and many are maintaining the conservative spending habits brought on by the recent recession. The study found per-meal spending continues to trend downward, with consumers saying they expect to spend 5 percent less per meal at restaurants in the next 12 months – an average of $13.40 per meal vs. $14.10 per meal over the previous 12 months.

The survey also found that healthy-menu options remain important, with nearly 49 percent rating healthy menu options as “extremely” or “somewhat important” to their dining choices. However, when nutritional information was printed directly on the menu, only 40 percent of those surveyed said they ordered healthier options more frequently than they may have in the past.

If you’re interested in what’s happening with fresh produce and foodservice, visit our website to learn more about the 2011 PMA Foodservice Conference & Exposition. If you’re already registered, remember to download the Conference mobile app for your smartphone to get the latest on event news and programming.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011 by Kathy Means

Help pilot sustainability metrics – for your company and the industry

This summer, the Stewardship Index for Specialty Crops is looking for growers to pilot a few sustainability metrics. As you know, the index is developing standard metrics (not standards themselves) to help the specialty crop industry measure sustainability efforts. The goal is to have one set of yardsticks that everyone uses to minimize the burden on companies.

PMA supports this effort, and the Stewardship Index welcomes growers and others to pilot test these metrics on fruit and vegetable operations of all scales, with a focus on citrus, potatoes, strawberries, processing tomatoes, wine grapes, and romaine lettuce.

In response to grower input from the 2010 pilots, data inputs have been significantly scaled down for this pilot. The metric calculator is designed to provide instant feedback: growers enter data and receive baseline calculations about on-farm stewardship of water, soil, nutrient, and energy resources, such as:

  • Water use efficiency by acre and unit of production
  • Simple irrigation efficiency using crop evapotranspiration
  • Soil organic matter as compared with the soil’s potential
  • Nitrogen and phosphorus use efficiency by acre and unit of production
  • Energy use by acre and unit of production

Grower input is critical to the process. By piloting these metrics, growers will provide and receive valuable information on:

  • Usefulness of the metrics for evaluating sustainable performance within specific crops and regions
  • Usefulness of the metrics for improving business operations and efficiency
  • Clarity of data collection tools and availability of data
  • Usefulness of the data in answering buyer inquiries

Look for a complete suite of Stewardship Index metrics tools, including the calculator and a user guide, in July. A number of webinars will be planned to demo the calculator for potential users. If you are interested in piloting the Stewardship Index metrics, please e-mail Jessica Siegal or call her at (707) 331-1810.

Monday, July 11, 2011 by Lee Mannering

Traceability case study: Growers Express

A few weeks ago I posted an item on why traceability is important to the fresh produce industry. In checking out updates to the Produce Traceability Initiative website, I found a new case study that shows how Growers Express is working to implement traceability.

Headquartered in California’s Salinas Valley, Growers Express cultivation exceeds 50,000 acres, offering over 40 items on a year-round basis. It also grows in Arizona, Oregon, Ohio and Michigan as well as Mexico and Canada. With such acreage spread over multiple states and countries and crops rotated more than twice annually, lot integrity was hard to maintain and traceability suffered.

To remedy this, Growers Express assigned case labels with GS1 GTINs to every one of its 18 million cartons shipped annually. In doing so, Growers Express now has a depth of data elements on every carton for real-time traceability.

Making this change also gave Growers Express internal efficiencies to improve its overall operations. Within six months, Growers Express had handheld devices and mobile printers in the hands of its field harvesters. While Growers Express estimates that it has spent between $.02 and $.03 per carton to implement the PTI milestone throughout its operation, the annual savings in cartons alone returns a large portion of that investment. Other hidden productivity and accuracy gains from field to distribution center to office, from trucks on the road to billing, while difficult to quantify, are no less real.

To learn more, visit the PTI website.

Friday, July 08, 2011 by Kathy Means

When food prices rise, diets change

The folks at Oxfam International reported that rising global food prices are driving consumers worldwide to change what they eat. The poll covered consumers in 17 countries: Australia, Brazil, Germany, Ghana, Guatemala, India, Kenya, Mexico, Netherlands, Pakistan, Philippines, Russia, South Africa, Spain, Tanzania, United Kingdom, and the United States. Two-thirds of those polled said the high cost of food was their greatest concern. More than four in 10 said health was a factor, and for some in developing countries availability was an issue.

Oxfam is looking to influence conversations at the G20 meetings in France in late June, but there are implications for the global fresh produce industry. Oxfam notes that consumers are reducing the quantity and quality of the foods they eat, and that could affect fruit and vegetable consumption as those items may be seen as more expensive or discretionary. Even in the United States, 55 percent of consumers said they were eating different foods from two years ago (before the rapid food price increases). Half said it was for health reasons, but nearly one-third said it was because prices had risen.

On a lighter note, the survey identified the top foods globally and for the surveyed countries. Globally, the top 10 favorite foods are (in order): pasta, meat, rice, pizza, chicken, fish and seafood, vegetables, Chinese food, Italian food, and Mexican food. Hmmm. Vegetables made that list. According to the survey, the top three foods for the United States are pizza, steak, and chicken. In Australia they are chocolate, pasta, and steak. So, did fruits or vegetables make any country’s list? Yes: Kenya (vegetables), Pakistan (vegetables), Philippines (vegetables), Russia (potatoes and salad), and Tanzania (banana and meat tied).

Thursday, July 07, 2011 by Lee Mannering

U.S.-Mexico trucking dispute nears resolution

A couple weeks ago I mentioned a report indicating that the ongoing U.S.-Mexico trucking dispute was nearing its end, pending the signing of a formal agreement by both nations. Yesterday, U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood and Secretaría de Comunicaciones y Transportes Dionisio Arturo Pèrez-Jàcome Friscione met in Mexico City to sign agreements resolving the dispute over long-haul, cross-border trucking services.

A press release from the U.S. Federal Motor Carriers Administration (FMCSA) noted that the new program “puts safety first and paves the way for Mexico to lift tariffs it imposed more than two years ago. Pursuant to an agreement signed by the United States Trade Representative and the Secretaría de Economía of the United Mexican States, Mexico will soon lift retaliatory tariffs on more than $2 billion in U.S. manufactured goods and agricultural products, providing opportunities to increase U.S. exports to Mexico and expanding job creation in the U.S.”

The agreement also provides that Mexico will suspend 50 percent of the retaliatory tariffs within ten days. Mexico will suspend the remainder of the tariffs within five days of the first Mexican trucking company receiving its U.S. operating authority. As a result, Mexican tariffs that now range from five to 25 percent on an array of U.S. agricultural and industrial products such as apples, certain pork products, and personal care products would be immediately cut in half and will disappear entirely within a few months.

In May, PMA submitted comments to the FMCSA announced its proposal of a United States-Mexico cross-border long-haul trucking pilot program – which is the foundation of resolving this dispute. In those comments, we voiced our strong support of the pilot program, stating that it protects U.S. highways while facilitating increased trade and economic opportunity.

In a media statement on yesterday’s action, PMA President and CEO Bryan Silbermann said: “This dispute has had a profound impact on the fresh produce industry in particular. Mexico is a critical trading partner for our members and the resolution of this issue not only allows for greater export opportunities, but also impacts job creation and demand for produce in both countries.”

A number of our members were adversely affected by the retaliatory tariffs and lost market share as a result. We’re pleased to see this issue move closer to an end and we urge Congress and the Obama administration to finalize the resolution of this dispute and work to ensure its implementation.

Wednesday, July 06, 2011 by Kathy Means

FSMA: Risk - There’s more to it than a commodity ID

When it comes to identifying risk, there’s a lot more to consider than whether a commodity has been linked to foodborne illness outbreaks. The U.S. Congress agreed that food safety risk must be assessed for facilities (not commodities) and a facility’s risk profile should be based on many factors. Those factors may include the commodities handled there, but should not be limited to that factor.

Today, PMA filed comments with the FDA on its proposed rule about inspections and compliance, part of FDA’s work to implement the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA). The point of this is that the act requires FDA to inspect high-risk facilities more frequently. To do so, the agency must establish protocols to assess facilities’ risk levels.

In our comments, we said: “Even if a particular commodity has been associated with an outbreak, that alone cannot determine whether a facility that handles that product merits more frequent inspections…. A regulation that simply deems all facilities that handle a particular commodity ‘high risk’ would violate the act and the principle of regulation based on risk. A high-risk item produced with excellent controls may be of lower risk than a low-risk item produced with poor controls.”

Not only does FDA have to prioritize based on risk, the agency must also consider its allocation of resources. We noted: “Given its budget constraints, FDA does not have the luxury of sending inspectors to facilities that are unlikely to present risk. By evaluating the rigor and efficacy of private certification and auditing systems, the use of which are widespread in the produce industry, FDA may best target its resources. Firms undergoing credible third-party evaluations that satisfy FDA should move down the risk ladder.”

PMA has long held that companies must have robust, active food safety programs, and those that do should be rewarded for their efforts – in this case with a reduced inspection burden. Those companies that do not have such programs should be inspected more frequently to protect public health and confidence.

We also commented on mandatory recall authority, informing consumers about recalls, and administrative detention. You can also read our other comments on FSMA implementation.

FDA has a lot to do to implement FSMA, and the agency is moving quickly to do so. The new regulations will affect your businesses, and we encourage you to stay engaged in the process.

Tuesday, July 05, 2011 by Lee Mannering

Fresh Connections: Cincinnati to examine food safety, traceability

In a few weeks, PMA members in Ohio will have an opportunity to learn about a myriad of food safety issues – ranging from risks to traceability to the food safety law – during Fresh Connections: Cincinnati on July 21 at the Hyatt Regency Cincinnati. Retailers, wholesalers, distributors, growers, shippers or service providers are all invited to attend this event. The day’s agenda will help attendees:

  • Discover common food safety missteps that may be putting your company at greater risk for a food borne illness outbreak
  • Get updates on regulatory food safety and traceability activities
  • Understand the events that led up to the formation of the Produce Traceability Initiative (PTI), recent PTI developments and why traceability has become so important to our industry

In addition to networking with regional industry leaders, participants will also have an opportunity to meet with PMA’s experts in Food Safety & Science and Supply Chain Efficiencies, Dr. Bob Whitaker and Ed Treacy. For more details or to register, visit the PMA website. Seating is limited for this event so early registration is encouraged.