“We were the company that had the ‘weird’ fruits and vegetables,” explained Melissa’s Produce Director of Public Relations, Robert Schueller, describing the company’s early years in slightly amused tone. Whether the thorn-covered durian fruit from Thailand, or 60-pound jackfruit from Mexico and Costa Rica, Melissa’s prides itself on always offering customers something new and unique, a feature particularly prized by the company’s gourmet clientele.
The company, founded by Joe and Sharon Hernandez, has a catalog of approximately 1,200 items, many offered seasonally. The selection includes conventional and organic fresh specialty produce, as well as dried items. One of the first national organic brands to begin selling 15 years ago, Melissa’s variety is among the U.S. leaders for both organic and conventional specialty produce, as well as hispanic and Asian specialty produce.
While Melissa’s – named for the Hernandez’s daughter – distributes to the nation’s top 20 retailers as well as independent gourmet markets, it started out catering to local specialty ethnic food retailers. First delivering traditional favorite items to Hispanic markets and shoring up supply chains that had left stores with inconsistent stock, Melissa’s soon branched out to bring original, sometimes unusual produce to a range of retailers.
While many distributors source quality produce both locally and globally, Melissa’s prides itself on pioneering a path for American consumers to taste new fruits and vegetables. When the company identifies an item it thinks would go over well stateside, but for one reason or another cannot be imported – often due to the lengthy regulatory process required to clear international produce – Melissa’s innovates by bringing new farming to the U.S. “Ten, 15 years ago, people would visit Southeast Asia, or Central American, and taste the delicious dragonfruit,” explained Schueller. “Then we started getting emails and calls, with people saying, ‘I had this terrific new fruit, how can I get it? You guys are the company to get it!’ But 15 years ago, we couldn’t get it. It wasn’t yet legal for import into the U.S.”
Knowing that dragonfruit is in the cactus family, the company approached one of its growers, a cactus fruit producer in Fallbrook, California, to attempt cultivation of the plant. The crop was a success, and that producer now turns out 80 percent of all domestically grown dragonfruit. Still a relatively expensive item, due to the plant’s sensitivity to swings of cold and hot weather, Melissa’s now has a source of dragonfruit for late summer and fall, which it pairs with Florida-grown fruit that became available in 2010. When the USDA finally approved Melissa’s import of year-round Vietnamese dragonfruit in 2011, this completed the company’s move to supply American consumers with a delicious new exotic fruit whose sales continue to increase.
While some of the company’s unique fruit offerings catch consumer eyes, its flagship product is actually the routine-looking Dutch Yellow Potato, sold in retail stores and also favored by gourmet chefs for its buttery flavor. This creamer potato, grown in Idaho and often referred to (erroneously) as ‘Baby Yukons,’ is uniquely resistant to toxic greening, a common problem with creamer potatoes. Other proprietary items offered by Melissa’s, of which there are many, include kale sprouts – imagine a Brussels sprout appearing plant that produces miniature kale sprouts instead of balls of Brussels sprouts – and Muscato grapes.
While Joe Hernandez has brought Melissa’s a long way – he continues to serve as CEO and President of a company whose staff includes 25 family members, and the company has evolved to include the most exotic of produce from around the globe, Melissa’s remains true to its roots, covering those same – and some new – hispanic staples that gave the company its early success. Known for its variety of both fresh and dried chile peppers, one of the company’s exclusive partner farmers will begin growing the new world’s hottest pepper – the Carolina Reaper at 2.2 million Scoville heat units – this summer in California, to pair with the dried product the company currently sources from Mexico. The pepper will be one of many produce varieties that Melissa’s procures as exclusives from its growers.
For more information on Melissa’s Produce, visit www.melissas.com.
Sales of organic food and non-food products in the United States broke through another record in 2014, totaling $39.1 billion, up 11.3 percent from the previous year, according to the latest survey on the organic industry from the Organic Trade Association (OTA).
Despite the industry struggling with tight supplies of organic ingredients, organic food sales in 2014, at $35.9 billion, posted an 11 percent rise, while organic non-food sales, at $3.2 billion, jumped almost 14 percent for the biggest annual increase in six years.
In blue states and red states, across the heartland of America and all along the Gulf Coast, sales of organic products are posting double-digit increases. The majority of American households in all regions of the country now make organic a part of their supermarket and retail purchases – from 68 to almost 80 percent of households in southern states, to nearly 90 percent on the West Coast and in New England, according to new market research.
OTA’s Organic Industry Survey is the most accurate and comprehensive quantitative picture of the U.S. organic industry available. It was conducted and produced by Nutrition Business Journal. Over 200 companies responded to the survey, conducted this year from February 10 through April 3. The full survey will be available in mid-May through OTA.
The U.S. organic sector has expanded significantly since OTA first began tracking the industry’s performance in 1997. In 1997, organic food sales totaled around $3.4 billion, and accounted for under 1 percent of total food sales. In 2014, organic food claimed almost 5 percent of the total food sales in the U.S., and has consistently far outshone the 3 percent growth pace for the total food industry.
Organic fruits and vegetables continued to be the biggest-selling organic category in 2014 with $13 billion in sales, up 12 percent from the previous year, and making up more than 36 percent of all organic food sales. Of all the produce now sold in the United States, 12 percent of it is organic, a market share that has more than doubled in the past 10 years when organic produce sales accounted for only 5 percent of the fruit and vegetable market.
The organic dairy sector posted an almost 11 percent jump in sales in 2014 to $5.46 billion, the biggest percentage increase for that category in six years.
Sales of organic non-food products – accounting for 8 percent of the total organic market – posted the biggest percentage gain in six years, with sales of organic fiber and organic personal care products the stand-out categories.
Earthbound Farm is expanding its popular line of kale-based Deep Green Blends with Kale Italia - a zesty mix of baby kale blended with popular Italian greens, arugula and radicchio - available in a 5-ounce clamshell package. Available now, this new addition reflects the continuing growth in consumer fascination with all things kale.
“We’ve heard the demand for more delicious ways to eat kale, and we’re delivering with an enticing new blend of flavors to meet the need,” said Nicole Glenn, Director of Product Innovation at Earthbound Farm. “Baby kale is so versatile that it satisfies that desire for an all-purpose green that works in smoothies, cooked recipes, and salads equally deliciously. And combined with the Italian greens in this blend, people will rave about Kale Italia as a tasty new take on the popular superfood.”
Lighter than Earthbound Farm’s other kale-based Deep Green Blends (Power or Zen), Kale Italia still has a crave-worthy crunch and a robust flavor. Beyond salad, this new blend is ideal for pastas, risottos, sautes and more. “Kale Italia has the versatility and freshness people want at a price they can afford,” added Glenn. “And the fact that it’s so nutrient-dense is a driving factor of its popularity.”
Earthbound Farm’s Kale Italia (5-ounce clamshell) is packed in a modified atmosphere to maximize freshness and quality and is available nationwide with a suggested retail price of $4.99.
Earthbound is also adding a new blend, Half & Half: Baby Spinach & Arugula, which builds on the popularity of its Half & Half: Spring Mix & Baby Spinach mix. With consumers often purchasing several varieties of greens at a time and blending them into recipes, packaging the popular varieties together into a single blend makes it easier and more convenient for the shopper. Half & Half: Baby Spinach & Arugula is available in a 5-ounce clamshell with a suggested retail price of $3.99.
Like all Earthbound Farm fresh produce, these greens are grown in accordance with the company’s industry-leading food safety and organic integrity programs and packaged in sustainable packaging made from 100 percent post-consumer recycled bottles.
Mariani Packing Company, the world’s largest independent producer of dried fruit, has partnered with Ganeden Biotech, a recognized leader in the manufacturing and marketing of probiotics. This partnership will allow Mariani to build upon the company’s legacy of innovation through the development of a new portfolio of dried fruit snacks and ingredient products utilizing GanedenBC30 Probiotic Cultures.
“As consumers continue to demand more from the snacks and food that they are eating, dried fruit partnered with the benefits of probiotics is an ideal combination,” says Miranda Ackerman, Director of Innovation and Business Development. “We are very excited for our upcoming launch of consumer products, initially focused on digestive health and overall wellness, as well as the portfolio of fruit ingredients in development that we will be able to provide for our global customers.”
Dried fruit is a natural source of dietary fiber, which is shown to support digestive health. Combining the natural health benefits of dried fruit with a highly stable probiotic culture will allow consumers to add probiotics to their everyday snacking and eating occasions in a more versatile and convenient way. As the market and education on probiotics increases, consumer awareness continues to grow – currently about 80 percent of consumers know what probiotics are and associate them with a health benefit.
“This dried fruit innovation combines prebiotics and probiotics into a truly functional health product that is complemented by antioxidants,” says Dr. Holly Petty, Director of Technical Services and Innovation. “Our partnership with Ganeden has enabled us to bring a product to market that delivers active cultures 10 times more effectively than yogurt – but in a shelf stable form.”
Ready Pac has just brought out its new Organic Powerhouse Grains Bistro® Bowl —a completely vegan, superfood-filled salad with ingredients that reap ‘super’ nutritional benefits.
Broad access to nutritional information has helped superfoods sky rocket in popularity. These nutrient-dense foods have been popular with consumers seeking alternative options that meet their nutrition needs. Research also shows that that ‘superfoods’ like quinoa and wheat berries are capable of boosting protein intake, improving energy, preventing disease, and aiding in weight loss.
“More consumers are looking for foods that provide an array of nutritional benefits” says Tristan Simpson, Chief Communications Officer at Ready Pac. “The Organic Powerhouse Grains Bistro Bowl has soluble fiber, nutrients, and health-boosting phytochemicals. It’s also low in calories, sugar and sodium, which makes it ideal to incorporate into an active lifestyle and also tastes great!”
The Organic Powerhouse Grains Bistro Bowl salad is part of a growing line of products for the health conscious, on-the-go consumer. The salad contains several nutrient-dense ingredients, including:
The Organic Powerhouse Grains Bistro Bowl salad is only 260 calories and has a suggested retail price of $4.99. The new salad bowl is currently available nationally at Safeway locations and its affiliated banners.
For more information about Ready Pac’s Bistro Bowl Salads and fresh food offerings, visit http://www.readypac.com/products/.
If you know an outstanding retail produce manager, nominate them for the 2015 United Fresh Retail Produce Manager Awards. This program pays special recognition to produce managers on the front line, working everyday to increase sales and consumption of fresh produce.
Avocados From Mexico (AFM) has announced it is a founding supporter of FNV, a new brand that promotes fruit and vegetable consumption to teens and moms using the same relentless, compelling and catchy marketing that major consumer brands do.
The collaboration was announced this week during the Partnership for a Healthier America’s (PHA) Building a Healthier Future Summit, one of the nation’s premier gatherings of health experts, policy makers and business and industry leaders committed to ending childhood obesity.
“AFM is proud to be a founding supporter of FNV,” said Alvaro Luque, President, Avocados From Mexico. “Mexico is the leading supplier of avocados in the United States, representing nearly 70 percent of all avocado volume, and we are proud to drive awareness of this versatile and nutrient-dense fruit.”
Support of FNV reinforces Avocados From Mexico’s position as a leading superfood brand in the produce category. AFM’s year around availability affords it the opportunity to continuously connect with consumers about the multiple benefits of consuming avocados. In February, AFM became the first fresh produce brand to broadcast an ad and implement a fully-integrated digital campaign during the most popular football event of the year; earning widespread acclaim and social media buzz while generating over 1 billion impressions.
Avocados From Mexico is committed to advancing consumer education about the benefits of avocados and their important role in a nutritious diet. As the category leader, it is incumbent upon AFM to reach out to consumers about this information in a variety of ways. The brand is partnering with a registered dietitian to reach consumers throughout the year, and recently launched interactive content to promote the nutritional benefits of avocados on its website and social channels.
“We know that avocados are a super food, so it’s no surprise that Avocados from Mexico is a founding supporter of Team FNV, which will change the way that fruits and vegetables are marketed to families,” said Lawrence A. Soler, President and CEO of the Partnership for a Healthier America.
To learn more, visit the Avocados From Mexico Facebook page, www.facebook.com/AvocadosFromMexico, or website, www.AvocadosFromMexico.com.
Tyson Foods, Inc. has completed its merger with The Hillshire Brands Company, a transaction that positions Tyson Foods as a clear leader in the prepared foods business. In connection with the merger, shares of Hillshire Brands common stock will be delisted and cease trading on the New York Stock Exchange and Chicago Stock Exchange before the opening of the respective markets on August 29, 2014.
The combination of Tyson Foods and Hillshire Brands creates a single company with more than $40 billion in annual sales and a portfolio that includes recognized brands such as Tyson(R), Wright(R), Jimmy Dean(R), Ball Park(R), State Fair(R) and Hillshire Farm(R).
“As of today, Tyson Foods and Hillshire Brands are officially together in one great company,” said Tyson Foods CEO Donnie Smith. “Part of our strategic growth plan has been to shift toward higher-margin prepared and branded foods. This transaction gives us a portfolio of complementary, proven brands as a new springboard and accomplishes in a short time what would have taken us years to build on our own.”
The integration of the two companies is currently expected to generate synergy savings of $225 million in fiscal 2015 and more than $500 million by fiscal 2017.
Teams of people from Tyson and Hillshire have been working on integration plans since July to help make sure the combined company gets off to a good start.
“During this process, I’ve had a chance get to know many people on the Hillshire Brands team and the great work they’re doing, and I’m more convinced than ever that the future of our combined companies is bright,” Smith said. “As excited as I am about our new brands, I’m equally excited about the combined talent of the two companies.”
A new leadership team has been selected and includes a mix of existing senior leaders from Tyson Foods and Hillshire Brands.
Andy Callahan, former president of Hillshire’s retail business, will manage all retail consumer brands, including the legacy Hillshire consumer brands (such as Jimmy Dean(R), Ball Park(R), Hillshire Farm(R) and Sara Lee(R)), Tyson’s consumer brands (such as Tyson(R) frozen, value-added poultry and Wright(R) Brand bacon) and Hillshire’s Gourmet Food Group.
Sally Grimes, former chief innovation officer and president of Hillshire’s Gourmet Food Group, will lead Tyson’s innovation (including research and development), sales and global brand strategy teams to support all products sold through retail channels and to maximize global growth of our consumer brands.
Donnie King, former president-Prepared Foods, Customer and Consumer Solutions for Tyson Foods, will oversee Tyson’s legacy poultry, fresh meats and non-branded prepared foods businesses as well as the combined Tyson Foods and Hillshire foodservice businesses. Those reporting to him will include Steve Stouffer who will lead fresh meats; Noel White who will lead poultry; Wes Morris who will lead prepared foods operations; and Tom Hayes, currently chief supply chain officer for Hillshire Brands, who will lead the combined Tyson and Hillshire foodservice businesses.
Those continuing to report to Donnie Smith will include David Van Bebber, who leads the Tyson legal team; Sara Lilygren, who leads corporate affairs; Dennis Leatherby, who continues as the company’s chief financial officer; Hal Carper, who heads strategy and new ventures; Mike Roetzel, who oversees operations services; and Russell Tooley, who heads the company’s business process and continuous improvement practice.
Ken Kimbro, who has led Tyson Foods’ human resources functions since 2001, will be transitioning into retirement. He will be replaced by Mary Oleksiuk, former chief human resources officer for Hillshire Brands.
Malik Sadiq, senior vice president-Asia Pacific, will oversee Tyson International on an interim basis. He takes the place of James Young who will be transitioning to Tyson’s Cobb-Vantress breeding stock subsidiary in the coming months.
“This is an awesome team and they’re prepared to make this integration process smooth and efficient while we continue to exceed the expectations of our customers and consumers,” Smith said.
Sean Connolly, former president and chief executive officer of Hillshire Brands, has chosen to pursue other interests, but will consult during the integration process.
Kristin Fritz Kubiszak of Brookside Farms, a grower for MBG Marketing – The Blueberry People, was one of only 15 national honorees named as a Champion of Change this year by the White House and the United States Department of Agriculture. The award honors agriculture leaders from across the country who are taking innovative approaches to support American farming and ranching—both now and in the future, by showcasing their actions that ensure and advance the future of agriculture.
Kubiszak is the retail manager for Brookside Farms located in Paw Paw, Michigan; and is a fifth-generation member of her family to operate a farm that distributes fresh blueberries through MBG’s cooperative marketing network under the Naturipe® brand. After obtaining her bachelor’s degree in social work from Cornerstone University, Kubiszak returned home to her family farm, which focuses on growing and packing top quality blueberries. Kubiszak’s involvement in the agriculture industry doesn’t stop with just her family farm; she also sits on the board of directors for the Van Buren County Farm Bureau as Chair of the Promotion and Education Committee. With this position she has dedicated her time to educating the community with trips to local schools, the Ag Venture tent at the local Youth Fair and other youth and consumer education programs. “Kristin is another member of the Fritz family farming operation that makes us proud that they are part of our MBG and Naturipe families.” said Bob Hawk, President and CEO of MBG Marketing.
Kubiszak’s primary goal is to educate, not only about agriculture, but also how families impact agriculture and how important it is to continue family farms. Brookside Farms started as a dairy farm in 1876 and Kubiszak’s grandfather planted his first blueberry bush in 1956. That was the same year the family joined Michigan Blueberry Growers Association, a grower-owned cooperative, and the year Kubiszak’s father, Bill Fritz, was born. Like his farming predecessors, he has continued the family tradition of active agricultural leadership, by serving on the boards of both MBG Marketing and Naturipe Farms of which MBG is an owner/ partner. “We were absolutely delighted when we learned that Kristin was selected for this program” said Bill. “She is a wonderful representative of the next generation that has the desire and drive to continue our commitment to family farming and the broader agricultural community”.
Kubiszak and the other honorees were congratulated by Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack of the USDA and recognized at a ceremony in the White House by Deputy Secretary of Agriculture Krysta Harden and Assistant to the President and Director of the Domestic Policy Council, Cecilia Munoz. They were given a tour of the First Lady’s Garden at The White House by Sam Kass, who is President Barack Obama’s Senior Policy Advisor for Nutrition Policy and Let’s Move Executive Director. “It was a true privilege to represent the blueberry industry as a Champion of Change. Since we grow blueberries, which are known for their great flavor and incredible health attributes, I was especially pleased to learn first-hand about some of the efforts by the First Lady to encourage children to eat a healthy, brighter array of fresh fruits and vegetables” said Kubiszak. “It was great to share the story our family blueberry farm. It has always been a passion of mine to educate others about what we do, and this was another great opportunity”.
To learn more about Kubiszak and the other “Champions of Change” visit http://www.whitehouse.gov/champions.
Pereg Gourmet, a family-owned company offering a wide array of all-natural and exotic pantry staples, is introducing a lineup of premium ancient grains, rice and beans that are easy to prepare and ideal for rounding out a meal.
One hundred percent pure and naturally rich in health benefits, the new products include: white quinoa, red quinoa, farro, wheat berries, chickpeas, basmati rice, pearl couscous, traditional couscous, bulgur, soup mix, black beans, French lentils, Texas chili beans, orange lentils, green lentils, an autumn lentil blend, yellow split peas, green split peas, red kidney beans, and white beans. Of these 20 different varieties, each are completely free of preservatives and OU kosher certified. Most of the new items are also gluten-free certified and non-GMO verified.
Packaged in a stand-up, re-sealable pouch to maintain freshness, each bag measures in at one pound and features recipe ideas on the back. The new grain, rice and bean lineup is now rolling out at select retailers across the country and online. The suggested retail price is $2.99 to $3.99 for everything but the quinoa and $5.99 to $6.99 for the quinoa items. Visit www.pereg-gourmet.com for detail on the company.