By Lorrie Baumann
Coached by a generation of chefs with television shows, consumers have learned to ask for fresh, local and organic products. Grocers are now teaching them to look for those at the grocery store as well as the farmers market.
“I think people are buying local now more than ever,” said Pat Brown, CEO of the Natural Markets Food Group, which includes Mrs. Green’s Natural Market, Planet Organic Market and Richtree Natural Market restaurants in New York, the Mid-Atlantic, Chicago and Canada. Consumers are asking more questions now about where their food comes from, Brown said. “It forces the hand of the retailer to go out and get that product…. Organic sales are growing at a high rate as well, but the consumer is interested in buying food in their neighborhood from people who grow it in their neighborhood.”
According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, total local food sales last year amounted to $6.1 billion, of which only $1.31 billion in sales occurred directly from farmers to consumers through farmers markets, u-pick farms and farm stands. Sales from farms that passed through the hands of intermediates – restaurants, distributors and retailers – grew from $2.7 billion in 2008 to $3.35 billion in 2012.
In the nationally representative 2011 U.S. Grocery Shopper Trends Survey conducted by the Food Marketing Institute, more than four out of five of the surveyed grocery store shoppers reported that they purchased local foods occasionally, while almost one out of 10 says they purchased local foods whenever possible. The Specialty Food Association reported in its “The State of the Specialty Food Industry 2015” report that, according to specialty food manufacturers, “Local and all-natural products continue to be the most interesting to consumers. More than half of the manufacturers cited ‘local’ as a claim that interests consumers most today, with almost half of them expecting growth in local products over the next three years. “
Those who buy local foods are doing it because they want food that’s fresher and tastes better, and they want to support their local economy rather than because they’re concerned for the environmental impacts of transporting food long distances. In a 2012 study, scientists found that grocery shoppers were more willing to pay extra for food labeled “local” than they were for foods labeled “certified organic,” “certified fair trade” or with a note about the food’s carbon footprint.
Some of those shoppers, particularly those who are white, upper to middle class and convinced that their buying habits can “make a difference,” are looking to farmers markets to supply their desires for fresh, local food – mainly produce – driving growth in the number of farmers markets across the country by 180 percent between 2006 and 2014. In 2014, the USDA counted 8,268 in the United States. State and local governments are encouraging the trend too. As of 2014, 26 states had state farmers’ market associations designed to provide the markets with technical assistance, and there were 65 state and regional or local Buy Fresh Buy Local chapters in 21 states organizing outreach events and local food guides to promote locally produced food and farmers.
Grocers have taken notice. Almost three quarters of the retailers surveyed by the Specialty Food Association said that “local” is of great interest to consumers today, with more than half of them saying that they expect growth in that segment over the next three years. “Over the past five to six years, the focus on local, natural and organic has really taken hold among food retailers,” said Jim Hertel, Managing Partner for food retail consultants Willard Bishop.
Natural Markets Food Group has begun contracting directly with local farmers to provide produce to its markets in the Northeastern U.S. “At the peak of the season in the Northeast, we will be 65 or 70 percent local produce. That farmer used to sell produce in farmers markets… It’s exactly why we’re growing, that we’re able to create relationships with local farmers and bring their product in,” Brown said. “Other markets are doing the same thing.”
The Rising Tide Floats All Boats
While not necessarily local, sales of organic products are following the consumer preference for fresh, trustworthy products. “That’s true both of natural foods retailers as well as more traditional mainstream food retailers, whether it’s Walmart, which has significantly ramped up emphasis on organics, especially value-priced organics,” said Hertel. “There’s been a recognition by retailers that consumers are interested and also that it’s an area where the margins are greater, so profits are greater.”
Sales of organic food in the United States totaled $35.9 billion in 2014, an 11 percent increase from the previous year, according to the latest data from the Organic Trade Association, which reported that total U.S. sales for organic products amounted to more than $39 billion in 2014, breaking previous industry records.
Sales research by the OTA shows sales trends for organic products growing at double digit rates for several years, compared to about a 1.5 percent projected growth rate for other foods. “The growth rates of traditional product lines are much smaller,” Hertel said. “The Millennial generation is very interested in healthy eating, and to them, that means natural and organic as well as less processed food.”
The majority of American households in all regions of the country now make organic products a part of their supermarket and retail purchases, according to the new research from the Organic Trade Association.
Retailers report that the demand for organic produce that prompted entry into the market by Walmart and Kroger is causing stress on the supply chain and making it harder for smaller retailers who have less buying power to compete for supplies that are limited by the amount of acreage that farmers have dedicated to certified organic growing methods and the length of time it takes to obtain organic certification on new fields. “The supply chain for organic product has become difficult at best because the bigger chains are getting into the market. The demand is causing outages and shortages occasionally,” said Brown. “Bigger growers are pleased because it’s easier and cost-effective to contract out an entire crop to a large buyer. The buying power of a big company like that impacts those who’ve been selling product for a long time.”
Imports of organic produce from Mexico are helping to ease the shortages and meet the demands of American consumers who’ve been long trained to expect their grocers to supply whatever food they want whenever they want it. “There’s a lot more organic farming in Mexico now than even five years ago,” Brown said. “There are gaps in some products, but generally, you can get organic produce year-round now because there’s so much organic production in Mexico now.”
For many years, sweet cherries have been commercially classified in two ways at grocery stores – dark sweet and Rainier – but now, a rare new cherry has created cause for a new classification due to its unique attributes and sweet flavor that set it apart from the rest. Debuting in select grocery stores mid-June, the new Skylar Rae® brand Tip Top cultivar cherry was discovered by chance in a family-run Washington State orchard, and is distinguished by its beautiful red and yellow bi-colored skin, firm texture and a flavor profile that makes it “The Sweetest Cherry You’ll Ever Eat™.”
Grown and marketed exclusively by Stemilt Growers, the Tip Top cherry cultivar, which goes to market under the Skylar Rae brand, was granted its own varietal classification by the International Federation for Produce Standards and is the first cherry in years to be given its own price look-up (PLU) number. While Skylar Rae was released in a miniscule volume the last two years to a handful of grocery stores, 2015 marks the first season this unique cherry will be nationally available through select grocery stores. During the cherry’s short four week season, from mid-June to mid-July, Stemilt estimates it will ship 20,000 units of Skylar Rae cherries, with plans to increase production in future years.
“A rarity in nature, Skylar Rae’s unique genetics and extremely high natural sugar content set it apart from other cherries – it truly is a treat from nature,” said West Mathison, Stemilt President and fifth generation grower. “We are excited to introduce this special cherry to the world, and encourage shoppers to pick up Skylar Rae cherries when they see them this summer because they won’t be around for long!”
The parentage of the new cherry is unknown, and was the result of a natural mutation of one tree that was planted from nursery stock. The “mother tree” was propagated upon its discovery and plantings of Tip Top cherries (the cultivar name which comes from the name of the orchard where it was discovered) have moved from a test environment to commercial orchards over the past decade. Today, only the highest quality Tip Top cultivar cherries go to market as Skylar Rae brand cherries.
Boasting a golden yellow skin with a partial to full orange-red blush, and a firm and nearly colorless flesh, Skylar Rae cherries contain the highest sugar content of any sweet cherry on the market, measuring in at 23-25 Brix. In comparison, Rainier cherries contain a Brix of 19-23 and Dark Sweet cherries, 17-20. Because of its sweet flavor profile, Skylar Rae cherries are ideally enjoyed as a pop-in-your-mouth snack, and can also be added to any number of culinary adventures and recipes for an extra sweet kick.
The new cherry is grown exclusively on Stemilt orchards in Washington state – where all cherries naturally flourish in eastern Washington’s dry, warm days and cool nights. In 2005, the Toftness family, who have been farming cherries at Tip Top Orchards for more than a decade, suffered the unimaginable loss of their infant daughter. As the family was healing, they discovered a cherry never before seen on a single tree growing in their orchard. The family felt it was a gift from nature meant to honor their beautiful daughter, Skylar Rae Toftness; and when it came time to trademark a brand name for the fruit, it was a unanimous decision that the cherry should be called, “Skylar Rae.”
“While new cherry discoveries in nature are not unheard of, what makes this particular cherry so special is that it was able to be cultivated into a commercially viable varietal, which is a very rare occurrence,” continued Mathison. “The fact that the Skylar Rae cherry also holds a special honor among one of the hard working family farmers we partner with, is, as they say, the cherry on top.”
Skylar Rae cherries are available in two packaging options: a convenient 1.25-pound bag and a smaller 1-pound clamshell carton for $5.99 – $6.99, depending on the harvest window. The cherries are available from mid-June to mid-July, in select markets. Stemilt has plans for increased distribution in the future as the crop and demand for the cherry continues to multiply. For more information on the Skylar Rae cherry, visit www.SkylarRaeCherries.com.
“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.