Posted by: Mahdi Ebrahimi | May 6, 2008

Produce industry shows its stuff at All Things Organic show

Celebrity Chef Bobby Flay kicked off the Organic Trade Association’s All Things Organic conference and trade show April 26-29 at McCormick Place in Chicago. Addressing current trends in foodservice, he spoke about how operators can best respond to customer needs and what lies ahead in foodservice.

Following his presentation, Chef Flay held a culinary demonstration and book signing. His presentation was deemed timely by the organic industry because the category continues to lag behind retail in organic product demand.

The OTA also used the show to introduce new officers. Julia Sabin of Smucker Quality Beverages, previously OTA’s vice president, has been selected as its president for the coming year. Matt McLean, president of Uncle Matt’s Organics, was named vice president for the United States, and Dag Falck of Nature’s Path is now vice president for Canada. Todd Linsky of Cal/Organic- Grimmway Farms will serve as secretary, and Chuck Marcy of Healthy Food Holdings LLC, is the incoming treasurer.

The produce industry was strongly represented on the show floor.

Cal-Organic/Grimmway Farms’ booth was aglow in yellow from its new organic peeled yellow carrot product. The firm is based in Bakersfield, CA. “The yellow carrot pack has great eye appeal,” said Mark Filauri, director of sales for the Midwest region. The sweet baby-size carrots are a convenient snack and perfect for kids’ lunchboxes. The attractive yellow color is sure to have them eating more carrots, he said. “The item is packed in one-pound bags, 24 to a carton.”

Anthony DeAngelis, director of sales/operations, Northeast division, of Christopher Ranch in Gilroy, CA, said the company is increasing its California production of organic products due to growing demand.

“We recently introduced our totally domestically produced processed line,” he said. “Christopher Ranch is the only company with a processed line that includes only domestic garlic.”

Christopher Ranch also recently introduced a new recyclable mesh bag that carries the universal recycling symbol. All the company’s organic bags are now stitched instead of stapled.

“Our dedication to sustainability continues to be strong,” said Mr. DeAngelis. “A biodegradable bag is now on our design and development table, with plans to launch it in the future.”

The excitement permeating Earthbound Farms’ booth had much to do with newly launched items. The company, headquartered in San Juan Bautista, CA, has added new items that complement its already popular line of greens.

“Our line of specialty salads [has] been expanded to now include 11-ounce value and one-pound club pack clamshells,” said Glenn Daniels, senior director of national sales. “These are perfect for value-conscious consumers. And we’ve brought back the bulk pack. Our two-pound packs were designed with clubstores in mind, and include spring mix, baby spinach, baby arugula, baby lettuces, mache blend, frisee, wild arugula and mizuna. Packed 200 per pallet, they eliminate the need for cardboard boxes. And they are a superior foodservice solution. The walk-in ready container protects product and reduces shrink.”

Jim Provost, co-owner of I Love Produce in Kelton, PA, wasn’t letting his recovery from recent knee surgery due to an accident during a basketball game prevent him from presenting the company’s product line with his typical enthusiasm.

“Our two-bulb organic garlic pack continues to be strong at retail,” he said. “At a suggested 99 cents, it’s a great item for small families, and the space- conserving display box is perfect for smaller stores or those just entering the organic category.”

Besides its organic items, the company had its conventional line on hand. I Love Produce’s fresh ginger has large hands. Sourced from around the world, it is sold in 30-pound bulk cases.

Husband and wife team Andy and Aimee Martin of A&A Organic Marketing Inc. are marketers and sales agents for a full line of organic produce.

Aimee Martin, vice president of the company, said, “Our customers include Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s, and we source for wholesalers and distributors including Albert’s Organics and Better Life Produce in Los Angeles.”

The company, now in its sixth year of business, displayed heirloom and other tomato varieties, cucumbers and numerous other produce items at the show. Kevin Donovan, sales manager of Phillips Mushroom Farms in Kennett Square, PA, said that specialty and exotic mushrooms are doing extremely well in the organics category.

“Gourmet cooks are especially drawn to organics,” he said, “and they love the more unusual mushrooms, like Enoki, Shiitake, Beech, Maitake, Royal Trumpet and Pom Pom. But they also want organics in the more traditional mushroom varieties.”

Phillips recently introduced an eight-ounce sliced organic white mushroom pack. Its organic line includes sliced Portabellas, caps and baby Portabellas. Goodness Greeness’ purpose at the show, besides presenting its line of organic produce, was to connect with customers and others on a face-to-face basis.

“It’s important to have a presence and talk with customers directly,” said Bob Scaman, president and chief executive officer of the company. “At the same time, we are announcing a company change. SustainableFoods was, in the past, our foodservice division. It is now a separate, but sister company, and will handle small retailers and specialty stores in addition to overseeing the foodservice sector.”

Sarah Aubry, communications and marketing coordinator for Goodness Greeness, and Dan Bobel, sales representative for SustainableFoods, were also staffing the company’s booth.

Representatives for Jacobs Farm/Del Cabo Inc., headquartered in Pescadero, CA, were promoting to the foodservice category. Its extensive line of fresh herbs and edible flowers is well suited to chefs.

“We ship direct to the Cheesecake Factory,” said Rob Jacobs, vice president and marketing director for Jacobs Farm. “They depend on us for our wide variety, freshness and year-round supplies.

Brian Everett represented the Del Cabo side of the company at the All Things Organic show. He said that the company’s sweet cherry and other tomato varieties give consumers the most choices in the category.

“Available year round, the line features a unique assortment of flavor, color and shape,” said Mr. Everett. Del Cabo also offers basil, vegetables and tropical fruits.

For retailers that have, or want to add, a selection of fresh organic herb plants to their produce departments, Plug Connection is ready to service them. Jennifer Yokum, marketing associate for the Vista, CA-based company, said that increasing numbers of retailers are adding these items to their offerings, citing Whole Foods as one customer.

“They are impulse items, and people love to use herbs they can pinch off a plant,” said Ms. Yokum.

The company’s other offerings include tomatoes, peppers and strawberries.

Speaking of berries, Driscoll Strawberry Associates Inc.’s display at the show was dripping in luscious juicy berries, and visitors were salivating over the small hand-out baskets that included blueberries, strawberries and blackberries.

“We are presenting our new four-pound tray of organic strawberries,” said Brian McElroy, organic business manager for Driscoll. “The trays are produced from PET 1 plastics, the highest recyclable rating possible.”

Another produce industry exhibitor was C.P. Yeatman & Sons, producers of the “Mother Earth” mushroom brand. The company, headquartered in West Grove, PA, was one of the early organic producers in the popular mushroom- production area of the country. Timothy Hihn, general manager, said, “We are here at the show to meet the needs of our customers.”

Well-Pict Berries introduced its new 12-ounce organic blueberry crate at the show, and plans to launch the item in mid-May.

“The product run is from May through July, and August through October,” said James Grabowski, merchandising manager.”

Also on hand at Well-Pict was its marketing firm representative, John Masier of Marketing Plus in Clovis, CA.

Uncle Matt’s, a leader in the organic citrus category, handed out refreshing cups of organic orange juice. Representing the company at the show was Matt (Uncle Matt) McLean, his father, Benny McLean, and David Gurney, director of operations.

Scooting up and down the aisles like streaks of lightning were Peter Kroner, director of business development, and Jeff Ornstein, co-owner, of Eli & Ali’s in Brooklyn, NY.

“It’s an important show, and it helps to keep us updated for our growing organic category,” said Mr. Kroner. “It is also important to see the people we work with regularly on a face-to-face level. The next great product or movement is always just around the corner, and Eli & Ali’s is always on its toes ready for it.”



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