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As Linda Stine looks back on her 13-year career with the Fresh Produce & Floral Council, she is very proud of the trade association's efforts in reaching out to new constituencies.

The FPFC has done this by both expanding its geographical reach as well as its foray into produce industry categories. Ms. Stine, who is retiring at the end of the year, spoke with The Produce News a few days before the council's annual exposition, which was scheduled for July 24 at the Disneyland Hotel in Anaheim, CA.

"When I started, I think the expo attracted buyers [and produce personnel] from six different retailers. Last year we had 32 different buying organizations from retail and foodservice come through the expo, and this year it will be at least that many."

Ms. Stine said that the council has stayed ahead of the game by being ahead of the changes happening within the produce industry. "I am most proud of how the leadership of this organization has been a step ahead of the changes in the industry. We haven't just reflected the changes, we have been ahead of them."

The FPFC is in the middle of an executive search to find its next chief executive officer. Current Chairman of the Board Raul Gallegos, who is vice president of produce for the Bristol Farms chain, said that an association executive search firm has been hired, but the winning candidate will not necessarily come from the association. "We have identified many different qualities that we are looking for, and we will soon be interviewing the candidates."

Mr. Gallegos said that the goal is to have the new person in place in time for the Produce Marketing Association convention in October "so that we can take advantage of that opportunity to introduce the new president to the industry."

While selecting someone from the association ranks might not be an absolute prerequisite, it is telling that the council is using the same recruitment firm -- Association Management Services -- that it used 13 years ago when it hired Ms. Stine, who at the time had no agricultural background but instead was a veteran of the association business, with much time spent managing real estate industry associations.

As she reflects back on her career, Ms. Stine has only praise for the produce industry. "It has truly been a pleasure working with this organization. We have incredible volunteer involvement. I have been in association management for almost 40 years, and nowhere has the volunteer help and commitment equaled what the members of the FPFC provide. It has been truly incredible."

Not only has that involvement translated into thousands of hours of work, it has translated into keen insight into the direction the association should take.

The FPFC had always been an organization that relied largely on the involvement of the Los Angeles retail community. When it was founded more than 40 years ago, there were 40-50 chains in the Los Angeles area with 10 or more stores. Since that time, the retail supermarket industry has gone through some major shifts that saw the larger chains get larger and the smaller ones get swallowed up.

For many years, the council still thrived because of the major commitment to the organization of those top dozen or so chains that remained. But as they started to dwindle, the association reacted by launching an impressive outreach effort, and foodservice organizations were openly courted as were the smaller chains and independents that have made a comeback into the Los Angeles retail scene.

Equally as important, the FPFC did a demographic survey of its membership about five years ago and saw that Arizona and Northern California were heavily represented. Produce companies from those regions often made the trek to Southern California to attend the growing list of FPFC events. But there were many other buyers and seller in those communities that found it difficult to attend the Southern California events. Hence, the FPFC began holding different events -- such as luncheons, dinners and golf tournaments -- in the San Francisco Bay area and Phoenix.

"And this year we held our first-ever Northern California expo," said Mr. Gallegos. "It was a huge success."

Ms. Stine said that for a first-ever event, the Northern California expo was tremendous, and on its heels the annual expo in Southern California will be the largest ever with approximately 175 booths.

Donna Bares, vice president of sales for the United Agribusiness League and chairperson of the council's 2007 expo, said, "We have a very good expo planned with a fantastic keynote address. Fritz Coleman, who is a Southern California broadcasting icon, is our speaker. He has been voted the best weathercaster in Southern California and he is also very funny."

Ms. Bares said that Mr. Coleman has appeared at other FPFC events and always gets rave reviews. The expo is a unique event for the council as it is designed to attract front-line personnel from the retail and foodservice industries that do not ordinarily attend industry events. In addition, buyers and supervisors also come to the one-day event.

Mr. Gallegos said that when he was promoted to his current position at Bristol Farms in 1998, he made the expo a must-attend event for his produce managers, buyers and supervisors. "It is a great opportunity to get out and see our vendors and see what's new in their arsenal. I love for our produce managers, who I call 'our foot soldiers,' to get to interact with our suppliers."

After the expo is over, Mr. Gallegos sits down with the group from his chain to find out what they saw, learned and liked. "It is a great opportunity for us to not only network but interact with each other."

The one-day expo kicks off at 7 a.m. on Tuesday, July 24, with concurrent educational sessions in produce and floral merchandising. The exhibit floor is open for much of the morning and will feature a number of contests, including the return of the Best Booth Award.

The luncheon event will feature the keynote address as well as the council's annual awards for the top produce and floral personnel in Southern California.
Interfresh Inc., a national supplier of fruits and vegetables based in Fullerton, CA, unveiled a new corporate identity and web site. The announcement came during the opening day of PMA Foodservice conference in Monterey, CA, where Interfresh showcased its new look and portfolio of products and services.

"We are proud to celebrate our 20th anniversary this year. Over the past two decades, we have evolved from a two-man operation into a national distributor," said Chris Puentes, president of Interfresh. "The transformation of the Interfresh corporate logo and web site is one that we felt was important to reflect the progression of our company over the years. We are very proud of the talented Interfresh team we have assembled, and look forward to many more years of continued success."

Interfresh has expanded its reach and further developed its product line. In addition to citrus, melons and avocados, the firm handles an extensive line of fresh products including corn, asparagus, yams, sweet potatoes, tomatoes, bell peppers and cucumbers.
Members of the leadership of the Produce Marketing Association and the United Fresh Produce Association met July 18 in Chicago, and while there was speculation that the focus of the meeting would be on a potential merger of the two associations, the chief executives of both groups said that was not the focus of the summit.

"Both associations' priority is always to deliver the best value to our members, and our volunteer leaders and staff have been talking about ways to do that better," United President Tom Stenzel and PMA President Bryan Silbermann wrote in a joint statement released July 16. "We are now exploring ways to enhance member value through collaboration between our two associations, although there is no predetermined endpoint such as a merger."

In addition to Messrs. Stenzel and Silbermann, the meeting was attended by six members of each of the association's boards of directors, who were not identified.
The Campari Marketing Group introduced the tomato variety to food editors at the some of the top national food, fitness and women's interest publications in New York.

Joanne Weir, cooking instructor, host of the PBS television show "Joanne Weir's Cooking Class" and author of the cookbook You Say Tomato, joined CMG spokesperson Kari Volyn on the New York tour. During the editor meetings, they shared information about Camparis, executed a tasting and offered Ms. Weir's favorite tomato recipes.

Campari tomatoes are grown in greenhouses by three companies in North America: BC Hot House Foods, Eurofresh Farms and Mastronardi Produce. In 2005, the three growers, along with seed company Enza Zaden, formed the Campari Marketing Group to increase awareness of Camparis and build sales.

During the New York tour, the CMG met with editors at 10 publications, including Self, Bon Appetit, Food & Wine, Good Housekeeping and Family Circle. As part of the tasting, the group also brought a Campari frittata to demonstrate the tomato's flavor in cooked applications.

"Many editors had never tasted Camparis before, so our meetings were an ideal opportunity to showcase the tomato's flavor," said Ms. Volyn. "The response was overwhelmingly positive."

Editors were also interested in Campari's unique growing method and year- round availability. All the publications were working on their fall or winter issues and were therefore inclined to see Camparis as a solution for the home cook who may leave the tomato category when summer tomatoes are no longer available.

"The timing of these meetings was ideal," said Ms. Volyn. "We are hopeful that we will see Campari stories later this year."
MONTEREY, CA -- Jorge Hernandez of U.S. Foodservice called food safety an "industry issue," and Kathy Means of the Produce Marketing Association called it a "supply-chain issue," drilling home the point that food safety is a concern for all.

The two industry representatives' comments came during a panel discussion on food safety at PMA's 26th annual Foodservice Conference & Exposition, held here July 13-15.

Mr. Hernandez, U.S. Foodservice's vice president of food safety and quality assurance, and Ms. Means, PMA's vice president of government relations, were joined on the panel by Scott Horsfall, chief executive officer of the California Leafy Greens Marketing Agreement.

Mr. Hernandez said that in 2004, the Food & Drug Administration demanded from the industry a produce action plan designed to reduce the risks of foodborne outbreaks. In addition to leafy greens, at the top of FDA's list of fresh produce concerns were sprouts, melons and tomatoes.

Following the E. coli outbreak linked to spinach last year, Mr. Hernandez said that he heard perspective from around the country that the problem was a California issue or a spinach issue.

"It's an international issue," Mr. Hernandez said. "Even if you don't grow leafy greens, you need to implement [food-safety standards]." He added that the fresh produce industry is going to "sink or swim together."

Mr. Horsfall explained details of the California Leafy Greens Marketing Agreement. The agreement's authority extends to handlers who pay an assessment. Handlers will use a service mark denoting CDFA certification on bills of lading and other paperwork for buyers at foodservice and retail to show that the handler is using good agricultural practices.

Audits will be conducted by CDFA inspectors who are USDA-trained, Mr. Horsfall said. Handlers who fare poorly on audits will face consequences that include demand for corrective action - on the lesser violation end - to the loss of use of the certification mark on the more severe violation end. Loss of the certification mark would be published on the California Leafy Greens Marketing Agreement's web site, he said.

Industry groups developed the good agricultural practice metrics. Though the GAP metrics have been determined, they still will evolve over time, Mr. Horsfall said.

The number of handlers signed on to the agreement stood at 111 as of July 14, with audits set to begin Monday, July 23. For the first round of audits, handlers will receive notification 24 to 48 hours prior to the audit.

Ms. Means said that a lot would happen that is applicable to growers at the upcoming Center for Produce Safety, to be located in University of California at Davis' Western Institute for Food Safety & Security. PMA is one of the primary donors to the center.

Ms. Means emphasized the need for companies to have media-trained spokespeople ready to respond to media queries at times of crisis. She elaborated on this issue in a separate food-safety forum she hosted at the conference.