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Second annual ShopRite Sprouts Awards

The ShopRite Sprouts program, an eight-week incentive program designed to encourage children to try new fruits and vegetables, held a special awards ceremony earlier this month.

In this year’s program, participating children tried more than 104 varieties of fruits and veggies combined, including varieties of fresh, frozen, canned and dried product, as well as 100 percent juice. Those that topped the list were bananas, apples, carrots and tomatoes.shoprShopRite of Little Falls, NJ, announced the top three winners of its second annual ShopRite Sprouts Awards at a special ceremony at the Totowa Library.

Heather Shasa, full-time store dietitian at Little Falls ShopRite initiated the program as a potential avenue for parents and guardians to have the resources, educational materials and recipes necessary to embark on their own fruit and vegetable journeys for their children and families.

“According to a 2009 study by researchers at Ohio State University, just 16 percent of children ages 6 to 11 meet the government's guidelines [for fruits and vegetables],” Shasa said in a press release. “Fruits and vegetables are great sources of vitamins, minerals and fiber, all of which are important for proper growth and development. It is essential that healthy eating habits are established at a young age as these eating behaviors tend to continue into adulthood. Little Sprouts is a fun way to get these kids engaged and thinking about healthy eating.”

Each time a child tried a fruit or vegetable, they filled out an activity sheet and received a stamp on a stamp card. Once they received five stamps, they received a prize, and a new stamp card was issued. The activity sheets then decorated the windows of Little Falls ShopRite.

Cooking classes were added at the Totowa (NJ) Library where children could create and sample recipes featuring produce in a fun and inviting atmosphere amongst their peers. Topics included Fun with the Veggetti, Pizza Pizazz with Cauliflower Pizza Crusts and Healthy Halloween. In addition, in-store events featuring fruits and vegetables allowed participants to receive extra stamps on their stamp cards.

OTA applauds proposed rule exempting organics from check-off programs

The U.S. Department of Agriculture ruled that organic farmers and handlers are exempt from paying into conventional commodity check-off programs, saying that it is an important step that recognizes the organic industry’s unique needs and lets the industry decide where the dollars are best spent.

“OTA has worked very hard to get this exemption on the books, and we are optimistic that this important regulation will now soon take effect,” Laura Batch, executive director and chief executive officer of the Organic Trade Association, the leading organization of the organic industry, said in a statement. “The organic sector is a fast-growing, distinct industry with its own unique demands for research and promotion. We’re pleased USDA is moving swiftly to allow the industry to use its money to grow and develop its own sector.”

National commodity research and promotion check-off programs, funded by producers of the specific commodity, have been a part of American agriculture for almost 50 years. There are now 22 national check-off programs in place, ranging from the oldest check-off program begun in 1966 for cotton, to one of the newest that promotes American-grown mangos. The iconic “Got Milk” and “The Incredible Edible Egg” campaigns are examples of promotion and education programs paid for by successful producer-funded check-offs.

The proposed exemption, which was expanded by Congress in the farm bill of 2014, would extend the exemption for organic farmers, handlers, marketers or importers from just the 100 percent organic label to the primary organic label (95 percent organic) and pertain not exclusively to farmers or handlers who work solely with organic products, but also to those who produce, process, handle and import both organic and conventional products.

The exemption from conventional commodity check-off program assessments is very significant for certified organic operations. The USDA estimates that not having to contribute to conventional check-offs will free up an extra $13.6 million for organic stakeholders to invest back into the organic industry.

“These additional savings that will be available as a result of this exemption can be used by organic farmers, ranchers and handlers to address everyday problems and to tackle issues that will help advance their businesses and the organic sector,” Batcha added in the statement.

The USDA proposed rule will also exempt eligible operations from paying into the portion of the assessment in federal marketing order programs designated for market promotion activities. There are 23 marketing order programs with market promotion authority.

The USDA published the notice of the proposed changes Dec. 16 in the Federal Register, with a 30-day public comment period.

“OTA is heartened by USDA’s quick action to get this provision implemented and to allow for a concise 30-day comment period,” Marni Karlin, vice president of government affairs for OTA, added in the statement. “It is the result of the clear and unambiguous farm bill language passed with strong bipartisan support and signed into law by the president. These important gains for organic farmers and the organic industry were achieved through lots of hard work by organic stakeholders.”

The 2014 Farm Bill also authorizes USDA to consider and hold a vote on an organic research and promotion check-off program if the organic sector submits to the agency an official proposal for an organic check-off. OTA has been gathering input from organic stakeholders for the past three years on how best to shape a check-off program that could effectively serve the industry.

The organic industry is experiencing booming times, with organic sales hitting a new record of over $35 billion in 2013. More than 80 percent of families in the U.S. now buy organic products.

“The successes in the organic industry have been enormous,” Batcha added. “However, there is still much that needs to be done in the way of educating consumers about organic, devoting more research dollars to organic agriculture, and helping farmers to convert to organic. Giving the industry more ability to invest in its future is very significant.”

North Bay Produce partners with the Produce Mom

The Produce Mom announced the addition of North Bay Produce Inc. to her family of trusted partners. North Bay offers its customers a year-round supply of a variety of fresh produce, thanks to its network of domestic and Latin American growers.The-Produce-Mom-North-Bay-Produce-Infographic

“There’s so much culture represented in this company,” Lori Taylor, The Produce Mom, said in a press release. “Together we will raise consumer confidence and understanding of import produce.”

“Fresh from the Farm, Year Around” is more than a slogan to North Bay. The company currently offers customers a year-round supply of apples, asparagus, blackberries, snow peas, sugar snap peas and blueberries, one of North Bay’s signature items.

The company’s ready-to-eat blueberry snack packs were featured during one of The Produce Mom’s Indy Style segments this summer. North Bay supplies customers with blueberries from its domestic growers spring through fall, then imports fresh blueberries from its Latin American growers during the winter months. Raspberries are offered seasonally, September through June.

“North Bay Produce is committed to providing the world with an uninterrupted supply of high-quality produce,” Sharon Robb, national marketing manager for North Bay, said in the press release. “Partnering with The Produce Mom will allow us to better educate consumers on the year-round freshness, availability and safety of produce.”

The “Let’s Move Salad Bars to Schools” initiative, a public health campaign to increase salad bars in schools across the country, is another common goal for the two companies. Mark Girardin, President of North Bay Produce, is a Midwest campaign co-chair for the initiative and serves as a captain for the state of Michigan. Taylor takes every opportunity to promote the initiative, whether it’s on her Indy Style morning show segment, her blog or at a speaking engagement such as The Indiana School Nutrition Association Conference.

School lunch compromise good news to fresh fruit, vegetable suppliers

WASHINGTON -- Fruit and vegetable companies will continue to sell to schools that must meet improved nutrition standards thanks to a deal cut in the FY 2015 omnibus spending bill signed Dec. 16 by President Obama.

The appropriations bill that funds U.S. Department of Agriculture programs hit a roadblock when an amendment passed that would have allowed schools struggling to meet the strict standards to be granted a waiver. 

“Although well-intended, some of USDA’s rules went too far, too fast, and ended up driving students away from healthy school meals while unnecessarily driving up costs for schools,” said School Nutrition Association CEO Patricia Montague, who backed the waiver.

A coalition of groups, including the United Fresh Produce Association, urged Congress not to allow schools to opt out of all the new provisions, and this month lawmakers agreed to a compromise that allowed schools flexibility in meeting the whole grain and sodium standards.

“Congress agreed that rolling back the very modest requirement that kids get one-half cup of fruits and vegetables in their lunch would not be good policy and would have been detrimental to achieving our shared public health goal, which is to help children learn to make half-their-plate fruits and vegetables,” said Tom Stenzel, president and chief executive officer of United Fresh. “The modest half-a-cup requirement is one step toward a lifetime of better health for today’s kids, and lower long-term healthcare costs for our country.”

The agreement also sets the stage for next year’s reauthorization of child nutrition programs, which expire in 2015.

“Schools need help in modernizing and streamlining procurement processes, updating refrigeration and cafeteria equipment, and financial resources to support healthy meals,” Stenzel said. “The solution contained in the omnibus passed today resolves a past debate, and sets all of us on a positive course where we can work together to serve our nation’s children.”

On a related note, a draft report from the committee developing the 2015 Dietary Guidelines for Americans reported this week the U.S. population has made few dietary changes from 2001-2010, with fruit intake low but stable and vegetable intake declining.

The committee, which recommends changes to the guidelines every five years, is set to recommend U.S. consumers follow a diet high in vegetable, fruits, whole grains, low-fat dairy, seafood, legumes and nuts, and low in red and processed meat, added sugars and refined grains.

adidas exec returning to PMA Foundation Executive Leadership Symposium

adidas Group North America President Mark King will share insights on leadership during his upcoming session at the 2015 PMA Foundation Executive Leadership Symposium Jan. 21-23 Dallas. The program, held in partnership with Cornell University, offers senior executives the chance to harness new strategies and ideas to position their company for success in 2015. King will share how he applied his existing sales leadership skills to successfully re-energize TaylorMade Golf Co. and turn it into a No. 1 selling brand.

Now president of adidas Group North America and chairman of TaylorMade Golf Co., King will use his session “Why Do CEO’s and Organizations Fail?” to help attending executives intensify their strategy and vision. He’ll share how relinquishing power and allowing his employees to interject their own creativity and chart their own course transformed TaylorMade from a $300 million in 1999 to $1.7 billion in 2012, despite a flat industry and a challenging world economy. He’ll also explain how produce executives can instill the belief that everyone can make a difference and how they too can gain results by setting outrageous goals and changing energy and behavior.

This will be King’s second Executive Leadership Symposium appearance, having first addressed produce executives at the 2011 symposium. Attendees’ overwhelmingly positive feedback on King’s compelling presentation is in part responsible for his return. King’s lessons on leadership also speak directly to the PMA Foundation’s efforts to establish a workforce with the diverse skills necessary to meet the complex demands of the global produce marketplace.

“Mark King reminded me just how much an executive’s leadership style reflects a company’s success,” Vic Smith, CEO-owner of JV Smith Cos. and regular PMA Foundation Executive Leadership Symposium attendee, said in a press release. “The lessons he shared from his own experiences impressed upon me how an executive’s being open to learning new skills, even while at the top of one’s career leading a global company, is critical in challenging people to excel beyond expectations. Mark is a commanding speaker, and his story has left a lasting impression on my own approach to leadership.”

“I’m excited to return to the PMA Foundation Executive Leadership Symposium and the fresh produce and floral industries in January,” King said in the release. “I’m inspired by the commitment these industry leaders make to continued learning and improving their strategic direction.”

King is one of four influential speakers scheduled on the 2015 Executive Leadership Symposium program. Visit for complete details and to apply online.