Kevin Coupe to keynote NEPC expo

The New England Produce Council has announced that food industry expert Kevin Coupe will deliver the keynote address at the council's annual expo this September.

This will be the council's 16th annual event, and it has been renamed the Produce, Floral & Foodservice Expo. It will take place Sept. 16-18 at the Chatham Bars Inn & Resort in Chatham, MA, on beautiful Cape Cod.KevinCoupeKevin Coupe

Coupe is the author of "Retail Rules! 52 Ways to Achieve Retail Success," a guidebook for competing effectively and efficiently. For more than 13 years, he has had his own website/blog, providing "business news in context and analysis with attitude," according to his biographical sketch.

"Kevin is a well-known food industry expert," NEPC President Bob McGowan told The Produce News Friday afternoon, March 6. "That's what really drew us to him. We're looking forward to his insight from a more global perspective."

Coupe will open the NEPC expo at 2 p.m. Wednesday, Sept. 16, with the keynote presentation and produce industry forum. The topic of his presentation will be "What's the Future? How People, Technology & Culture Are Reshaping the Competitive Landscape."

This will be followed by a VIP reception, and then by the beachfront Chatham-style clam and lobster bake. The council held a clambake at last year's expo in Newport, RI, and proved extremely popular with attendees.

The expo will take place from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 17, followed by a sunset cruise at 6 p.m.

The council for many years had held its annual expo in the spring, but in 2014 it made the decision to move the event to September to better highlight New England during that picturesque time of the year just before the onset of fall. The 2015 event on Cape Cod continues that time frame.

"We have high expectations for the whole event," McGowan stated. "September should be a great time for all attendees to enjoy our event in New England."

Loblaw to invest $1.2 billion, create more than 20,000 jobs in 2015

Loblaw Cos. Ltd., a leading Canadian retailer based in Brampton, ON, will invest more than $1.2 billion in its Canadian business in 2015. The investment includes construction projects for dozens of new and existing stores, e-commerce expansion and continued investment in supply chain and IT infrastructure.

As one of Canada's largest networks of corporate and independently owned retail stores and formats, each employing between 20 and 300 employees, Loblaw's investment is expected to create more than 20,000 jobs through store staffing and construction.

"While we continue to invest in the IT and infrastructure engines of our business, we're increasingly making investments that Canadians will see with their own eyes – improving our offer, adding stores, and creating jobs locally," Galen G. Weston, executive chairman and president of Loblaw Cos. Ltd., said in a press release. "True to our strategy, our investment will create better access to fresh food, wellness solutions closer to home, e-commerce convenience, and a family of stores that elevate grocery, pharmacy, apparel and banking experiences."

Southern Specialties names Sysco winner of its True Partner Award

Southern Specialties presented the company’s first “True Partner” award to Sysco produce at the Southeast Produce Council’s Annual Southern Exposure convention.sysc

Southern Specialties created the award to recognize the customer that best supports the sustainable efforts of the company.

“Our team has been working with Sysco for many years to drive continuous improvement at farm level, so it was a natural choice to recognize them for this important recognition,” Robert Colescott, president and chief executive officer of Southern Specialties, said in a press release. "Their commitment to enforcing the highest quality assurance standards, promoting sustainable practices within our company and exhibiting concern for the well-being of our farm workers in Central America and South America made them an excellent recipient."

“We have many amazing customers whose sustainability practices make Southern Specialties a better company. We look forward to recognizing the company that best exemplifies the 'True Partner' commitment each year,” Geno Valdes, vice president of sales and marketing for Southern Specialties, said in the release.

Costco’s organic sales double, still growing

Costco Wholesale Corp.’s sales of organic produce have seen tremendous growth recently. In 2014, the company’s organics were approaching $3 billion in sales, which Richard Galanti, chief financial officer, said was more than twice what the company did two years earlier.

"It's growing fast,” he said in a conference call discussing Costco's operating results for the first half of fiscal 2015. "I don't know if it's 50 percent a year, but it's certainly growing at a high... number. And it's great for us, because we show even a better value on that stuff than some of the things that it replaces."

Galanti noted that there is still plenty of room for growth: "It's still a small percentage of Costco. It's a rising — but it's a fast-growing area, as it is with a lot of other retailers as well. You're going to see more and more of it.”

While Costco’s organic products are more robust in some areas of the country, developments in the supply situation may change that in the future.

Part of the challenge, he said, is availability. "We — and everybody else — could sell a lot more if there was more out there,” Galanti said. "I think we're doing a pretty good job of lining up our sourcing.”

Costco currently operates 671 warehouses, including 474 in the United States and Puerto Rico.

Retail View: Produce snack sales on the rise

The number and sales of produce items at retail that fit into the convenience or value-added category continue to grow, according to Galina Zelfond-Orlosky, category business manager for produce for Daymon Worldwide.

Zelfond-Orlosky is stationed in New England for Daymon, an international firm that specializes in representing branded product at the retail level.

“We are seeing significant growth in retail business for these items,” she told The Produce News.

Though much of the conversation revolved around the growth in snacking category for fresh produce, in many measureable ways produce snack items and value-added items are lumped together.

The Daymon expert said convenience and value-added items account for about 7 percent of retail vegetable sales and 9 percent of sales in the fruit category. And both are growth items, seeing sales increase in the 10 percent range in year-over-year numbers.

Zelfond-Orlosky said there are various reasons why this combined category is on the rise. She said there is a demographic shift with a younger population headed to the stores, smaller families, and the baby boom generation also shrinking in household size as it ages. All three of those groups are looking for more value-added and convenience food either because they don’t want to spend as much time in the kitchen, or they haven’t been brought up cooking meals from scratch.

As far as the growth in healthy snacks, she said the crusade being led by First Lady Michelle Obama is having an impact. More and more people are looking for healthier, more nutritious snacks for their children when they are in the grocery store.

Zelfond-Orlosky said the produce industry is responding with increased variety and increased options. Where once there was only fruit cups in heavy syrup and mini carrots with ranch dressing, there is now a wide array of options.

On the fruit side, she said packages of apple slices, cut mangos and pineapples, pomegranate arils and cups of fresh grapes are only the tip of the iceberg.  

Snacking vegetables have also progressed, albeit a bit slower. There aren’t as many options in the snacking arena, but value-added vegetables have exploded.    She said petite mini-peppers with dressing are just one example of the opportunities.

Even with whole produce, Zelfond-Orlosky said there is a trend toward more consumer- and kid-friendly options.

For example, in the apple category she said there are many options that go well beyond the apples of a generation ago, noting that the grape-flavored apple seems to do quite well among the younger set.

For the most part, she said retailers are well aware of this evolution and are participating, but Zelfond-Orlosky noted that “not all retailers are capturing the opportunity.”

While she is generally pleased with the space retailers devote to convenience and value-added produce options, she said there is room for significant increase in sales by using end displays and promotional bins for the movement of these items.  

She said there are also portable refrigerated or ice-cooled display cases that allow for the prominent secondary display of these items, which typically do need to maintain the cold chain.

“We are seeing more and more insulated coolers being used,” she said.

Zelfond-Orlosky said nutritious snacks targeting kids and convenient foods targeting on-the-go families should continue to be growth areas for the produce industry. Recently, she has seen vegetables already packaged in bags that can just be steamed and opened, which she believes is a perfect example of meeting a need.

Adding to the popularity of these pre-packaged foods, said Zelfond-Orlosky, is the food-safety benefit.  Consumers are clearly interested in reducing risk and these items do bring a perception of being properly handled.

The Daymon Worldwide executive did not have figures on actual fresh produce sales but she said her company is forecasting “constant growth” in 2015 and 2016 in the convenient and value-added produce sectors.