Author Archives: Veritable Vegetable

The Rise of the Modern Food Cooperative

Reprinted from SFChronicle.com, first published on March 16, 2017

At Mandela Foods Cooperative in Oakland, people sit at tables in the sun. Photo: Michael Short, Special To The Chronicle

At Mandela Foods Cooperative in Oakland, people sit at tables in the sun. Photo: Michael Short, Special To The Chronicle.

The first vote was the easy one.

At last month’s official meeting of the Cultivate Community Food Co-op Steering Committee in Benicia, 16 of its members were learning how to act like a cooperative.

Up until just a few months before, the co-op had existed only in the heads of a few organizers. It has no funding, no location and no paying members. In fact, at the start of the meeting it had a different working name: the Benicia-Vallejo Food Co-op. Piece by piece, though, the co-op was coming together. And now it was time for the first show of hands.

Wolfgang Hagar, a former Rainbow Grocery worker who moved to Vallejo last year, stood at an easel pad in instigator Paula Schnese’s family room, laying out a process for the steering committee to make decisions. “We’re building a structure on how to vote on proposals,” Hagar told them. “We want to bake this into the structure of the organization.”

The committee members, all with name tags taped to their shirts, gathered in clusters of chairs or leaned against the kitchen island. Glasses of red wine had dispelled the amiably respectful tone of the first 90 minutes, when representatives from each of the subcommittees reported on their progress.

Photo: Mason Trinca, Special To The Chronicle

From the left, Bryant Acosta, Stan Zervas and Chuck Coleman participate on the first vote during Benicia-Vallejo Food Co-op’s second meeting at Paula Schnese’s house in Benicia.

Hagar walked the group through how to propose an action, debate it, suggest amendments and then vote, requiring only a simple majority to carry the day. Their first vote: Whether to adopt the process. Sixteen raised hands agreed. For all its insignificance, the group greeted the vote as an auspicious, unanimous start.

It has never been more complicated or more expensive for groups like Cultivate Community to start a food co-op, and yet co-op grocers are growing at the fastest pace since the 1970s, in rural towns and dense urban neighborhoods alike.

The National Co-op Grocers, an association of food cooperatives that buy collectively, has seen its membership rise from 106 to 151 since 2006, and natural foods co-ops that have been in business for 40 years have added third, fourth, even sixth locations — small numbers compared to 38,000 large supermarkets in the United States, according to a recent count by Progressive Grocer magazine, but a significant growth nonetheless. An 11-year-old national organization called the Food Co-op Initiative has come up with a startup guide for groups to follow.

Fresh produce at Mandela Foods Cooperative in Oakland. Photo: Michael Short, Special To The Chronicle

Fresh produce at Mandela Foods Cooperative in Oakland. Photo: Michael Short, Special To The Chronicle

For Cultivate Community, help has also come in the form of Hagar, a real estate agent in Vallejo who worked at Rainbow Grocery in San Francisco for 15 years. His task, that night, was to help the steering committee navigate the inclusive and often tedious territory of collective decision-making.

Perils to the spirit of unanimity emerged the moment Hagar brought up the topic of abstentions. One member challenged him: Why would anyone abstain from voting? Wasn’t that a cop-out? “We’re all going to get close, but you might have to vote on kicking someone out of a committee,” Hagar replied. “You want to support your B.F.F. but they’re terrible at their job. So you abstain.”

It was as if he’d flicked on the theater lights at the end of a rom-com. The other 15 steering committee members suddenly became aware: This was going to get a lot harder.

Worker Erin Clark stocks the dairy case at Mandela Foods Cooperative in Oakland. Photo: Michael Short, Special To The Chronicle

Worker Erin Clark stocks the dairy case at Mandela Foods Cooperative in Oakland. Photo: Michael Short, Special To The Chronicle

Over the course of the past 160 years, cooperatives in America have flared and died in 40-year cycles, each burst leaving its mark on the U.S. economy. We buy Land O’ Lakes butter and Ocean Spray cranberry juice without realizing that we’re supporting agricultural cooperatives. Some of us belong to housing cooperatives, mutual insurance companies and credit unions. Older Americans may remember shopping at grocery cooperatives founded in the 1930s, such as the Twin Pines stores or the Berkeley Co-op, whose 14 locations once spanned the Bay Area.

Most of us, though, think of co-ops as hippie holdouts: collectively run natural-foods markets such as San Francisco’s Rainbow Grocery and Other Avenues.

That last surge of food co-ops began quietly at first in the 1960s, with a movement to organize buying clubs and co-ops in low-income communities to lower food costs. Civil rights leaders like Stokely Carmichael and Bob Moses particularly embraced the idea, promoting them as a way to give African American communities more economic independence.

As the 1960s gave way to the 1970s, the counterculture — predominantly young, white and college-educated — caught on.

In the Bay Area, starting in 1969, groups of young longhairs formed buying clubs that they called, in the spirit of the times, “food conspiracies”: hundreds of groups that would pool their money to pay for runs to the produce markets and wholesalers of dry goods. (See accompanying story for more on food conspiracies.)

The “buying club” idea took off all across the country, in rural towns as well as metropolises. Cheap food was definitely a core goal, but starting in 1970 and 1971, the new clubs specialized in hard-to-find unprocessed foods: brown rice, whole-wheat flour, lentils, even fruits and vegetables grown without chemical pesticides or fertilizers, if the club could locate a willing farmer. The rallying cry was “Food for people, not for profit.”

As the buying clubs grew, they moved from garages and church basements into tiny storefronts and became member co-ops. To join, members had to pay monthly dues and volunteer their time in exchange for discounts on price. Most of the new co-ops operated along non-hierarchical principles, too, which allowed any member to have a voice in every aspect of the store’s operations and required all decisions to be made by consensus. Meetings became tests of endurance.

The Cooperative League of the USA has estimated that upwards of 5,000 buying clubs and natural-foods co-ops opened in the 1970s. Their appeal spread far beyond counterculture circles once mainstream consumers discovered the low prices. (Funky ingredients, messy shelves and self-righteous volunteers turned off just as many.)

When the co-op movement hit its acme by the end of the 1970s, there were more than 500 stores and thousands of buying clubs, estimated Dave Gutknecht, editor of Cooperative Grocer magazine. By the early 1990s, he said, the buying clubs had disappeared, and just 300 retail stores were left. Many of those that survived were on the endangered species list.

Worker-owner Fekida Wuul weighs a customer’s fruit at Mandela Foods Cooperative in Oakland. Photo: Michael Short, Special To The Chronicle

Worker-owner Fekida Wuul weighs a customer’s fruit at Mandela Foods Cooperative in Oakland. Photo: Michael Short, Special To The Chronicle

Naivete and lack of financial expertise killed off most. Growing competition with mainstream grocery stores doomed many others, as did the fact that financial institutions and state governments offered little institutional support or financing.

The co-ops that survived, however, became professional operations. They paid workers (just) enough money to live and abandoned consensus in favor of strong management. They expanded the inventory on their shelves — even adding once-verboten products like vitamins and refined sugar — to become full-fledged grocery stores. They formed professional associations to share knowledge and increase their collective buying power.

When interest in co-ops resurged with the recession of 2008, the co-ops of America were ready to lend a hand.

Paula Schnese, center, opens up the meeting by welcoming and thanking the committee on their first step toward becoming a cooperative in Benicia. Photo: Mason Trinca, Special To The Chronicle

Paula Schnese, center, opens up the meeting by welcoming and thanking the committee on their first step toward becoming a cooperative in Benicia. Photo: Mason Trinca, Special To The Chronicle

Paula Schnese, a fine-boned, decisive woman with a nimbus of prematurely white hair, is a professional photographer by training. Before moving to Benicia three years ago, she and her husband were living in Richmond, an easy car ride from the Berkeley Bowl and other great markets. Schnese was flummoxed to cross the Carquinez Strait and find herself with access to two big-box grocery stores and few local foods.

“I got here, moved in, got the kids settled in school, thought, I really need to do something about this,” she said. “I know there are a lot of people who think the same thing that I do.”

Last January, Schnese held a public meeting to talk about the idea, and 65 people showed up. She and three other women printed up fliers explaining what a co-op is and handed them out at the farmers’ markets in Benicia and Vallejo, gathering email addresses and likes on their Facebook page.

Steve Souza of Vallejo, left, listens to opening remarks during the meeting of the Cultivate Community Food Co-op Steering Committee in Benicia. Photo: Mason Trinca, Special To The Chronicle

Steve Souza of Vallejo, left, listens to opening remarks during the meeting of the Cultivate Community Food Co-op Steering Committee in Benicia. Photo: Mason Trinca, Special To The Chronicle

Through Facebook, Schnese also learned of a defunct effort to establish a co-op in Vallejo four years before. In the organizers’ last, dispirited posts, they wrote that starting a co-op was a full-time job, not something that volunteers could do in their spare time. That galvanized Schnese. “You need a champion,” she decided. “Somebody’s going to keep this going.” At this point in her life, she could play that role.

At about the same time, she attended a conference in Indiana organized by the Food Cooperative Initiative and discovered that the co-op community would help her along.

The initiative, an 11-year-old national nonprofit based in the Midwest, trains co-op champions like Schnese by offering conferences, webinars and print resources to give co-ops a blueprint for opening. Over the course of its organizational life span, the initiative has helped more than 100 new co-ops nationwide start (see map), and is working with another 125 groups that have yet to open.

new-food-coops

 

Executive director Stuart Reid sees several reasons for the new boom. Champions like Schenese have been inspired by the longevity of the co-ops that did survive the 1990s, he says. Many of the people he has worked with, like Schnese and Wolfgang Hagar, have moved from another city with a thriving co-op and want to re-create what they left behind.

The local food movement that began just before the recession has given the movement its emotional and intellectual thrust. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the number of farmers’ markets in the United States has almost doubled from 2006 to 2016 (from 4,385 to 8,669). Books like Michael Pollan’s “Omnivore’s Dilemma” and Barbara Kingsolver’s “Animal, Vegetable, Miracle” have galvanized shoppers in the same way Rachel Carson’s “Silent Spring” and Frances Moore Lappe’s “Diet For a Small Planet” did in the 1960s and 1970s. “People were becoming more aware of the industrialization of the food they were eating,” Reid said, “and there was a demand for more sustainable options for clean meat, for supporting local producers. All of that came together about the same time.”

But food has never been the only goal of the co-op movement. The new generation of organizers is focused on building — or rebuilding — local economies. Where new co-ops are forming has shifted as well, said Reid’s colleague, Jacqueline Hannah, broadening from the so-called “traditional” college towns and liberal enclaves to low-income neighborhoods in large cities as well as rural towns. “In the Southeast, Walmarts came in to close their grocery stores. Now the Walmarts are closing,” Hannah said. People are “looking for solutions so they don’t have to drive for an hour or more to get to a grocery store.”

Juice and drinks at Mandela Foods Cooperative in Oakland. Photo: Michael Short, Special To The Chronicle

Juice and drinks at Mandela Foods Cooperative in Oakland. Photo: Michael Short, Special To The Chronicle

The variability of the new food co-ops makes the new movement hard to characterize.

“We’re not really a co-op culture in western Illinois,” said Margaret Ovitt, founding member of the 4-year-old Macomb Co-op in Macomb, Ill., whose population of 20,000 is half college students. For years, a working group interested in local foods struggled to accrue enough money to open a co-op grocery. Then they rethought what the nature of the co-op should be.

“We don’t have enough equity for a brick-and-mortar store, but we have producers who want to sell,” Ovitt explained. “We have 250 members and they want to buy. Why don’t we just do it online?” The group bought an e-commerce program from Local Food Marketplace to embed on its website. Now, farmers and producers list their supply for the next week, and the co-op’s 400-some members — who pay $100 a year in membership fees — place orders online and pick up their produce at a building owned by the local telephone co-operative, another holdout from the 1930s.

Worker-owner James Bell bags groceries for customer Bernard Bailey at Mandela Foods Cooperative in Oakland. Photo: Michael Short, Special To The Chronicle

Worker-owner James Bell bags groceries for customer Bernard Bailey at Mandela Foods Cooperative in Oakland. Photo: Michael Short, Special To The Chronicle

Online business, said Ovitt, has been good enough that the Macomb Co-op recently installed a few shelves and opened the storefront to the public a few days a week, selling regionally produced dry goods as well as hard-to-find products like fair trade coffee.

New co-ops are rethinking how to attract broader audiences as well. Durham, N.C., had lost its 1970s-era natural foods co-op in 2006, but a new coalition of people was able to open the Durham Food Co-op in March 2015, a 10,000-square-foot store housed in a new development downtown funded in part by revitalization money.

The old co-op, said general manager Leila Nesson Wolfrum, attracted an upper-middle-class, mostly white clientele despite being located in a racially and economically diverse neighborhood.

Key to changing that dynamic, Wolfrum said, was not to water down the store’s focus on organic and natural foods, much of which are more expensive, although the store does find ways to subsidize members who use Snap benefits (food stamps). “We decided this was going to be a co-op where everyone felt welcome, and we wrote that over the door,” she said. “We’ve done a lot of work to make sure our staff represents the community — I can say with some confidence that we’re close to the most diverse staff in the country.”

The strategy has worked. Wolfrum anticipated that the Durham Food Co-op would reach profitability in its seventh year, but it’s already on track to do that in the coming year or two.

Pictures of Nelson Mandela and Angela Davis hang on the wall at Mandela Foods Cooperative in Oakland. Photo: Michael Short, Special To The Chronicle

Pictures of Nelson Mandela and Angela Davis hang on the wall at Mandela Foods Cooperative in Oakland. Photo: Michael Short, Special To The Chronicle

Most of the new food co-ops in the United States are owned by consumers, said Reid, director of the Food Cooperative Initiative. The Bay Area is distinctive in that its only surviving co-ops, Rainbow Grocery and Other Avenues, both converted to worker-owned enterprises decades ago. However engaged the stores’ customers are — and oh, are they — the staff makes all decisions and shares all financial risks and gains. It’s much harder now, Reid specifies, for a group to gather the seed money to make their own employment.

That doesn’t mean it’s impossible, as the Mandela Foods Cooperative in West Oakland proves.

The 8,000-square-foot store, located across the street from the BART plaza, is heavily curated given its limited shelf space: a wall of fresh produce, most of it from a group of farmers in the Salinas Valley. Another of dairy, drinks and prepared foods. Dry goods stacked up on a bank of wire shelving, plus a small bulk-bin section. A separate business named Zella’s Soulful Kitchen operates out of a kitchen in one corner, selling sandwiches, salads and Southern food, all for takeout.

A group of community organizers, including Mandela Marketplace, a nonprofit that brings healthy food to low-income East Bay neighborhoods, provided the startup support to open the store in 2009. Now, though, Mandela Foods Co-op is owned and run by a five-person worker collective.

The store’s less-visible location in the middle of the block, as well as its small size and lack of a parking lot, have posed challenges. It took a few years for the cooperative to become profitable, which it achieved in 2015.

A sign asks customers to pay in cash at a register at Mandela Foods Cooperative in Oakland. Photo: Michael Short, Special To The Chronicle

A sign asks customers to pay in cash at a register at Mandela Foods Cooperative in Oakland. Photo: Michael Short, Special To The Chronicle

 

At the same time, the store has become rooted in the community in ways the larger 99-Cent Store next door never did; the discount chain recently announced it was pulling out of the retail complex. Last month, as worker-owners Adriana Fike, James Berk and James Bell sat outside the store with a reporter, the conversation was punctuated by greetings from passersby.

“The co-op is viable for the community here because it’s an asset, something that hasn’t existed here — not just in a grocery-store aspect but a cooperative aspect,” Bell said. “People can identify with it more than just coming to a Whole Foods because it feels like a family atmosphere.”

Fike recounted a recent conversation she had with a high school student who had never been inside Mandela Foods but recognized the murals of African American people on its windows. “She feels she knows the store. She can identify in some way,” Fike said.

Bulk bins at Mandela Foods Cooperative in Oakland. Photo: Michael Short, Special To The Chronicle

Bulk bins at Mandela Foods Cooperative in Oakland. Photo: Michael Short, Special To The Chronicle

Mandela Foods’ worker-owners reiterated the same themes that organizers in Illinois, North Carolina and Benicia have: Co-ops are a way for communities to sustain themselves. Local food. Local ownership. Self-direction.

“The one constant for all the co-ops I’ve been in contact with is equality — whether that be in pay or in profit-sharing or having a voice at the table, just a more equal distribution of the power of the business instead of funneling it all up to the peak,” said Berk.

“Culturally, worker co-ops can have a huge impact,” Fike added. “People really feel different when they come in (to work) and when they leave. My co-workers say, ‘My vibrations is lifted!’ Just by coming to work. That’s revolutionary — coming to work, you can be your best self.”

With the 99 Cent store departing, the cooperative is looking to take over its space, tripling its floor plan. The move will require raising a hefty sum, but will allow Mandela Foods to expand its selection, adding housewares, herbs and books. The collective also plans to build three kiosks that it can rent to other cooperatively run food businesses.

Worker-owner James Bell stocks sweet potatoes in the produce section at Mandela Foods Cooperative in Oakland. Photo: Michael Short, Special To The Chronicle

Worker-owner James Bell stocks sweet potatoes in the produce section at Mandela Foods Cooperative in Oakland. Photo: Michael Short, Special To The Chronicle

We will likely never see the grassroots food co-op boom of the 1970s and early 1980s repeated. At the same time, we are less likely to see the die-off that took place in the succeeding decade.

The continuing success of Northern California’s existing co-ops, such as Rainbow Grocery, Other Avenues and the venerable North Coast Co-op in Arcata and Eureka in Humboldt County, has proven that collectively run markets with professionalism and financial savvy — those that made the passage from innocence to experience — are viable. In fact, the 33-year-old Sacramento Natural Food Co-op, a consumer-owned enterprise, moved into a 46,000-square-foot, $9 million space in October 2016.

Yet co-ops both new and established continue to face stiff competition from grocery stores, who have latched on to the appeal of organic and artisanal foods. It’s hard for small, independent markets to compete against chains with buying power, and the profit margins in food never seem to get larger. Stuart Reid of the Food Cooperative Initiative says that 20 percent of the co-ops that have opened since 2006 have failed.

“Every year the cost of opening a grocery store increases,” said Luis Sierra of the California Center for Cooperative Development. He estimated that just 18 food co-ops currently operate in the state. The Food Cooperative Initiative tracks another nine in development, most of them in Southern California.

California efforts, Sierra added, are often stymied by the price of real estate and equipment. Endurance as well. “The organizing process can take five to seven years,” Sierra said. “That can be very taxing on community organizers. It takes a special kind of grit to be able to make it.”

Even as food co-ops of today have to compete on somewhat equal terms — price and selection — with regular grocers, they continue to offer additional, less tangible benefits like a sense of ownership and shared values that help compensate for hard numbers. Idealism alone won’t keep Cultivate Community in business. But it does have value.

Paula Schnese, center, opens up the meeting by thanking and welcoming the Cultivate Community Food Co-op Steering Committee. Photo: Mason Trinca, Special To The Chronicle

Paula Schnese, center, opens up the meeting by thanking and welcoming the Cultivate Community Food Co-op Steering Committee. Photo: Mason Trinca, Special To The Chronicle

At the steering committee meeting, Paula Schnese laid out an ambitious plan, all based on the Food Cooperative Initiative playbook: For a 10,000-square-foot store — either in Benicia or Vallejo, another decision to come — they must raise at least $1 million. That means selling at least 1,000 member shares, at $300 apiece, and then asking their members to contribute another $400,000 in loans and preferred shares (the latter are paid back after the store goes profitable). Only then will they approach banks and cooperative lending institutions for business loans.

The events subcommittee is already organizing pub quiz nights and a movie screening. In April, the group plans to file papers of incorporation and start the membership drive, which means the marketing subcommittee has rushed to design a website, www.cultivatecommunityfood.coop, to give the fundraising some authority.

In telephone conversations, Schnese talked about how she wants the co-op to be a place that can host events and a commercial kitchen to incubate local food business. She wants the farmers and the people who make food to become community celebrities, and for all that money to stay in Benicia and Vallejo instead of going to Safeway investors. “This is going to sound silly, but I want it to be a happy place,” she said. “Co-ops are by definition about building community, not just about the great food.”

Hence the name the steering group voted into existence at the end of its second meeting, after a vigorous discussion: Cultivate Community. Next, Cultivate Community will have to write — and vote on — bylaws. Then come the feasibility research, the market studies and the financial projections needed to write a business plan for prospective members and investors. If the Benicia-Vallejo group gets to that point, it will have to look for a site and begin construction, hiring and all the bureaucratic duties that come with opening a new business.

It’s a daunting amount of work. Yet Reid of the Food Co-op Initiative said that two-thirds of the groups that “get serious” about starting a co-op succeed: “The commitment and the investment that people put into them usually keep them going.”

Save the Best for Last

Pixie tangerines are a great way to wind down the tangerine season. As the season comes to an end and starts to transition in to an explosion of berries, Pixies come in and steal the show. It’s hard not to love the sweet, seedless Pixie. Not only are they easy to peel but their juicy sweet-tart flavor make them very easy to eat.

Although Pixies have been around since the 1960’s they were actually developed in 1927 at the University of California Riverside in the Citrus Research Center by Howard B. Frost. When they were first released they were not considered to be a successful crop for commercial growing due to their small size and late season. Who would have known that those two characteristics would help make them so popular? A group of growers in Ojai, California (also known as the Ojai Pixie Growers Association) took a gamble and years later, this little obscure tangerine has skyrocketed all the way to citrus stardom.

Pixies are widely recognized and their arrival is eagerly awaited by many. The season only lasts a few short weeks so don’t miss out!

*Keep a lookout for our staff picks noted in orange.

Fruit

Apple and Pear

Many growers are winding down on select apple varieties but we still have plenty of options for all your apple needs. The popular classics, Gala, Fuji and Red Delicious are on hand and holding steady. Granny and Pink Lady prices are expected to go up. Opals are winding down so get these golden beauties while you can! Ambrosias should be available through late March. If you haven’t tried this apple—now is the time. The bi-colored apple has smooth flawless skin with varying shades of pink, yellow and green. The flesh is juicy with a fine, crisp texture and notes of honey that satisfy even the pickiest taste buds!

Pears are plentiful with good supply on Bosc, D’Anjou and Red Anjou. Check out the sharp pricing on Red Anjous from Daisy Girl. We’re seeing high quality on imported Bartlett pears from Argentinian growers Patagonia and Sol Bio. Sol Bio is Argentinian Fair Trade certified.

Avocado

California Hass prices are nearly in line with Mexican grown Hass. All prices are expected to climb as supply is tight overall. Sizing is squirrely on domestic fruit. Green skin varieties are scarce and almost over for the season. Both Bacon and Ettinger are done. The market shows no indication of dropping in price anytime soon. Due to the very strong prices, we are featuring #2 grade Hass avocados, which are just as delicious and the less cosmetically perfect fruit.

Berry

Arizona strawberries from Duncan Family Farms remain steady and quality is great. The berries are nicely colored with sweet and juicy flavor. California strawberry production is starting up so supply will increase as more growers hit the market. Domestic blueberry production is down from Homegrown Organic Farms but with Mexican fruit available, there should be no gap in supply. Raspberry supply is tight as production is down. Prices have increased accordingly and are expected to remain high in the short term. Blackberry supply and prices remain steady.

Citrus

Meiwa kumquats have arrived! This specialty citrus from Rancho del Sol Organics, located in San Diego, California is highly coveted for its sweet candy like taste. Meiwas are similar to Nagami in appearance but with a thicker rind that gives the Meiwas sweeter flavor. We like snacking on them whole but Meiwas are also great for jams, savory dishes and cocktails!

Ojai Pixie tangerines from Shore Packing have started. The popular late season variety is sweet, seedless and easy to peel. We like to call them “edible orbs of sunshine.” Supply is strong on all sizes and expected to last a few weeks. Pixies from Churchill Orchard and other growers from the Ojai Pixie Growers Association will also become available soon. TDEs from Buck Brand are done for the season. Don’t forget about the Golden Nuggets and Murcotts which are tasting delicious and available at sharp pricing.

With the rainy weather behind us, the orange market seems to be leveling out. Cara Cara Navels from Homegrown are winding down but with additional supply from Cousins and Beck Grove, there should no gaps. Blood oranges are in good supply and also expected to be available through mid-April. Valencias are holding steady with both domestic and imported fruit on the market. We’re seeing excellent pricing on the Mexican Valencias.

Ruby grapefruit from B&J Ranch is going strong and expected to go into May or June. Prices are amazingly low so don’t miss out! We love the deep pink color of the fruit and sweet and juicy flavor. One bite and you’re hooked! We’re also offering cocktail grapefruit, officially known as Mandelo. This fruit contains seeds but has excellent flavor—great for delis, food service and juicing!

Mango

The last of the Kent mangos are here–grab some before they’re gone! Tommy Atkins from Mexican grower Artesanal are in good supply with attractive pricing. Try adding these to your ad program for a pop of color. Ataulfo mangos, also known as Honey mangos are also available. Talk to your Account Manager if you’re interested in ordering this variety.

Pineapple

The pineapple market is tight and supply is limited. Poor weather in Costa Rica combined with several other factors has contributed to the worldwide shortage of pineapples. As the major player in import pineapples, changes to supply in Costa Rica has a large impact to the rest of the market. There has been a gradual decline in Costa Rican pineapple growers as small/medium growers have been taken over by larger brands and other growers have switched to cultivation for processing.

Specialty Fruit

Cherimoyas, also known as the custard apple, have arrived! This specialty fruit has a greenish-yellow skin and creamy white flesh similar in texture to pear or papaya. The flavor is sweet and tart reminiscent of a mix of pineapple and banana. Neither the skin nor the large black seeds, which are toxic when crushed, are edible. Cherimoyas are usually eaten like an apple, scooped out with a spoon, or cut in half lengthwise and peeled. We get all the passionfruit we can, but supplies are very erratic.

 

Nuts and Seeds

Nuts and seeds are great way to give your grocery offering a boost. With an increasing number of consumers focusing on health, seize the opportunity to promote the many positive benefits of nuts and seeds.  Our nut availability includes: almonds, cashews, and walnuts as well as sunflower and pumpkin seeds, all sourced from local California farms. Our nuts are offered in several pack types and available shelled or roasted and salted.

 

Vegetables

Artichoke

Artichokes are tight but we’re seeing steady supply from Lakeside Organic Gardens. Prices are high and larger sizes are not yet available. The recent warm weather has been enjoyed by all except for the ‘chokes who prefer it colder!

Asparagus

California asparagus season is well under way. We’re seeing beautiful green asparagus coming in from Durst Organic Growers, located in the Capay Valley. Capay Organic, also growing in the Capay Valley is starting soon. There’s also plenty of Mexican asparagus available at sharp prices. Purple asparagus is finally available but limited. Prices are high but have come down slightly since the start of the season.

Bean

The green bean market is tight and prices are way up. Recent rain in Mexico has caused quality issues and has heavily impacted supply. Product from a new lot is coming in with much higher quality.

Bok Choy

Bok choy supply is steady but limited. We expect the supply to last until more fields are ready for harvest.

Broccoli

The broccoli market is very tight with prices on the rise. As we move deeper towards the end of winter production in the desert, supply will become increasingly limited. Once production out of Salinas improves in April, prices should come down as the market levels out.

Brussels Sprout

A once abundant Brussels sprout market is once again tight with limited supply. No California product is available but Mexican grown sprouts are still flowing in.

Cabbage

Cabbage prices have gone up as the market has tightened. Fortunately, we do not expect any gaps in supply from our growers. Varieties are less abundant but we’re still seeing plenty of green, red and Savoy cabbage.

Carrot

Something Good/Givens Farms and Sunrise Organic Farm are both experiencing a short gap in bunched carrots. However, with plenty of product from other growers, supply is steady. We’re loving the Nantes carrots from Full Belly Farm right now. This heirloom variety has sweet juice and smooth tender skin. We like them raw but they’re also delicious roasted and pickled!

Cauliflower

Cauliflower supply remains tight and prices continue to increase. Supply will likely become even more limited as growers wind down their production in desert growing regions. We expect the market to stay in flux until local growing regions ramp up.

Celery

The celery market has tightened a bit and prices have climbed. Overall, supply is steady with both domestic and Mexican product available.

Eggplant

Graffiti eggplant is very limited. Globe eggplant is holding steady with great quality from Nature’s Nectar in Mexico. When buying eggplants, look for ones with smooth, firm, unwrinkled skin and a fresh-looking, green stalk. We love the versatility of globes—from ratatouille to babaganoush and stir-fries, this veggie has an expansive presence across cuisines.

Garlic, Ginger and Turmeric

Argentina imported white colossal garlic from Dovex is a must-try. The heads are large and beautiful! Yellow ginger is steady with both Peruvian and Hawaiian grown product available. Galangal is available for preorder. Galangal is a member of the ginger family but not actually the same as ginger. Its flavor is stronger and more astringent—think zingy, spicy, fragrant, with herbal notes. Talk to your Account Manager if interested! Due to labor issues, there is a delay in shipping of turmeric from Hawaiian grower, Maui Olena, however supply is strong.

Greens

Bunched kale supply is tight and may become more scarce before April. Bunched spinach is very limited and quality is down due to the recent fluctuating weather and current transition. Chards and collards are faring better with more steady supply.

The boxed greens market is particularly tight at this time in the season when growers are transitioning from desert regions to local growing regions. Spring mix is available with steady supply. Baby spinach is somewhat limited and wild arugula is extremely limited. Greens from the desert region are not meeting quality standards and impacting supply. We expect this tightness to last through this month and possibly into the beginning of April. Increasing mildew pressure, combined with multiple late-season rain events and high demand has impacted the greens market significantly.  In addition, extreme weather in the Salinas Valley over the past month or two, has caused the transition to fall behind schedule.

Leek

Leek supply is strong and quality is high. We’re seeing beautiful green leaves and long stems from Rodoni Farm near Santa Cruz and Terra Firma Farm located just west of Sacramento, California. And don’t forget our long-time supplier, Ralph’s Leeks, who offer a stockier variety. Add to your display or menu for a burst of color. We recommend trying a leek and potato soup—especially with one of our new specialty variety potatoes.

Lettuce, Retail Greens and Herbs

Romaine supply continues to be very tight and prices are high. We’re seeing some gap in supply on red leaf lettuce; however, green leaf has more availability. Growers are transitioning out of desert regions in the next few weeks so supply for most lettuce varieties should improve. High temperatures in the desert are further impacting supply during this transition period.

Retail greens are experiencing similar supply trends as the rest of the greens market. However, in most cases, raw product is prioritized for retail cases so supply is limited but more slightly more steady. The market should improve towards the beginning of April.

Cilantro supply is tight and prices are on the rise. Basil is steady with supply from Maristone Farms and Jacob’s Farm. Quality is strong. All other herbs are in good supply.

Onion

California and Nevada yellow onions are winding down for the season. We’ll be sourcing from the Northwest until short-day onion growers start up towards the end of April. Long-day onions are expected to start up in June. There should be no gaps in supply. California red onions should be available through early April, after which product from the Northwest and Mexico will hit the market. California white onions should last until the end of March and we’ll see Mexican onions in April.

Pea

English peas are limited and prices are up on both snap and snow peas.

Pepper

The pepper market is tight with limited supply on green, yellow and orange bell peppers. Prices are up. Red bells are more readily available and better pricing. Poblanos have been very limited—we hope to have some in-house soon!

Potato

We’re at the point in the season where new crop potatoes are starting to make an appearance. Red Lasodas from Full Belly Farm in Capay Valley has us in spud heaven! This beautiful red potato is a great boiling potato since it never loses its flavor. Also from Full Belly, we have the golden creamy Bintje potatoes that are delicious fried—especially as French fries. Let’s not forget the wunderspud German butterball. It has everything you could want in a potato: heirloom quality, slightly flaky, deep golden flesh, irresistible flavor AND can be used in almost any preparation.

Roots

Parsnips are experiencing a gap in supply as growers are out harvesting more roots. Rutabaga and turnips are steady at they go with abundant supply available. If you’re looking for beets—we have plenty of bagged red, gold, Chioggia and even jumbos! Terra Firma Farm’s bunched red and gold beets are earthy and gorgeous!

Squash

Soft squash is still limited but we’re seeing some yellow straightneck from Wholesum Harvest. Zucchini is holding steady with lots of supply coming from Del Cabo. As for hard squash, butternut and Kabocha are steady. Limited amounts of spaghetti and red kuri are popping up but not likely to be constant. Acorn squash is expected to arrive soon. Excellent pricing on utility butternut—let your Account Manager know if you’re interested!

Tomato

We’re excited to announce that Wilgenburg Greenhouses is starting with heirlooms. Run by Hans Wilgenburg, this farm has been operating for 30 years in Dinuba, California. Wilgenburg offers really excellent quality produce due to their gentle “kid gloves” handling and controlled greenhouse growing methods! We’re also seeing beautiful mixed heirloom tomatoes from Ram’s Farm, grown in Mexico. At the peak of their season, this grower has hit their stride with attractive pricing and consistent and reliable quality. Prices are up on one and two layer slicer tomatoes but supply is steady.

 

Fresh-cut

Did you know we offer fresh-cut items for most fruits and vegetables? Our fresh-cut program includes hundreds of items prepared in a variety of ways—peeled, cubed, julienned, sliced and more! We can even do custom mixes!

We’ve seen increasing popularity for retail packs of fresh-cut vegetables from joyloop. Their items include zucchini spirals, sweet potato spirals, sweet potato “rice” and cauliflower “rice.” All items are sold as 8×8 ounce packages and have a long shelf life of 10-12 days. Stay ahead of consumer trends by making sure your store, deli and walk-ins are stocked appropriately to take advantage of increased demand for convenience items. Talk to your Account Manager to see how we can support your fresh-cut program.

 

Floral

The Full Belly Farm spring floral collection is just beginning! Anemones and Ranunculus are ready for pre-order. Full Belly Farm tulips are coming soon; they specialize in “fringed” tulips, also known as Parrot tulips. Also coming in a week or two, incredibly aromatic Sweet Peas, and bright and healing Calendula flowers. Check in with your Account Manager for pack types and pricing. Thomas Farm tulips have recovered from the rains, as warm weather continues and fields are able to dry out. It is full steam ahead for both growers!

 

Merchandising Corner

All About the Pixie

Pixie tangerines are small and paler in color than some of the other widely known varieties such as Minneolas, Clementines and Murcotts. They are seedless and easy to peel like another favorite, the Satsuma Mandarin. Even though these little super stars are gaining in popularity, you will find many customers are still unfamiliar with this variety.

Sampling product to customers is a great way to win over new fans. This will give you the opportunity to spark conversation with your customers and educate them about the Pixie. Building a larger focal point display is also helpful to bring attention to a new item. When encouraging customers to try something new it is often a great idea to suggest ways to enjoy or prepare the item. Besides being great for kid’s lunches and just plain eating, Pixies are great segmented into escarole salad with goat cheese and vinaigrette and they make an excellent citrus flan. There are so many uses for this special citrus and there are endless recipes to offer curious customers. Before introducing a new item, spend some time researching common and unique preparation ideas.

Once you have shared a Pixie with someone who is new to them, you have made a loyal Pixie fan for life. These incredible tangerines never disappoint. Grab some now because their season is short and you don’t want your customers to miss out!

 

Specialty Citrus

Kumquats

“A Kumquat for John Keats”

Sweet pulp and sour skin-

or was it sweet outside and sour within?

For however many kumquats that I eat

I’m not sure if it’s flesh or rind that’s sweet.

Tony Harrison

When most people think of kumquats they think of the mouth puckering tartness of the Nagami kumquat. However, there is a sweet little gem out there called the Meiwa kumquat. More simply, it is referred to as the sweet kumquat. It has a thicker skin than the Nagami giving it that sweet, candy like punch. It is best to roll them around a bit to release the aroma before taking a bite.

Kumquats make wonderful marmalades and jams. They can also be preserved whole as well as used in craft cocktails. Like oranges, kumquats are delicious in savory dishes. Since cooking them mellows their acidity, they make great chutneys and relishes that complement seafood, pork and duck. Simply sliced raw, kumquats add zing to salads of bitter greens such as endive or frisée. Meiwa is a hybrid of Nagami and Maruni kumquats.

At this point in citrus season, we also have the cocktail grapefruit. A cocktail grapefruit, as it turns out, is no grapefruit at all. It only looks like one. It’s a little smaller than most grapefruit though. The cocktail grapefruit is actually a delicious cross between a Frua mandarin and a pumelo. The pumelo side presumably gives it that deep yellow color and bright fragrance, while the mandarin side of its heritage gives it unparalleled sub-acid flavors of sweetness. Cocktail grapefruits have a bright tangerine flavor with a clean, refreshing grapefruit finish without the acidic bite.

A versatile winter fruit, cocktail grapefruit are enjoyed in beverages, deserts, salads and seafood to name a few. It might be your next morning meal. In fact, the cocktail grapefruit just might be the real breakfast of champions.

*Keep a lookout for our staff picks noted in orange.

Fruit

Apple and Pear

Sweet Orin and Enterprise apples are done for the season. We still have many popular varietals available! Fujis are in good supply and price is holding for now. Galas are steady as they come.  We’re seeing the last of Honeycrisp for the season so grab ‘em while you can. Some growers are winding down and we expect a price increase on Granny Smith and Pink Lady.

Imported Bartlett pears from Argentina are here! This medium sized fruit has soft thin skin and offers a juicy aromatic bite. This pear is unique in that its skin color brightens from green to yellow as it ripens. Green skin will yield a crunchy and tart pear while a golden yellow hue will give you a burst of super sweet juice. Red D’Anjou is plentiful with great pricing although D’Anjou is tightening and prices are on the way up. Bosc are also still available but limited; prices are expected to increase.

Avocado

California Hass prices are unsteady and predicted to continue to rise. Let your Account Manager know if you’re interested in Mexican Hass, but prices are not much different given the tight market this season. While the Hass market continues to rollercoaster, why not focus on the beautiful green skins? The super creamy Ettinger is a staff favorite because of its incredible flavor and value! Contrary to its name, Bacons do not taste their name counterpart. They are buttery fresh and lighter than some other varieties.

Berry

Strawberries are in good supply with fruit coming in from Duncan Family Farms in Arizona and berries from Baja, Mexico ramping up. Blueberry prices are on the rise but quality has been impressive for California grown berries at this time of year. Raspberry and blackberries are steadily available but limited. Volume and price should improve mid-March.

Citrus

Nagami kumquats have arrived! We’re seeing limited but steady supply from Beck Grove, located in Southern California. This specialty citrus is the size of an olive and can be eaten whole—skin and all. The inside is sour, but the skin has a sweet flavor. When eaten together it produces an unusual tart-sweet, refreshing taste. More supply will be available with fruit from Rancho del Sol Organics, located in San Diego, California starting soon. Keep an eye out for the coveted Meiwa kumquats, which have a sweet candy flavor, coming soon!

Navels are holding steady with several growers supplying the market. Sespe Creek Organics will be starting with their navels soon. Valencias are in good supply with B&J Ranch joining the mix. This popular grower is expecting a short season, so don’t miss out on getting some of their delicious fruit.

Kishu tangerines are done for the season. For those mourning their departure, the Pixie tangerine is starting and will surely cheer you up. The small golf ball sized fruit is sweet, seedless and easy to peel. We like to call them “edible orbs of sunshine”

Ruby grapefruit from B&J Ranch is going strong and expected to go into May or June. We’re also offering cocktail grapefruit, officially known as Mandelo. Developed in the 1950s, cocktail grapefruit is a cross of the Siamese sweet pumelo and Frua mandarin. This fruit contains seeds but has excellent flavor—great for delis, food service and juicing!

Lemon pricing seems to be holding although supply may become more limited. The lime market is expected to remain tight but steady. Expect more price increases and possible gaps in supply.

Grape

Red globe grapes are done for the season. Check back for California grapes—which starts in late April or early May, depending on weather.

Mango

Peruvian grown Kent mangos are winding down so grab some of these before they’re gone! Tommy Atkins from Mexico are back in stock. We’re seeing high quality fruit with sweet, floral flavor. Tommy Atkins are highly valued for their long shelf life and tolerance for handling. In breaking news, the National Mango Board (NMB) has renamed the Ataulfo mango variety to “Honey.”  Imported from Mexico, this newly renamed mango is in good supply with attractive pricing. No matter the name, don’t miss out on this sweet and creamy fruit.

Melon

Harper melons are still gapping in supply but we’re hopeful some fruit will become available soon. Mini seedless watermelon is more readily available but still limited in supply.

Plum

Fortune is on our side in terms of stone fruit! We’re happy to offer Fortune plums from New Zealand. We were hooked at first bite! The fruit has a beautiful deep purple skin and juicy yellow-red flesh inside. The flavor is sweet and aromatic. We are also featuring Happy Giant plums from Chile. Add a pop of color to your shelves and menus!

Specialty Fruit

Cherimoyas, also known as the custard apple, have arrived! This specialty fruit has a greenish-yellow skin and creamy white flesh similar in texture to pear or papaya. The flavor is sweet and tart reminiscent of a mix of pineapple and banana. Neither the skin nor the large black seeds, which are toxic when crushed, are edible. Cherimoyas are usually eaten like an apple, scooped out with a spoon, or cut in half lengthwise and peeled.

 

Nuts and Seeds

Nuts and seeds are great way to give your grocery offering a boost. With an increasing number of consumers focusing on health, seize the opportunity to promote the many positive benefits of nuts and seeds.  Our nut availability includes: almonds, cashews, and walnuts as well as sunflower and pumpkin seeds, all sourced from local California farms. Our nuts are offered in several pack types and available shelled or roasted and salted.

 

Vegetables

Artichoke

The artichoke market is tight on larger sizes. However, smaller sizes are in abundance with sharp pricing! Take advantage of these veggies while they are nutty and extra delicious during winter months. Fun Fact: California produces 100% of the domestic artichoke crop with heavy amounts of supply coming from Castroville, California—the “Artichoke Center of the World.”

Asparagus

Green asparagus supply is plentiful but pricing remains unsteady as new growers come on to the market. Look out for asparagus from Durst Organic Growers, located in the Capay Valley, starting soon. This fourth-generation farm is located in an area called “Hungry Hollow” where the unique microclimate and soils allow for superb tasting vegetables to grow. Purple asparagus is not yet available.

Bean

Green bean supply is tight. Many growers are either out of product or reporting quality issues due to wet weather. We do not expect the limited supply to last; quality beans should be available soon.

Bok Choy

Bok choy is extremely tight and prices are significantly up on baby bok choy.

Broccoli

The broccoli market is more limited than recent weeks. Several growers are coming to the end of fields, impacting both quality and supply. Sweet baby broccoli, also commonly known as broccolini, is in good supply with product coming in from Tomatero Farm and Lakeside Organic Gardens in Watsonville, California. Romanesco is gapping in supply.

Brussels Sprout

It’s raining Brussels! Brussels sprouts supply is plentiful and prices are as good as they can get. We have both California grown and Mexico grown product. This is a great item to promote on ad or specials!

Cabbage

We’re in green cabbage heaven after seeing the beautiful leafy heads from Rundle Family Farms, located in Fresno, California. This small local grower produces perfect sized heads that offer a sweet and peppery flavor. Make sure to stock up on this veggie for St. Patrick’s Day celebrations near the 17th! While checking out brassicas, don’t overlook Savoy cabbage from the Goldie label. The heads have mesmerizing crinkled leaves and a mild earthy flavor. Considered one of the healthiest vegetables in the kitchen, cabbage is extremely versatile to prepare whether shredded raw into salads, braised for soups or fermented!

Carrot

Due to persistent cold temperatures, bunched carrots are still limited, especially Nantes. Be patient as the weather warms up and fields dry out. More growers will come on soon but timing really depends on Mother Nature!

Cauliflower

White cauliflower is in good supply with several growers and pack types to choose from. We’re seeing excellent quality with tight, clean heads. The consumer cauliflower craze isn’t over yet, so be sure to keep plenty on hand when people are looking to make cauliflower “rice.” Unfortunately, the market is seeing an absence of colored crop—graffiti and cheddar are gapping in supply. We do not expect more to be available anytime soon.

Celery

Celery is in good supply with excellent pricing on Goldie celery. Be sure to grab some before prices pop up again! We also have imported product from Mexico coming in with beautiful color and quality. Add some of this veggie to brighten your display and dish!

Cucumber

The cucumber market is tight with prices on the rise. Heavy rain in Mexico has heavily impacted supply. In addition, many growers are experiencing a gap between plantings. The current planting is winding down and the next has yet to start. Slicer cucumbers and English hothouse are very limited and prices are expected to increase when supply becomes more available. Persian cucumbers are more steady both in supply and price.

Eggplant

The globe eggplant market is on the rise and anticipate prices to increase slightly. Graffiti eggplant is steady.

Garlic and Ginger

We’re seeing a new crop of Peruvian yellow ginger with increasing prices to match. Turmeric is in good supply with red, white and yellow varietals from Hawaiian growers Maui Olena and Kolo Kai.

There will be a small gap in supply on super colossal garlic from Christopher Ranch. This is a good opportunity to try the Argentinian imported white colossal garlic from Dovex. The heads are large and beautiful!

Greens

Many growers are starting to transition from desert regions to local growing regions so we’re starting to see product from both regions. The wet weather from February is not making transition easy; expect fluctuations in price, supply and quality.

Bunched dino (aka Lacinato) and green kale pricing has spiked. Chards remain steady but we anticipate pricing to follow suit. Chicories are in good supply. Bunched spinach is very limited with some aesthetic challenges—but the taste is great! Boxed arugula and spinach is very limited.

Lettuce, Retail Greens and Herbs

Have you tried the green and red living butter lettuce from Happy Living? Living butter lettuces are hydroponically grown in Encinitas, California. They are grown using 80% less water, 1/5 of the land and can grow year-round. The flavor is delicate and sweet with a firm crisp texture. Heads have cup shaped leaves that often resemble a flowering rose.

Romaine remains limited and pricing is high. Retail packs of romaine and loose hearts are in better supply. Little Gems are experiencing a short gap in supply so check out baby mix lettuce as a nice alternative. Green leaf is in good supply with great quality.

Retail greens supply is faring better than boxed greens. We have a variety of labels and salads mixes available in clamshells and retail bags; get your orders in as they are moving fast. Check out Josie’s Organics Chopped Salad available in three different mixes: Asian, Southwest and Sweet Kale. These are a staff favorite and perfect for fresh-cut and grab n’ go displays.

The iced herbs market is steady with good supply. Cilantro has sharp pricing and will probably stay but parsley may increase depending on weather. After much anticipation, tarragon is back in stock! Jacob’s Farm basil is still intermittent in supply.

Potato

Russet potatoes are in good supply and prices are steady. We’re seeing an increase in red and yellow creamers as some new crop hits the market. Red Lasodas from Full Belly Farm in Capay Valley has us in spud heaven! This beautiful red potato is a great boiling potato since it never loses its flavor. These are great option for those looking to celebrate St. Patty’s Day with a potato side dish!

Squash

The zucchini market seems to be getting tight but we’re holding steady with plenty of supply and good pricing. Yellow squash is still limited and we’re sourcing as much as we can. As this point in the season, hard squash pickings are slim. Butternut squash is plentiful but Kabocha is limited.

Tomato

For those eager to experience summer’s tomato bounty, we’re seeing beautiful heirloom tomatoes from Ram’s Farm, grown in Mexico. At the peak of their season, this grower has hit their stride with attractive pricing and consistent and reliable quality. Tomatoes on vine (TOV) have strong supply with sharp pricing while Romas are bit more limited. We’re also excited to announce that Wilgenburg Greenhouses will be starting soon with slicing tomatoes and heirlooms. Run by Hans Wilgenburg, this farm has been operating for 30 years in Dinuba, California. Wilgenburg offers really excellent quality produce due to their gentle “kid gloves” handling and controlled greenhouse growing methods. Seeds are planted into pouches filled with coconut fibers and worm casings—from their very own worm farm!

 

Fresh-cut

We offer a full line of fruits and vegetables prepared in a variety of ways—peeled, cubed, julienned, sliced and more! Stay ahead of trends by making sure your store, deli and walk-ins are stocked appropriately to take advantage of increased demand for convenience items. Talk to your Account Manager to see how we can support your value-added program.

Joyloop packaged fresh-cut vegetables are great additions to any store. They offer sweet potato spirals, sweet potato “rice” as well as zucchini spirals and cauliflower “rice.” All varieties are great alternatives to traditional pasta or grains and have a shelf life of 10-12 dsddays. Each 8 x 8 ounce bag is approximately 2-3 cups of veggies. These are great items to promote and have on stock as customers are looking for easier ways to eat healthy.

 

Grocery

Maple Syrup

Maple products are predicted to be at the top of food trends this year. We are currently offering a full line of delicious maple products including maple syrup in various size packs, maple sugar candy, and even whipped maple cream (great on toast, pancakes, yogurt and more!) All products are certified organic and great to have through the winter months. The products are sourced from Maple Valley Co-op, a producer co-op modeled after famed Organic Valley.  If you need a healthy sweet treat, maple is the way to go. Ask your Account Manager for the details.

 

Merchandising Corner

Everyday Tips for Merchandising

Setting up displays in a produce department can be much like starting a home garden, it requires careful planning and consideration of color, texture, landscaping, and containers or props. Typically, when customers walk into a store, the produce department is the first thing they see. Over 65% of their buying decisions are made on impulse. Creative, eye catching fruit and vegetable displays will encourage your customers to grab a few extra items. If the department looks unpleasant or poorly organized they are likely to shop elsewhere. Even if you have the freshest produce in town, bad displays can discourage sales.

Color

Taking advantage of contrasting colors is one of the simplest ways to add strong visual impact. By planning your displays to show of the rainbow of colors it will make the items pop visually and increase the length of time the customer spends looking at the produce and how much they purchase. Avoid overlapping similar colors or creating a large block of green leafy vegetables. The direction in which you display a product can also enhance the color, for instance, turning baby bok choy horizontal or vertical rather than stem end out shows off the vibrant green and white leaf, and the same is true for fennel, leeks, radish, lettuce and greens. In general, most vegetables have a greater visual impact displayed in this way because the customer can see the whole item. Think farmer’s markets which is almost entirely eye candy.

Landscaping and Props

This is another area where you get to create the beauty of the flow. Displaying produce at varying heights with good color contrast on your dry tables creates artistic and visual excitement.  The product in these displays should flow together. You want to create a vast horizon rather than a bunch of peaks and valleys. Pyramiding individual items creates a lot of space in between product and generally does not hold the eye captive. Having a table that is tiered or angled will give the look of abundance with less product. If your table top is flat you can build it up using props and containers. Integrating wooden boxes for height can easily and affordably give you a tiered effect needed to create a beautiful landscape.

Texture

It can be difficult to create a color break depending on the season and the size of your produce case. Like color, texture can provide contrast to help create and draw in visual interest from your customers. Brussels sprouts and asparagus are similar in color and yet wildly different in texture and together make a striking display. Paying attention to opposing textures of vegetables and fruits will help keep your displays attractive and eye catching. Integrating baskets can give the department a more natural texture and farmers market feel.

When merchandising your department, remember these display tips and your department will soon resemble a beautiful and abundant garden.

 

Night Inventory Control Lead

The Inventory Control Department oversees all procedures necessary to maintain highest quality and accuracy of inventory.  The Inventory Control Lead position works very closely with Sales, Purchasing, Trucking, and Warehouse Operations and works as a team with Day and Swing Inventory Control staff members.

Shift: Monday through Friday, 10:00 pm – 6:00 am

RESPONSIBILITIES:

  • Ensure high quality standards are maintained for all inventoryProvide for efficient shipping and receiving of VV product and freight
  • Maintain inventory accuracy
  • Support the Sales Department by providing after hours sales coverage
  • Reallocate product when necessary
  • Provide mentoring to warehouse and other staff for all IC related functions

QUALIFICATIONS:

  • One year applicable experience in organic produce distribution or equivalent
  • Must have excellent communication skills
  • Proficiency in the use of Microsoft Office, computer research skills, database skills required
  • Experience in inventory control systems
  • Enjoy hands-on physical labor while exploring creative ways to bring ultimate efficiency and safety to that labor
  • Excellent attention to detail
  • Excellent timeliness and attendance at work

PHYSICAL REQUIREMENTS:

  • Must be able to consistently lift up to 55 lbs. without assistance
  • Must be able to lift more than 55 lbs. – 70 lbs. with assistance
  • Must be able to stand, walk, bend and perform a variety of other physical functions on a consistent basis
  • Must be able to follow safety procedures (i.e., proper lifting techniques)

 

CCOF Honors National Co+op Grocers with its First “Organic Champion” Award

Reposted from the National Co-op Grocer website. 

California Certified Organic Farmers (CCOF), a nonprofit organization that provides organic ncg-logocertification, education, advocacy and promotion, last week honored National Co+op Grocers (NCG) with its first CCOF Foundation Organic Champion Award.

NCG is the business services co-op for 148 retail food co-ops nationwide. CCOF presented the award at its 2017 annual conference, “Organic Inspiration and Innovation: Ideas that Are Changing the Way We Grow,” held February 9th and 10th in Visalia, California.

NCG CEO Robynn Shrader accepted the award during the conference kick-off, the CCOF Foundation Awards Feast. The award recognizes the history of partnerships between NCG and CCOF on initiatives to support established and future organic farmers, both in the United States and abroad. CCOF’s first annual Organic Champion Award acknowledges Shrader’s role as a champion supporting the next generation of organic producers and NCG for the organization’s commitment to the organic community.

“Among the challenges to meet the rising demand for organic products that are healthy for both people and the planet is the need for new organic farmers and entrepreneurs. CCOF is proud to partner with NCG to address this challenge and build opportunity for those wishing to enter the organic marketplace,” said CCOF Executive Director and CEO Cathy Calfo. “We are changing the face of agriculture with strong partnerships that reach to the corners of the food industry, and this is just the beginning.”

“NCG is tremendously honored to receive this award from CCOF Foundation, which has a powerful history of supporting organic enterprise across generations and geographical regions,” added Shrader.

NCG has been a strong supporter of CCOF Foundation’s Future Organic Farmer Grant Fund, partnering with dozens of organic brands to raise over $50,000 in 2015 and contributing an additional $50,000 to the fund the following year.

The Future Organic Farmer Grant Fund is the only fund in the United States that exclusively targets the study and teaching of organic agriculture. The fund aims to increase the supply of organic through investing in the next generation of organic producers, from kindergarten through college, with a focus on disadvantaged communities and students who demonstrate financial need.

In 2014, when extreme drought conditions threatened many organic farmers’ livelihoods, NCG contributed $10,000 to the CCOF Foundation’s Bricmont Hardship Assistance Fund so that affected organic farmers could offset a portion of that year’s financial losses.

Most recently, NCG asked the CCOF Foundation to serve as the 501(c)(3) fiscal sponsor for its October 2016 “Co-ops Grow Communities” promotion, which raised $80,000 for the Argentina-based La Riojana cooperative, the first Fair Trade Certified olive oil producer in Latin America.

While La Riojana’s olive oil is already certified organic, many of the cooperative’s members are also growing wine grapes using organic methods, but due to financial constraints have not yet applied for organic certification for their grapes. The CCOF Foundation’s La Riojana Fund will reimburse certification costs for more than eighty farm families, allowing them the opportunity to market their wines as made with organic grapes.

“We have been grateful to be able to team up with CCOF on a variety of endeavors to advance organic agriculture,” said Shrader. “When our community of farmers, certifiers, manufacturers, retailers and consumers join forces to champion organic, our collective efforts deliver meaningful impact, from students granted the opportunity to grow their first organic crop to Argentinian farmers welcomed into the organic marketplace.”

Brands donating to the La Riojana Fund include:

  • Alaffia
  • Alter Eco
  • Divine Chocolate
  • Dr. Bronner’s
  • Equal Exchange
  • Guayaki
  • Maggie’s Organics
  • Organic Valley
  • Shady Maple Farms
  • Theo Chocolate