MANALAPAN, Fla. — The Florida Fruit & Vegetable Association thanked a discount retailer for its use of the Sunshine State’s produce and honored one of its longtime leaders.

FFVA honors Tony DiMare, AldiAt the association’s 68th annual convention, the group recognized Aldi USA Inc., Batavia, Ill., with its Merchandiser of the Year Award and presented former FFVA chairman Tony DiMare, vice president of the DiMare Co., Homestead, Fla., its Distinguished Service Award.

Adam Lytch, operations manager for Raleigh, N.C.-based L&M Cos. Inc., nominated Aldi’s Haines City division for its switch to Florida products faster than in recent years, Lytch said.

“The award recognizes the important role retailers play in the sale of Florida produce,” Lytch said. “The Aldi team understands the importance of merchandising Florida produce. For a chain of its size, it markets a lot of Florida products.”

Drew Duda, FFVA chairman and senior vice president of Oviedo, Fla.-based A. Duda & Sons Inc.’s Duda Ranches, said DiMare’s tenure as an FFVA officer since 1990, his work with other industry organizations and his frequent testifying about industry concerns to lawmakers in Tallahassee and Washington, D.C., make him a critical component of Florida produce.

“One thing is clear: Tony DiMare epitomizes the kind of industry-focused leadership that truly makes a difference for specialty crop agriculture,” Duda said. “Whether he is advocating for rigorous food safety standards, sound labor practices or fair trade, this gutsy kid brings an intensity and passion to our industry in the work he does, and we are better because of it.”

DiMare said he was surprised by the recognition.

“This is an unbelievable honor,” he said. “I have tremendous memories of this industry. To be afforded the opportunity to serve the industry over the years, listen to Drew mention all the different organizations I have been involved with over the years, it’s gone all too fast. I very much appreciate from my heart this honor. I could not have done it without a lot of your help.”

Growers at the convention also tackled many issues pressing the industry.