The year’s most important stories as rated by the editors of The Packer.
• Cantaloupes shipped by Grenada, Colo.-based Jensen Farms and distributed by Edinburg, Texas-based Frontera Produce are linked to a deadly listeria outbreak in 17 states, calling into question everything from growing practices to the viability of third-party audits and decimating overall cantaloupe sales. Fresh produce industry also suffers numerous other food safety recalls.
• The USDA and the Department of Health and Human Services release new MyPlate dietary guidelines, urging Americans to “Make half your plate fruits and vegetables.” In addition, first lady Michelle Obama pushes restaurants to include more fresh produce on their menus as part of her Let’s Move anti-obesity campaign that aims to add 6,000 salad bars to schools over three years.
• McDonald’s moves to automatically include apple slices in addition to french fries in its Happy Meals, beginning in September, starting a wave of restaurant chains adopting similar measures aimed at improving the nutritional value of children’s menu items by increasing fresh produce.
• Locally grown produce continues to be a hot marketing niche, ranking No. 2 in the National Restaurant Association’s annual What’s Hot survey.
• The end to the damaging retaliatory tariffs on U.S. produce exports to Mexico. An agreement to resolve the cross-border trucking issue between the U.S. and Mexico removes half of the retaliatory duties Mexico has applied to $2.4 billion worth of U.S. exports, including apples, cherries, grapes, onions, oranges, pears, potatoes and tomatoes.
• In school cafeterias, food standards are being updated, salad bar programs being added to schools and the fresh produce industry lauds an increase in the funding of the Women, Infants and Children nutrition program. However, legislators say tomato sauce in pizza and frozen potatoes such as french fries should still count as vegetables in school meals. Immigration issues continue to dog the industry: labor shortage in Washington, E-Verify, state immigration laws.
• Costco issues a mandate to its suppliers requiring for fresh produce testing.
• Wal-Mart keeps working to eliminate middlemen, buying more produce directly from growers. The retail giant also has increased its presence in big cities.
• A February freeze in Mexico shortens supplies.