National Editor Tom Karst
National Editor Tom Karst

All is quiet on the United PMA merger front, but someone told me that the two boards are still expected to vote June 4 somewhere in California.

I have a couple of links from the Fresh Produce Industry Discussion Group to share on the topic. One is the discussion thread about the merger, which you can find here.

Another is a poll question I just rolled out a couple of days on the FPIDG, with the question that nobody really wants to answer.

If a merger does happen, who should lead a unified PMA/United Fresh organization?

The beauty of these polls is that you must vote to see the results of the poll. I won't give you an inkling, but one of the multiple choice answers is drawing a strong majority of support from members so far.

In other news around the nation today,the USDA's farm labor report shows that 575,000 workers were directly on farms in mid-January, down 5% year ago. The average wage was $11.52 per hour, up about 2% from year-ago levels.

The Census Bureau released a widely noted report that was something of a watershed moment in our country's demographic makeup. And produce marketers should play close attention.

The CB reported 50.4% of the U.S. population under one year old were minorities as of July 2011. That's up from 49.5% in April 2010.

Taking the population as a whole, the Census Bureau said 36.6% of the population is represented by  minorities, compared with 36.1% in 2010. Five states had populations represented by "majority minority" populations, including Hawaii (77.1%) the District of Columbia (64.7%), California (60.3%), New Mexico (59.8%) and Texas (55.2%).

The Hispanic share of the U.S. population rose from 16.3% in 2010 to 16.7% in 2001, making Hispanics the fastest growing minority group.

And by the way, we're getting old. The average median age rose from 37.2 years in 2010 to 37.3% in 2011. Those 65- and older increased 40.3 million in 2010 to 41.4 million in 2011.

And the young adult population is under heavy financial pressure, a new report states.This coverage by Mybanktracker soberly observes that one in four of Gen Y(also Millennial, 18-34) don't have cash to cover basic necessities.

That means, we can safely presume, a lot of produce is going unsold and uneaten in favor of toilet paper, Natty Light and peanut butter.

Should produce try to co-opt meat for the "macho" image? I would like to see an advertising agency go to work on that premise after reading this story about how meat still easily retains its appeal as the "macho" food among males. A tall challenge, true, but perhaps worth the effort. What are the macho "veggies and fruits"?

In retail news, check Wal Mart's May 17 quarterly report here. Notable:U.S. Wal Mart comparable store sales were up 2.6% in the 13-week period ending April 27, above previous expectations of flat to 2%.

Looking ahead, Wal Mart said that comparable store sales from April 28 through July 27 are expected to range up 1% to 3%.

Here is the Houston Chronicle's coverage of the move by Aldi into the Houston market.

Check out this interesting blog post by Jason Klinowski on the history and legal wranglings around the grape tomato, and the relevance that has to today's market. The Fresh Facts blog also has a post by Klinowski on the Adams Produce Company case.

Organic growers and marketers, check out the May 22-25 National Organic Standard Board agenda here.

Buyers have been routinely accused of being heavy handed with suppliers, and that is all the more reason I want to look at this "man bites dog" story from the UK more closely in a future post.  From The Telegraph, this gives us a flavor:

John Maylam, 44, was lavished with "excessive gifts and hospitality" by directors of Greenvale, which supplies almost half of the supermarket giant’s potatoes, a court has heard.

He ran up a £200,000 bill at Claridge's Hotel in London, enjoyed a luxury £350,000 twelve-day holiday to the Monaco Grand Prix and received cash payments totalling hundreds of thousands of pounds stuffed inside brown envelopes.

Greenvale, one of the country’s leading producers, funded the extravagant gifts by overcharging Sainsbury’s for its potatoes in a £40 million deal sanctioned by Maylam.

Here is later coverage by Reuters, which had this simple statement by Sainsbury's:

"This was an unacceptable and calculated crime against Sainsbury's of a magnitude never experienced in our history."

TK: How can retailers be sure this type of corruption isn't taking place under their nose? To the degree that produce buying and selling is a "relationship" business, it may be impossible to completely avoid corruption.  Is another case like this hidden from view even now?