11:47 p.m. Sunday  Did you notice the 70% week over week growth for the LinkedIn Fresh Produce Industry Discussion Group? Thanks to all 2,755 members, including 34 members last week. FYI: all are welcome (no approval required). I haven't turned anybody away yet! Come on JP!. Topic of the moment. Finish the thought: You know you are in the produce industry if...

Did you see the UK Leatherhead Food and Drink Trends for 2012? Mostly predictable fare on local food, sustainability, etc. This caught my eye, though:

‘Free from’ foods market
The crux of this market lies within the seemingly growing number of consumers who do not have a diagnosed food allergy but do believe their general health improves with the omission of certain foodstuffs from their diet for example avoiding wheat/gluten to combat bloating. Therein lies an opportunity for both mainstream manufacturers to highlight additional product benefits as well as allowing the traditional ‘free from’ brands to break the niche mould within which they’ve traditionally operated. 

Gee, instead of replaying the tired song of what nutrition benefits fresh produce offers, perhaps marketers need to toot the "free from" horn a little!  Fat free, gluten free... guilt free.

12:01 a.m. In a former life, I worked on the ad set overnight team for a big box retailer. From about 10 p.m. Saturday night to 7 a.m. Sunday morning, I would put up hundreds of promotional tags on retail shelves. It aggravated me to hang an "as advertised" price on the shelf that was exactly the same price as the price on the shelf. Such are the games retailers play, I suppose, but is the consumer that naive not to notice? Here is a story from BBC about the price war games retailers play with each other. From the story, a note about our limited ability to sift through the promotional noise:

If you think about it, these supermarkets have got marketing managers who are spending probably 40 or 50 hours a week trying to work out how to make you take a decision that you're going to take in about four to five seconds," says Pete Lunn.

"Actually the degree to which you really exercise free choice in a supermarket is probably more limited than you think.".

12:14 a.m. Monday. Wrapping up the post with some observations from recent USDA FAS reports.

China fresh deciduous report A good source of export and import notes on fresh apples, pears and grapes. From the report, notes on rising apple output and modest labor costs: China’s apple production is forecast at 35 million metric tons (MMT) for marketing year (MY) 2011/12 (July-June), up five percent from the previous year.  Labor and production costs are higher priced than previous years. For instance, in Shandong province, a laborer is paid 100 yuan ($15.6) per day to work on bagging or harvest, which is up 25 percent from the previous year. Production costs, including fuel cost and agriculture inputs (fertilizer and pesticides) have also increased.

Chile avocado annual An increase in exports expected next season, despite a damaging drought. From the report: Chilean avocado production is expected to fall again during the present 2011/12 production season compared to last season. Adverse weather conditions, alternate bearing effect in some production areas and a severe drought affecting a large part of the production region are responsible for the significant fall in production and exports for this season. For the 2012/13 season a significant number of orchards are entering their productive stage or are at their incremental stage of production, so the output is forecasted to increase again,  despite a fall in total planted area. Avocado plantings had been expanding at a slower rate during the last few years when compared to the past, as prices have leveled off and returns have fallen due to a continuous revaluation of the peso against the dollar. Increasing costs expenditures which are in pesos and sales are in dollars, have reduced margins considerably. Additionally, over the last two years, the total planted area has fallen as much as 2,000 Ha and will probably fall another few hectares during the coming year, as an extensive area in the Aconcagua Region is being affected by the worst drought ever in a productive valley in Chile. The Industry sources added that together with the uprooting of old non productive orchards and the orchards affected by the drought, total planted area could probably be reduced another 1,000 Ha, totaling as much as 3,000 hectares in total.

Mexico avocado annual  No shocker here; Mexico avocado output (and exports) continues to rise. From the report: 

The avocado production forecast for MY 2011/12 (July/June) is 1.25 million metric tons (MMT), a 12 percent increase over MY 2010/11 production. Sources indicate that favorable weather conditions existed throughout the year and the implementation of phytosanitary pest control programs helped boost production. Also, MY 2011/12 is the high alternate bearing cycle.

Total area planted for MY 2011/12 is forecast at 138,000 hectares an increase of nearly 10% over MY 2010/11, as growers in different states in Mexico are interested in increasing area due to good domestic and international demand for Mexican Hass avocados. Area planted and harvested for MY 2010/11 was updated based on official data. Michoacan has about 107,000 hectares planted with Hass avocado, followed by the state of Jalisco with 8,468 planted hectares. Other avocado varieties planted in Mexico at smaller scales are Fuerte, Criollo, Bacon, Pinkerton, Gwen and Reed.

Avocado exports are forecast at about 330,000 MT for MY 2011/12, a 3.6 percent increase compared to MY 2010/11. Exports have been increasing due to attractive international prices and year-round market access to all 50 U.S. states. Currently, 34 packers in Michoacan are eligible to export Mexican avocados to the United States.

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