Dan Galbraith, Sections Editor In making early analysis of top fresh produce news stories of 2012 for The Packer’s Dec. 31 print edition, one thing jumping out at me was how much big company-related news there was.
And the company news ran the Clint Eastwood gamut from the good, to the bad, to the downright ugly.
Produce businesses and retailers selling produce made it into The Packer’s pages for a wide variety of reasons.
Whether it is because of the U.S. push for more nutritious diets or the fact that produce is just trendy, there seemed to be more companies than ever making news because of fresh fruit and vegetable offerings.
Many national fast-food chains added fresh produce to their menus, and fresh produce companies added to their offerings by acquiring competitors or merging with them.
The flip side saw retailers and growing operations making headlines because of illness outbreaks and/or product recalls. Or bankruptcies. Or Perishable Agricultural Commodities Act actions. With substantial outbreaks involving cantaloupe, mangoes, spinach, salad and sprouts in 2012, there seemd to be as much bad and ugly news as there was the good for companies in the industry.
An outbreak of outbreaks
Unfortunately for fresh produce businesses, the prevalence of outbreaks and financial turmoil overshadowed much of the positive news. That’s been the norm in consumer and consumer media circles, but it also proved the case within in the industry in 2012, as the seven most-viewed Packer stories involving company news had distinct negative spin.
The most-viewed story, by a longshot, was San Antonio-based Delta Produce LP blaming retailer H-E-B for a much-ballyhooed bankruptcy case we followed. Delta filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy and filed for $100 million in damages against H-E-B.
No. 2: A $56-million PACA case against the Alejo produce family of Los Angeles.
And the hits just kept on coming — with stories about East Coast Brokers and Packers standing on the sidelines of the tomato business; Chamberlain Farms recalling cantaloupe linked to an outbreak; Coachella, Calif.-based Amazing Coachella Inc., parent company of Peter Rabbit Farms, being named as a romaine supplier in an E. coli outbreak; and Dole recalling salad for the second time in six days.
That list of seven doesn’t even include other most-viewed stories such as a false positive test result causing a Taylor Farms California Inc. recall; a Missa Bay LLC/Ready Pac Foods Inc. recall on apple slices provided to McDonalds and Burger King; a Daniella mango recall; and a continuing saga of food safety stories resulting from listeria at Burch Farms, which prompted the company to exit the cantaloupe deal.
Big companies, big news
The company-related news for the fresh produce industry was far from all bad, however. Stories on Wal-Mart staying silent on its plans to cut food prices, including fresh produce; McDonalds featuring produce growers on TV ads and featuring blueberries on its menu; and deli chains Jason’s Deli and Jimmy John’s struggling to figure out whether or not to offer sprouts each garnered more than 1,000 hits on thepacker.com.
Jason’s and Jimmy John’s, in fact, both removed sprouts from their menus following a sprout outbreak, but, interestingly, Jimmy John’s eventually reinstated them.
Other compelling companies or company combinations in the fresh produce news included:
- Naturesweet suing Mastronardi Produce in a trademark dispute.
- Del Monte. Jurors to decide Del Monte dispute.
- Wendy’s and Smashburger. Burger giants join avocado menu craze.
- Earthbound Farm, which launched a fruit division.
- Retailer Market 52, which filed for bankruptcy.
- Campbells, which bought Bolthouse Farms.
We’ll reveal the other, non-company-related top news stories for 2012 in a few weeks, but, to give you a sneak preview, I’ll say that while many of the most-viewed stories on our website ranked among what I would consider the top news stories of the year, some surprises did emerge.
For instance, we extensively covered the proposed merger between produce industry organizations Produce Marketing Association and United Fresh Produce Association, but none of those stories cracked the Top 10 most-viewed stories overall — and didn’t even really come close. In fact, none of those stories made the Top 40.
The Delta bankruptcy; multimillion PACA case; cantaloupe outbreak; East Coast Brokers & Packers quitting tomatoes; and mango recall all made the overall Top 10 most-viewed list, in that order.
Weather-related stories also made huge Web waves, with our breaking-news story about hail hitting California stone fruit getting the most page views of any story we published online in 2012 — a whopping 4,013 page views, as of the first week of December.
Hurricane Sandy also cracked the Top 10 overall in Web hits, even though the storm’s impact on the industry proved minimal.
Find out where all of your favorite stories of 2012 ranked in just a few weeks. Again, that recap will appear in our Dec. 31 print edition.
What's your take? Leave a comment and tell us your opinion.