California Grape and Tree Fruit League airs concernsHALF MOON BAY, Calif. — What keeps buyers awake at night kept suppliers listening at the California Grape and Tree Fruit League’s meeting.

About 245 attended the 76th annual meeting, March 25-27.

Sleepless nights provided the theme of a workshop moderated by Reggie Griffin, United Fresh Produce Association chairman and former vice president of produce and floral for Cincinnati-based The Kroger Co. After the session, league members celebrated the past year’s gains March 26 at a luncheon.

Steve Hash, the league’s outgoing chairman, and president Barry Bedwell recounted the June veto of California’s card check bill — SB 104 — by Gov. Jerry Brown, and the end in October of Mexico’s tariffs on table grapes and other commodities. The California Grape and Tree Fruit League took part in both lobbying efforts.

A vineyard tour given to Agricultural Labor Relations Board members in light of Brown’s October signing of SB 126 – which allows the board to certify a union when employer misconduct affects election results – typifies coming efforts with regulators and legislators, Hash said.

“The league saw the tour as a valuable opportunity to further develop relationships with the ALRB and to serve as a resource on industry practices,” Hash said.

Griffin headed up a panel that included Frank Padilla, vice president and general merchandising manager of produce and meat at Costco; Steve Burnham, vice president of produce, floral and bakery at Safeway; and Craig Ignatz, vice president of produce and floral merchandising at Giant Eagle.

What concerns Ignatz are the implied promises brands and labels make to consumers.

“I’m talking about the eating experience,” he said. “That’s really your promise and mine to the customer ….Customer service used to be big (but) the value formats are selling a lot of produce self-service. Retailers are migrating. So what’s left to drive consumption? I believe what we’re seeing is a trend to eating experience.”

One example arose when Giant Eagle customers ignored big promotional displays of navel oranges to buy pixie tangerines or cara cara navels instead.

“You ask these people and they say, ‘they eat well,’” Ignatz said. “The experience trumps the retailer. That’s where I see the future.”

Thoughts of labor sustainability — avoiding a spent workforce — worries Costco’s Padilla.

“We audit folks and take a really close look,” he said, referring to housing, healthcare, rotating assignments and other issues. “The things that can be done for workers by improving their quality of life is where we’re going to give a little more love.

“Costco is starting to do hand-in-hand audits that are driven from food safety (but) they’re going into social audits,” Padilla said.

California Grape and Tree Fruit League airs concernsSafeway’s Burnham said innovation is key.

“Why are farmers markets popular?” he said “Because they’re fun. You never know what you’re going to get.”

The challenge, he said, is to vary and innovate but still hit profit targets.

Zaninovich honored

The league honored Marko B. Zaninovich, owner of Delano-based Sunview Marketing International, with the Mentor’s Award. Kathleen Nave, president of the California Table Grape Commission, presented the award to Zaninovich, who took over the family business in 1966 at 24 after the death of his father.

“(He) has quietly provided years of demonstrated leadership and individual mentoring to many in the table grape industry, including me,” Nave said.

New directors

Ryan Zaninovich of V.B. Zaninovich & Sons Inc. succeeds Hash as chairman. David Jackson of Family Tree Farms is first vice chairman. New directors include Bill Byers, Fruit Patch Inc.; Nick Dulcich, Sunlight International Marketing; Kevin Herman, The Specialty Crop Company; and Cliff Woolley, Munger Bros., LLC.