T.M. Kovacevich Philadelphia Inc., which received a $2.05 million contract from the USDA's Farmers to Families Food Box Program, is packing six pounds of peaches and three pounds of blueberries in boxes that started shipping to food banks on May 15. ( Courtesy T.M. Kovacevich Philadelphia Inc. )

Companies whose bids for the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Farmers to Families Food Box were accepted were getting to work the week of May 11 to pack and distribute the boxes.

The $1.22 billion awarded through the fresh produce, dairy and cooked meat box program seeks to support growers and companies struggling to find outlets during the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as food banks that have a greater demand to feed families. 

Altafresh, doing business as Chelan Fresh Marketing, received a $5.93 million contract supplying produce boxes in the West, Southwest, Midwest, Southeast, Mountain Plains and Mid-Atlantic regions.

The company plans to work with a potato and onion shipper, filling boxes with eight pounds of potatoes, three pounds of onions and nine pounds of apples, said Mac Riggan, Chelan Fresh director of marketing.

Deliveries will begin the week of May 18, with the boxes packed at a Chelan Fresh facility.

“One of the biggest challenges is getting the trucking put together to go to some different places you don’t normally go to,” he said. “It is not like going to a Walmart or Costco distribution center.”

A consulting firm that helped companies with their bids said the USDA was “general” in the request for proposals, with no specs on the type, grade, quantity of produce or the size/weight of the box.

“There was a lot of leeway for offerors to specify what they would offer, in what geographic location, to what nonprofits, and on what delivery schedule,” according to the company representative. 

“USDA wanted to leave the specifics to the companies and allow them to use existing partnerships and supply chain resources as well as develop new relationships with nonprofits and growers.”

Tomato company DiMare Fresh will use distribution facilities in Dallas-Fort Worth and Houston to prepare boxes for distribution to nonprofits in the Southwest, according to the company, which received a $24.36 million contract.

The direct store delivery model will be a seamless transition for distribution, according to a news release from the company. DiMare Fresh has longstanding relationships with the Houston Food Bank, North Texas Food Bank, Community Table and Brighter Bites, according to a news release.

“Aside from helping those in need of fresh food in the communities we serve, we’re also able to help other growers move their surplus of fresh U.S. produce,” Tony DiMare, an owner of the family company, said in the release.

EKK Food Group, which will be providing 10-pound boxes of fruit (oranges and two apple varieties) to three Los Angeles area agencies, has developed a partnership with Pacific Unlimited to deliver and distribute the boxes in Guam.

“Giving back to our community is a core value at EKK,” partner Alex Ersoff said in an e-mail. “We are thrilled to be providing fresh fruit to over 26,000 families a week. USDA’s program also allows us to help farmers and growers ensure their crops make it to those who need it most.”

Riggan said Chelan Fresh is going outside of its normal boundaries, working further “downstream” in the supply chain.

“We bid it at a price that we could do it for without losing money; we thought it will move fruit and maybe it’ll help us get better pricing on the higher-color apples,” he said.

Jennifer Boone, director of sourcing for Brighter Bites, said DiMare’s donations will allow it to expand its reach more than 30%

Editor Tom Karst contributed to this article.

For more coverage of the pandemic, see The Packer's COVID-19 webpage.

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