( Courtesy ORA, OGA, SNAP )

Ohio Grocers partners for SNAP produce incentives

The Columbus-based Ohio Grocers Association has launched Produce Perks, part of an Ohio Department of Health grant designed to bring matching U.S. Department of Agriculture Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program incentive for produce purchases, said Kristin Mullins, president and CEO.

“The goal here is to bring what has been a part of the farmers markets world over to retail,” Mullins said.

“Simply put, the project works like this: It’s a dollar for dollar SNAP incentive. (The) recipient comes to your store and buys $10 worth of fruits/vegetables with their SNAP dollars, and they will receive a matching $10 (SNAP dollars) back for additional purchases of fruits/vegetables.”


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Ohio restaurant group shifts to consulting

As it approaches its 100th anniversary, the Columbus-based Ohio Restaurant Association has updated its approach to business, evolving from a traditional association to a “more contemporary consulting group,” said John Barker, president and CEO.

Barker, who joined the association in 2016, said he oversaw the changes.

“This initiative resulted in a new and modern brand in terms of voice, look and feel, digital presence and greater brand awareness among the industry and beyond,” he said.

The association also focused on “step-change” in a number of other critical areas, including its total value proposition for nearly 2,000 members, representing more than 6,000 locations across Ohio, Barker said. Members include restaurants, foodservice operators and a range of vendors that provide services and expertise.

Examples of step-change at the ORA over the past 18 months:

  • Fine-tuning of the association’s Mid-America Restaurant Expo, which is aimed at the Midwest region and achieved record attendance this year with 4,000 attendees, more than 300 exhibitors, 50 speakers and celebrity chef Michael Symon as keynote;
  • New Industry Awards Celebration for the best-in-class of the Ohio restaurant scene;
  • New “ORATech” initiative and website with articles and infographics that provide insights into technology issues facing the industry;
  • New Centers of Excellence, including the Legal Center — exclusive for members;
  • New vendor program — with levels for Premier, Featured and Core vendors;
  • New sponsorship program;
  • New Food for Thought Leadership Blog, to which Barker and guest writers contribute;
  • New local restaurant alliances in Cincinnati, Cleveland, Columbus and Toledo; and
  • New Ohio ProStart golf tournament to raise awareness and funding for its program at 57 schools across the state.

“These initiatives will enable the organization to better serve members and help grow the number of restaurant and foodservice locations around the state from the current base of 22,000,” Barker said. “As the third-largest employer in the state, the industry employs approximately 580,000 people and generates $21 billion in sales.”


Sirna & Sons expands facility

Ravenna, Ohio-based Sirna & Sons Produce recently finished a major expansion of its operation, including a fresh-cut produce processing facility.

The company completed a 50,000-square-foot cooler and dock space, added 13 dock doors, 2,500 square feet of freezer space and 12,000 square feet of office space, according to a news release.

A 6,000-square-foot kosher and Primus GFS-certified fresh-cut facility will supply the company’s new Christine’s Cuts division, named in honor of Christine Sirna.

The fourth-generation family company marks 79 years in business this year.

Highlights of the expansion, according to the release, include:

  • A three-tier racking system in the warehouse;
  • A doubling of total facility size to 105,550 square feet;
  • Separate inbound freight lane with security gate, call box and surveillance camera;
  • More than 1,300 solar panels on the building, accounting for 35% of the building’s energy;
  • Eco-friendly gas is used for refrigeration needs; and
  • Cardboard balers reduce waste removal costs.

The solar panels will cut carbon emissions by 650 tons per year, president Tom Sirna said.

“All of the lighting throughout the new addition is LED lighting on motion sensor to both conserve energy and to be more efficient,” he said.

“The initial investment was a bit more than a traditional lighting scheme but the ROI will be extremely progressive and the conservation of energy is huge for a facility that is in use 24/7.”