( Brooke Park )

Virtual tours and demos, an online wine auction and food box donations enabled the fresh produce industry to response to the realities caused by the pandemic.

Here are some recent stories from the industry, and how companies are helping others.

Country Sweet Produce

Country Sweet Produce, Arvin, Calif., has been conducting virtual tours for retailers and other buyers, giving them insights on the crop conditions and harvest times, despite the pandemic.

The company grows sweet potatoes, onions, watermelons and other crops, shipping sweet potatoes in under the Bako Sweet brand.

The company is wrapping up a round of tours June 17, and is booking more tours, advising foodservice operators and retailers to contact it to schedule a block of time for a tour.

“The virtual tour gave us an opportunity to see multiple facets of Country Sweet Produce’s Bako Sweet operations without having to travel,” John Galvez, quality assurance manager for Markon Cooperative, Salinas, Calif., said in the release. “Filming two representatives at different field and facility locations was a great way to maximize the experience in a short amount of time and accommodate everyone's busy schedules — which was much appreciated.” 

Mimmo Franzone, director of produce and Floral at Longo Brothers Fruit Markets, and produce manager Alfonso Arcentales, participated in the virtual tours.

“Although there was a lot of physical distance between us, the CSP team made that distance disappear and brought that farm to life,” Arcentales said in the release. “The team took great care, taking us through the onion shed and fields to the beautiful early sweet potato plants and luscious melon and squash vines.”

Hardie’s Fresh Foods

Hardie’s Fresh Foods, Dallas, which also has locations in Houston and Austin, worked with Brighter Bites in Texas during the height of the pandemic to ensure families had access to fresh produce.

In Austin, the company and Brighter Bites ramped up existing programs, almost doubling the number of families served, with 5,150 boxes going to 1,300 families each week over six weeks, according to a news release. Those boxes included more than 87,000 pounds of fresh produce, according to a news release.

In Dallas, Hardie’s packed and distributed 2,800 boxes to families each week, over a three-week period. The boxes contained a cumulative 56,000 pounds of produce, according to the release.

“Hardie’s was pleased to be a part of this emergency initiative in Austin and Dallas,” CEO Greg Rowe said in the release. “Brighter Bites is an amazing organization and we value our partnership with them. It was a great privilege for all of us at Hardie’s to be a part of helping families in need during the challenging early weeks of the pandemic.”  

Bethany Dawson, senior program director of Brighter Bites Austin, said the organization is grateful for Hardie’s support.

“Hardie’s stepped up to help as soon as the crisis hit by continuing to pack and deliver produce to 15 schools, serving thousands of families each week,” Dawson said in the release.

Key Technology

Key Technology is giving processors access to virtual equipment demonstrations, application tests and employee training.

The company is running the virtual programming through from Innovation and Solution Centers in Walla Walla, Wash., and Hasselt, Belgium. Sessions are conducted live through a video interface, showcasing Key Technology’s sorting, conveying and other equipment.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has made virtual demos more important now than ever,” Bob Rhodes, director of global applications engineering, said in the release. “In addition to protecting workers, these interactive sessions are cost effective, productive and scale well. Some processors may not have the funds or time to fly several team members to our facility – with virtual demos, up to 15 different participants across multiple facilities can join the demonstration, test or training.”

The video interface shows the system’s software and images from other cameras. Key Technology can set the equipment to run the client’s product to demonstrate its performance.

Key Technology is a member of the Duravant family of operating companies. Duravant, Downers Grove, Ill., has manufacturing, sales and service facilities in North America, Europe and Asia, according to the release.

Wine for a Cause

Wine for a Cause, an online auction from the Produce Marketing Association and Brighter Bites, raised $100,000 to help families access fresh produce during the pandemic.

The Memorial Day weekend event featured wines from 48 donors, attracting 311 “attendees,” according to a news release. 

“Brighter Bites’ Wine for a Cause began as an idea among two produce industry veterans with a love for wine and one common goal: to help at-risk families access the healthy, fresh food they need to survive this crisis and fend off diet-related diseases that are among the greatest risk factors for COVID-19,” Brighter Bites CEO Rich Dachman said in a release.

Pre-COVID-19, Brighter Bites served 25,000 families through 100 schools in six cities, with each family receiving 25 pounds of fresh produce and nutrition education each week. When the pandemic closed schools, the organization lost the ability to serve them.

“Families enrolled in Brighter Bites have been disproportionately affected by the COVID-19 crisis, and this fundraiser helped ensure they have the fresh produce they need to stay healthy,” PMA CEO Cathy Burns said in the release.

The majority of support for Wine for a Cause came from a group of industry leaders that included Kent Shoemaker, Bruce Taylor, Lisa McNeece, Jim Prevor, David Gill, Jay Pack, John Anderson, Miles Reiter, Paul Mastronardi and Vic Smith, according to the release.

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

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