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Publix and Wegmans top the latest grocery store rankings; Florida citrus gets $84 million to help fight greening; Southeastern Grocers is closing stores; the FDA has a new chief; the National Mango Board signs a star TV chef; Aldi is making a run at Wal-Mart in the Southeast and everywhere else; and IFCO gets a shout-out for ecological impact. Just another week in the produce biz:

Publix and Wegmans tie for top spot in Market Force retail rankings

When it comes to what shoppers care about most, Publix and Wegmans tie for top billing in the recent rankings from customer experience management experts Market Force, with Trader Joe’s coming in a close second.

Cleanliness, value, specialty department service and helpful employees are key factors in the rankings.

Wegmans took the top spot by itself in 2016, bumping perennial favorite Trader Joe’s from a spot it had long held.

H.E.B. climbed from seventh in last year’s rankings to third in 2017.

Publix scored highest of the 23 chains ranked in selection, cleanliness, quickest checkout and ease of finding items. Wegmans was tops in specialty department service; Trader Joe’s has the friendliest cashiers; and Aldi, WinCo Foods and Costco are highest rated for value.

With other supermarkets placing more emphasis on organics and typically with better pricing, Whole Foods came in 10th place.

Stop & Shop and Safeway were near the bottom of the list. Walmart came in dead last.

The Market Force survey also showed consumers aren’t wild about meal kits. While 11% have tried them, 76% of those passed on future experiences and roughly half described the items as less than satisfactory. Blue Apron was the most-tried option, claiming 39% of respondents and followed by HelloFresh and Home Chef.

Louisville, CO-based Market Force put together the annual statistics based on responses from 12,700 shoppers.

Tallahassee, DC pour $84 million into Florida citrus budget

After spending most of the spring as a political football, the Florida citrus industry scored big in Tallahassee and Washington, D.C., tallying $23 million in the state 2017-18 budget and another $61 million from the 2016-17 federal budget agreement.

State funds include $8 million to the Lake Alfred Citrus Research and Development Foundation for more research in the battle against greening, which threatens the Florida industry’s future.

Mandarins impacted by greening. (Photo courtesy USDA)

The state-and-federal Citrus Health Response Program (CHRP) got $7 million to actively help growers fight greening and other problems.

Some $4 million goes to marketing for the Florida Department of Citrus.

The federal budget includes $53.8 million for the CHRP and $7.5 million for a federal multi-agency task force funding greening research.

Southeastern Grocers closing 20 stores, may lay off other staffers

Customary portfolio reviews, lease expirations and flooding are among the reasons Southeastern Grocers gives for planning to close 20 stores and possibly lay off some other staff as well.

Southeastern renovated 90 of its 730 stores last year, rebranded its Harveys division, reached out to customers with loyalty programs and the Hispanic-focused Fresco Y Mas brand, but revenues still dropped by more than 7% and same-store sales slipped 3.6%

Some department lead roles at stores will reportedly be eliminated as well.

According to Supermarket News, most of the closings will take place in June. Winn-Dixie stores will be closed in Anniston, AL, Jacksonville and Orlando, FL, Columbus, GA and Gulfport and Meridian, MI. Stores in Baton Rouge and Walker, LA were closed due to flooding and sold to new owners.

The Harveys in Albany, GA will close, as will Bi-Lo locations in Charlotte and Columbus, NC, and Bluffton, Boiling Springs, Fort Mill and Orangeburg, SC.

Gottlieb appointment as FDA chief gets thumbs-up

Dr. Scott Gottlieb a top official at the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) under President George W. Bush was easily approved as that agency’s commissioner.

Gottlieb

The industry responded with a solid thumbs-up:

“With the continued rollout and implementation of each of the rules under the Food Safety Modernization Act, FDA’s role is critical. FMI and our grocer members look forward to working with the commissioner and his team to ensure our food supply continues to be the safest in the world and that this is done in the least burdensome manner possible,” said Jennifer Hatcher of the Arlington, VA-based Food Marketing Institute.

Greg Ferrara of the Arlington-based National Grocers Association said, “We look forward to continuing to work with Commissioner Gottlieb and others at FDA to implement smart, science-based policies that will ensure the continued safety of our food.”

Gottlieb’s “experience as FDA deputy commissioner and in other key FDA positions will enable him to quickly step into this important role,” said DC-based Grocery Manufacturers Association President Pamela G. Bailey.

Food Network star Ayesha Curry signs on with National Mango Board

Ayesha Curry, star of the Food Network’s show “Ayesha’s Home Kitchen” and author of The New York Times bestselling cookbook “The Seasoned Life,” has signed on as spokesperson for the National Mango Board (NMB). The celebrity supermom and the NMB recently partnered up in New York City for a media day that will result in national exposure in various forms of media, from daytime television to social media.

Ayesha Curry

Mangos are rooted in Ayesha’s family tree – literally. She grew up with a Jamaican grandmother who had mango trees in her backyard.

“I grew up eating mangos so I love that I can always get my hands on them year-round. Jerk chicken is a family-favorite recipe, and adding the sweet flavor of mango gives it a delicious twist,” says Curry.

“Ayesha’s culinary enthusiasm and genuine love for mangos make her a perfect fit,” said NMB Director of Marketing Valda Coryat. “She exudes great energy and brings a fun and innovative twist to home cooking that can inspire more consumers across the U.S. to experiment with fresh mangos in their homes.”

Curry’s first mango mission came on the “Rachael Ray Show” this week. To find out about that and more go to www.mango.org.

Aldi chasing Wal-Mart in Southeast, claims consistently lower costs

German grocery chain Aldi Inc. is one of the industry’s biggest recent success stories. The chain already has 1600 stores in the U.S. and claims its overall prices beat chief target Wal-Mart by 21%.

Aldi is adding more private-label goods to cut prices and spending $1.6 billion to remodel 1300 U.S. stores and open 400 new locations, mostly in Florida and Texas by the end of 2018.

Aldi is growing at a 15% annual rate but currently controls just 1.5 percent of the U.S. grocery market. Wal-Mart controls about 22 percent.

According to news agency Reuters, Wal-Mart is testing price strategies in 11 states in an attempt to undercut Aldi. Aldi now offers the lowest prices in private label consumer products in the states it operates, but Wal-Mart is closing the gap in those test states.

Aldi’s strategy also includes opening stores close to Wal-Mart supercenters. BY the end of next year the chain will have 2000 stores – about 42% of Wal-Mart’s total.

IFCO celebrates 25th anniversary with environmental impact info

Reusable packaging solutions leader IFCO is celebrating its 25th anniversary with some positive environmental news. According to a recently published “life cycle analysis” and previous such studies, it’s estimated that IFCO has in 25 years:

— Eliminated 3.4 billion kg of CO2 emissions — the equivalent of removing nearly 500,000 cars from the roads,

— Prevented more than 951,000 metric tonnes of solid waste, enough to fill approximately 104,000 dump trucks

—  Saved 11 billion gallons of water

— Saved 317,982 metric tonnes of produce from damage and waste

“Our customers’ use of IFCO’s shared and reusable assets has been driving supply chains toward a global circular economy and advancing ‘zero-waste’ goals for 25 years,’” said IFCO CEO Wolfgang Orgeldinger in a press release. “We are proud to work with our retailer and grower partners to improve the sustainability of the fresh food supply chain, and to nourish and improve the lives of people around the world.”

IFCO is celebrating the 25th anniversary of the company’s founding in 2017 with a series of announcements, events and a donation of 25,000 € to food banks across Europe and North America.

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