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Greetings all and I hope this month’s column finds everyone well. I’m sorry to start off with this, but we were really saddened to learn that John Coppola of Krasdale Foods passed away on February 14 at the age of 57. John was the director of retail operations and business development at Krasdale, which he joined in January 2014 after a long stint at White Rose Foods. He started his career with Gristede’s and migrated to White Rose where his father was also working at the time. He rose through the ranks at White Rose during his 20+ year career there and made an impression on everyone he interacted with.

John had a wonderful ability to keep calm and had an always-present smile, which helped in the crazy frenetic pace of independent retail supply. John had suffered a heart attack nearly two years ago and was doing quite well when he was suddenly afflicted with organ failures during a recent business trip. He made it home and seemed to be on the mend when a final turn for the worse took place. He is survived by his wife Jeanne and sons David and Christopher, as well as many family members. Rest in peace dear friend.

The team at Inserra Supermarkets is expanding its partnerships with New Jersey farmers, bringing locally sourced produce to all of their 22 ShopRite stores. “On an ever-increasing basis, our customers are seeking locally sourced produce that has been conventionally or organically farmed,” said Eric Beelitz, director of produce. “We are proud to offer our customers the best of the best from local growers while supporting the hard-working farming community.”

“We have the utmost respect for the local farming community,” Lindsey Inserra, vice president of marketing and corporate retail health and wellness, said in a press release. “Many of the farms and produce distributors have been in families for generations just like our company. Because of that, they understand the commitment to quality, service and value that is inherent in our ‘from our family to yours’ foundation and mirror it.” Inserra Supermarkets recently hosted a Farmer Appreciation Event and attendees included: Abma’s Farm in Wyckoff, NJ; Guarino Sons Produce in West Deptford, NJ; Zone 7 in Ringoes, NJ; Winslow Junction Farm in Winslow, NJ; Scordo Farm in Hammonton, NJ; Cassaday Farms in Monroeville, PA; Circle M Farms in Salem, NJ; and Pastore Orchards in Hammonton, NJ. Under Beelitz’s direction with that of the Inserra leadership team, the company has turned produce into one of its signature departments. To further increase produce sales, Inserra’s in-store dietitians regularly host “Produce Pick” events featuring locally sourced items and offering health tips on incorporating more fruits and vegetables into one’s diet. The company has registered dietitians at 14 of its 22 stores and continues to expand its in-store dietitian program. In addition to serving as free nutrition and wellness resources at the stores on a daily basis, the dietitians host an array of programs, including cooking workshops, nutrition counseling sessions and weight management classes, among many others.

Don’t forget to mark your calendars for the New Jersey Food Council’s (NJFC) Night of Distinction reception Thursday, March 23, 6:00 p.m. at The Palace at Somerset Park, Somerset, NJ. The event draws more than 500 guests, including prominent food industry executives, and proceeds help support the NJFC Educational Development Scholarship Program. This year’s honorees are: John Derderian, president of Allegiance Retail Services; Frank Mastrangelo, area marketing director at Supervalu; and Nico Sumas, chief marketing officer of Village ShopRite Supermarkets Inc. “We are excited to honor these three men and their organizations as stellar members of NJFC that work to support our efforts and our association’s mission.” said Linda Doherty, NJFC president. “This recognition truly makes this night the retail food industry event of the year.” Tickets can be reserved online at www.njfoodcouncil.com/events or by calling NJFC at 609-392-8899.

Reports in the New York Post state Fairway Market has reached out to restructuring firm AlixPartners for help in selling it Hunts Point, Bronx warehouse (the Hunts Point facility contains a bakery and kitchen for prepared foods). After emerging from bankruptcy last July and now owned by Blackstone Group’s GSO Capital Partners, Fairway has been unable to jump-start the business in part due to the increasingly competitive environment. Also, a larger looming cloud remains on the horizon in the form of financial obligations and a cash crunch due later this year and thus the search to trim operational costs. It’s a shame as Fairway really does operate terrific stores and has an enthusiastic associate base, but since the 2013 IPO engineered by Sterling Investment Partners and their greedy attempt to have “Over 300 stores across the country” and a $20 million distribution facility in the Bronx, it has been a struggle for the company. Blackstone’s SVP Paula Chirhart said, “Any suggestion that we are seeking to sell the Fairway business in incorrect. We are committed to seeing Fairway through this turnaround period and growing the business.” Here’s hoping CEO Jack Murphy has some magic up his sleeve.

Kudos to the New England Produce Council, Inc. (NEPC) for its unique fundraiser to support the homeless. A sock drive was held at the organization’s recent dinner dance and more than 600 pairs of socks for women, children and men were collected. The socks will be distributed to the Friends of Boston Homeless and Boston area shelters. Anthony Sattler (NEPC board president) of C&S Wholesaler Grocers said, “We are very proud to assist Friends of Boston Homeless with this sock drive and we look to continue our community outreach throughout the year.” Well done.

And belated birthday wishes to Jimmy Ostling of Bimbo Bakeries. Jimmy’s boss and dear friend Joe McCarthy (and the entire Bimbo Wayne, NJ office) put together a surprise 60th celebration for Jim, and industry notables from far and wide came together to celebrate and roast Jim. It was an enjoyable evening and a real throwback type of event (read many off-color jokes and some truth-stretching to enhance the story telling). Overall a really fun and nice evening.

That’s all for now. The spring season is just around the corner and so are the trade shows and dinners. Look forward to seeing you out at the events and if you need to contact me please do at 201.250.2217 or kgallagher@best-met.com.