Soup To Nutz

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So the retailers’ prayers have been answered and the final snowstorm of 2017 (if you can even call it that) is in the books. Unfortunately, that meant that the long-awaited first day of Spring tradition whereby Rita’s offers customers a free Italian ice this year happened amid almost freezing temperatures. The unseasonably cold, cold weather also resulted in the unfortunate news that it looks like the 2017 crop of peaches and blueberries in Georgia has been decimated which will undoubtedly result in higher prices this season. The good news? Baseball season officially begins in a few short weeks!

Leave it to Jeff Brown to turn lemons into lemonade – unsweetened of course – when he opened his 13th store, and second Fresh Grocer, on Monument Road in the Philadelphia neighborhood of Wynnefield Heights. The ribbon cutting on March 2 was attended by many customers and local dignitaries including State Senator Vincent Hughes and State Representative Vanessa Lowery-Brown. Noticeably absent was Philadelphia’s controversial mayor Jim Kenney. He was down the street filming “Inside Story,” a 6abc Sunday morning talk show, taking pot shots at the nation’s most celebrated food desert entrepreneur. Why, you might ask, is the mayor criticizing someone who employs more than 2,000 people in the city of Philadelphia, some of them former drug dealers looking to turn their lives around? Two words: soda tax. To help his customers determine which drinks are taxable and which are not (thereby paying no tax, which infuriates the mayor), Brown has carved out a large section in the front of the new store with huge signs reading “No Philly Beverage Tax on These Items.” This tax-free zone houses everything from water to beverages with all juice to flavored (but not sweetened) seltzer. Taxed beverages are clearly marked in the grocery aisles. The law is rather confusing and providing this section takes the guess work out of beverage shopping. This is a test store, Jeff said. If it works, he will be adding these sections to all of his stores within Philadelphia city limits. As for the rest of the 55,000 square foot store, a former Pathmark, Jeff has tweaked the upscale urban model to fit the diverse neighborhood’s need. For starters, more than 200 new jobs have been created. Brown’s veteran store director Katrina Boler has been tapped to head up the team. She comes from the Fox Street store, also in Philadelphia. The objective, Jeff says, is for the more educated consumer to have the most pleasant shopping experience possible. Bright Farms will deliver harvested produce within 24 hours; there is a large section of organic nuts and spreads as well as an extensive kosher section and a center store enclave for organic and gluten free products. All perishables are behind doors for energy efficiency and there are more than 700 varieties of beer, wine…and sake, don’t forget the sake. The extensively renovated site features six touch screen kiosks for ordering hoagies, a newly merchandised bakery and Brown’s Chef’s Market prepared restaurant quality entrees at affordable prices. Many of the most popular items sold in all of the ShopRites operated by the Brown family, including the mouth-watering store-made sweet potato pie, are also on the menu. “These offerings will support our customer’s efforts towards a healthy lifestyle and at more affordable costs compared to other natural and organic retailers, he said.  Keep up the good work on behalf of your customers!

As we went to press last month, Acme was celebrating the grand reopening of one of its premier stores in Paoli, PA. The renovation is part of the aggressive remodel schedule for 2017 as outlined by Dan Croce last month at both the MAFTO dinner and reinforced at the vendor meeting held in Pennsville, NJ store. In addition to the Acme top brass, Senator Thomas McGarrigle, State Representative Warren Kampf and local community representatives joined store director Mark Davis at the ribbon cutting and the giving of donations to police, fire departments as well as EMS and two local school districts. Of course a signature bench made of recycled materials was donated to Tredyffrin Township Parks and Recreation.

Save the dates November 4-6 as the the Mid Atlantic Food Trades Organization (MAFTO) will honor the Redner family at its 2017 Gala Weekend. The family will be feted in Atlantic City at Resorts International Hotel and Casino. Partying begins at Margaritaville on Friday evening and ends with a buffet breakfast on Sunday morning. Details are forthcoming, but put the gala in AC on your calendar as the place to be this Fall!

The Power Your Lunchbox Pledge by Produce for Kids I wrote about last month encouraged families, classrooms and retail dietitians to be re-inspired in the new year by pledging to eat healthier lunches in 2017. Between January 4 and February 15, a total of 21,394 families, classrooms and shoppers took the pledge to pack a healthier lunchbox allowing 235,334 meals to be provided to families in need through Feeding America and bringing the total Power Your Lunchbox Pledge impact to more than 580,000 meals.  “In listening to our audience through social media, we realized there was not just a need for lunchbox inspiration in August and September, but there was also a need to re-inspire families with new lunchbox ideas and tips mid-year,” said Trish James, vice president, Produce for Kids. “We were able to tailor information we were sharing with families based on the season, offering them cold weather healthy lunch ideas and seasonal tips from our registered dietitian, including blog posts about foods to help fight colds and incorporating citrus into your family’s diet.”  Power Your Lunchbox Pledge program partnership opportunities for the 2017 back-to-school timeframe are available for produce and health-conscious brands. Companies interested in participating in the program should email Produce for Kids celebrated its 15th anniversary and milestone of $6 million raised for programs that benefit families and children during a reception earlier this month at the Southeast Produce Council’s annual Southern Exposure. “I had a vision 15 years ago that the produce industry could come together to create a healthier generation,” said John Shuman, president of Produce for Kids. “As we celebrate this anniversary and milestone donation of $6 million raised, it gives me great joy to say each and every program we implement at Produce for Kids has, and always will, have a giving back aspect.” I talk about this group a lot. I believe in what they do and hope that it will continue to turn generations to come on to healthy eating while providing for families who are food insecure.