| THE MOST TRUSTED NEWS IN PRODUCE | CXXIV, NO. 26 | JUNE 26, 2017 | What’s inside ... More news from Chicago Coverage, A2, A4, A5, A7, A12, A14, A15 Whole Foods CEO John Mackey says he expects the company’s stores to benefit from Amazon’s ‘visionary,’ technology-forward approach to business. Pamela Riemenschneider Who’ll fill DiSogra’s shoes? Opinion, A6 Whole Foods, Amazon deal to ‘change the world’ By Ashley Nickle AMAZON PLANS to final-ize its $13.7 billion purchase of Whole Foods by the end of the year, and John Mack-ey has expressed the highest of hopes for the merger. “This partnership’s go-ing to change the world,” the Whole Foods CEO told employees June 16, accord-ing to a Securities and Ex-change Commission filing. “We will be joining a com-pany that’s visionary,” Mack-ey said in a town hall meet-ing, the transcript of which was provided in the filing. “I think we’re going to get a lot of those innovations in our stores. I think we’re going to see a lot of tech-nology. I think you’re going to see Whole Foods Market evolve in leaps and bounds.” Mackey, who will remain CEO after the deal is com-plete, spoke about what parts of the Whole Foods business will remain and which are expected to change. A con-stant will be the company’s quality standards, although Mackey left the door open for Amazon to explore gro-cery opportunities outside the high-end space. “Over time, there could be other formats that evolve that ... wouldn’t be branded Whole Foods Market, po-tentially, wouldn’t be our standards,” Mackey said. “But the Whole Foods Market stores and our brands, they’re going to stay all the quality standards we have. ” As far as changes, ana-lysts predict the acquisition Mackey said, jokingly call-ing Whole Foods the “class dunce” in that area. “I think that we can ex-pect that we’ll go to the front of the class, eventually, ‘I think you’re going to see Whole Foods Market evolve in leaps and bounds.’ John Mackey, Whole Foods Market will fast-track some of the initiatives Whole Foods had already begun, including customer data collection and analysis. Mackey expressed a similar expectation. “(Amazon is) at the forefront of technology ... we’re a little behind there,” in the grocery business.” In the meeting, Mack-ey pinpointed the starting point of the acquisition to a visit to Seattle about six weeks earlier. He described the meeting as a blind date set up by mutual friends. “It was truly love at first sight,” Mackey said, to laughter from his audience, according to the transcript. “We talked for 2½ hours. I think we could have talked for 10 hours ... We just had these big grins on our faces, like, ‘These guys are amazing. ’” The pending union be-tween Amazon and Whole Foods comes after months of public pressure by investors — including from Jana Part-ners, with an 8.8% stake in Whole Foods, and from Neu-berger Berman, with a 2.7% stake — to explore selling. The acquisition is the second-largest U.S. grocery deal on record, according to Elizabeth Lim, senior ana-lyst for Mergermarket. P Good deal in Walla Walla Crops & Markets, A9 CPS recommends ag water changes Produce Tech, A14 Back-door dealings for pricey fruit give growers headaches By Tom Karst “GREEN GOLD” was apparently too much of a temptation for Mission Produce workers accused of selling the company’s high-priced fruit over several months and pocketing the money. Three workers were arrested on suspicion of stealing avocados from a Mission Pro-duce avocado facility in Oxnard, Calif., and then illegally selling the fruit to customers un-aware of the scheme. The Ventura Coun-ty Sheriff ’s Office re-ported the arrests of Carlos Chavez, Rahim Leblanc and Joseph Valenzuela June 14 on suspicion of grand theft of avocados. The sheriff ’s report said detectives had ev-idence that the three made unauthorized cash sales from the Mission Produce ripening facility. “We believe this was an isolated incident, but the threat is always there especially with a shortage and high prices,” Steve Barnard, president of Mission Produce, said in an e-mail to The Packer. thousands of dollars worth of pilfered fruit. In 2011, the California Avocado Com-mission voted to establish an Avocado Theft Reporting Hotline and e-mail address to help collect information about thefts. At the same time, the commission raised the maximum reward to $5,000 for tips on leading to an arrest and conviction in a fruit theft case. The California Av-ocado Commission generally will respond to reports of fruit theft from groves, said Tom Bellamore, president of the Irvine-based California Avocado Commission. Bellamore said June 22 that the com-mission’s anti-theft program will provide signs and posters to growers upon request. The commission also talks with law enforcement officials in major avocado growing countries about crimes in-volving theft of fruit. GRAND THEFT AVOCADO Alibaba says Driscoll’s strawberries part of export deal with China By Jim Offner THE ALIBABA GROUP , the Chinese online me-ga-retailer, will be promot-ing California strawberries from Driscoll’s. Chinese consumers will be able to buy fresh strawberries on Alibaba’s Tmall platform. The announcement was made June 21 at Gateway ’17, Alibaba’s inaugural con-ference in Detroit. The con-ference focused on help-ing U.S. small businesses, growers and entrepreneurs explore opportunities in re-sponse to Chinese consum-ers’ demands for products from the U.S. Rough ride in Beantown Boston Know Your Market, B1 not returned. According to Chinese Produce Report, an online media outlet sponsored in part by the Produce Market-ing Association, 36 million households in China bought fresh products online in 2016 and that number is expected to double by 2020. Alibaba has developed Excitement for berries Quebec Produce, B4 ‘The Chinese market opportunity for fresh, American-grown produce is tremendous.’ Jae Chun, Driscoll’s Chicken of the Sea prod-ucts will also be promoted through the retailer, accord-ing to the announcement. “The Chinese market op-portunity for fresh, Ameri-can-grown produce is tre-mendous and we believe Alibaba allows us to expand consumer access to our berries, and we’ll be able to take full advantage of that opportunity,” Jae Chun, Driscoll’s vice president and general manager of China, said in a news release. A telephone request to Driscoll’s, Watsonville, Ca-lif., for further comment was strategic cooperation and services that enable U.S. producers, wholesalers and associations to export fresh and prepared foods directly to Chinese consumers. Cainiao Network, Al-ibaba’s logistics affiliate, enables same-day and next-day delivery in more than 1,100 counties and districts in China. Online sales through Alib-aba’s Tmall aren’t new for U.S. fruit exporters. A 2013 pro-motion by Northwest Cherry Growers, Yakima, Wash., sold 200 tons of cherries through the online platform. P Cherries looking good Northwest Produce, C4 NOT JUST THIS YEAR While higher prices may up the incentive for thieves this year, Bellamore said avocado theft is a concern every year. Sometimes grove thefts, similar to the al-leged theft at the Mission Produce facility, are “inside jobs” where workers help thieves ac-cess a grove in the middle of the night, he said. Larson of the San Diego County Farm Bureau said the group has a website, http:// bit.ly/2sVxAx8, that advises growers what to do to prevent theft on the farm. Larson speculates stolen fruit is often sold on a cash basis through the back door to restaurants and to fruit stands. P What’s online ... THEFT CONCERNS With prices running at $50-54 per carton for size 48 California hass in late June — more than $1 per fruit — theft is a concern. “If the market price goes up, thefts increase — guaranteed,” said Eric Larson, executive di-rector of the San Diego County Farm Bureau. The issue is not new. High profile investigations in 2001 and 2007 resulted in arrests involving avocado thefts that combined to total hundreds of What the heck is a tree tomato? Find out on thepacker.com.