Innovation Awards: Nucci Award Recipient Naturipe Leads Top 10; Matthew D’Arrigo, P. F. Chang’s, Highline Mushrooms Also Honored

BY CHRISTOPHER BURT, Produce Business

Their bright ideas led to extraordinary rewards.

The 10 winners of the PRODUCE BUSINESS First Annual Innovation Awards, announced in the November 2017 issue, took center stage at the Jacob Javits Center and were lauded for their game-changing products They were honored with glass trophies bearing the creative symbol of Edison ingenuity.

Jill Overdorf of Naturipe Farms

Jill Overdorf of Naturipe Farms

Among them, Naturipe Farms of Salinas, CA, took home the top prize for innovation — the Joe Nucci Award — for its Naturipe Snacks, which pair berries and grapes with cheese and seasoned nuts in a portable package. “It is an amazing acknowledgement to be recognized as an innovator and an industry leader in the snacking category,” said Jill Overdorf, director of business development for Naturipe. “(Nucci’s) contribution to the industry and to being somebody who questioned the norm is a great opportunity to follow in really deep footsteps.”

Also earning top honors this year were Phoenix-based P.F. Chang’s, which won the First in Fresh Award for its innovative use of produce; Highline Mushrooms of Leamington, Ontario, Canada, which won the New Product Showcase Award for its Organic Mushroom Medleys; and Matthew D’Arrigo, who won the Chandler Copps Award for industry leadership and service.

“It’s an honor to receive this award in his name,” D’Arrigo said. “He was a great produce man. He knew every player in the industry. He was really just an all-around warm, nice, smart guy, and everybody who was involved in the share groups loved him dearly.”

Jim Prevor with Matthew D’Arrigo

Jim Prevor with Matthew D’Arrigo

The Innovation Award winners overcame tough odds to beat their competitors; editors at PRODUCE BUSINESS evaluated more than 45 new offerings, with a concentration on product, packaging and processing. That they disrupted the industry – and came out on top – was a testament to their creativity.

“The brand, everything we do, is about innovation,” said George Shropshire of Love Beets of Rochester, NY, which won for its Marinated Beet Products. “Listening to retailers and what they are looking for, we have to keep innovating.”

Jim Prevor, editor-in-chief of PRODUCE BUSINESS magazine, which hosted the event along with the Eastern Produce Council, agreed. “You have to offer new and exciting things that will appeal to consumers in new and exciting ways,” said Prevor. “These 10 companies were selected by the industry as exemplars of innovation.”

Jessica Kezar and Anish Sheth of Veggie Noodle Co

Jessica Kezar and Anish Sheth of Veggie Noodle Co

One of those companies, Veggie Noodle Co. of Austin, TX, rocked produce shelves with its Veggiccini alternative to pasta.

“It’s a wider, flatter noodle that we think holds sauces even better than the other noodles you see out there,” said Anish Sheth, vice president of sales and marketing. “Having the award, I think if there’s an inspiration for everyone to be innovative, that’s it.”

Similarly, Gold Coast Packing of Santa Maria, CA, was rewarded for its ingenuity and teamwork for its Caulifornia Riced Vegetable Sides. But resting on its laurels is not in the company’s plans.

“To get recognized by the award, it’s going to drive more innovation, more products and more healthy spin-offs by consumers,” said Karl Lipscomb, who is in sales and product development for Gold Coast.

Other Innovation Awards winners included: Babe Farms, Santa Maria, CA (CaliCabbage); Green Giant Fresh/Growers Express, Salinas, CA (Peeled and Cut Spaghetti Squash); Mann Packing Co., Salinas, CA (Nourish Bowls); Mastronardi Produce, Kingsville, Ontario, Canada (Sunset Sweet Bites); Tanimura & Antle, Salinas, CA (Artisan Dew Drop Cabbage); and Village Farms, Heathrow, FL (Lorabella Blossom Tomato).

Prevor lauded P.F. Chang’s and category manager Robin Fisher for “raising the bar on produce dishes in menus across America,” and for its creative vegetarian lettuce wraps, tempura calamari and vegetable cauliflower tempura at the event’s Ideation Fresh Foodservice Forum, held on the show’s final day.