Jan/Feb 2021 Michigan Food News

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President’s Message

MRA asks state to prioritize retail workers for COVID-19 vaccine to keep economy going william j. hallan

MRA President and Chief Executive Officer

MRA called on the state to prioritize retail workers for early COVID-19 vaccination. Below are excerpts from a letter I wrote to the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services director. To read the letter in its entirety, see retailers.com. Please note that the state has already indicated that grocery workers will be included in the early vaccine Phase 1(b) tier under food and agriculture. Dear Director Gordon: The health and safety of employees, customers and communities continue to be top priorities for retailers. On behalf of the members of Michigan Retailers Association (MRA), we encourage you to consider the public-facing nature of retail jobs when determining the prioritization of groups for early COVID-19 vaccination.

COVID-19 vaccination during the early stages of its distribution, such as Phase 1(b) for certain essential workers. Retailers have spent billions of dollars to keep employees and customers safe. They’ve invested in protective gear, store redesigns, employee health screening and numerous other COVID-19 prevention protocols. Those allowed to remain open during the “Stay Home” order piloted these protocols, influencing the later state-adopted safeguards required to remain open. Given that the state has recognized all retailers can operate safely by allowing them to remain open through the latest “pause,” all retail employees should be eligible to receive the vaccine early. ... Prioritization should be based on greatest impact to the community using the determinations of our currently allowed activities.

Our partners at the National Retail Federation (NRF) recently submitted comments to the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) at the CDC, urging the consideration of retail workers in Phase 1(b).

With many recreational activities halted, retail is where a larger percentage of economic activity is occurring. By vaccinating retail employees, shopping will remain safe and keep Michigan’s economy going. A strong retail economy is good for the state’s overall economy, increasing sales tax collection which directly benefits schools and local governments.

While retailers have proven that shopping continues to be a safe activity given the adoption of COVID-19 prevention protocols, retail employees remain on the front lines, having regular contact with our communities. Retail is a fundamental part of the daily lives of American consumers, providing a variety of goods for sale through a multitude of channels — via stores, online, curbside pickup, and delivery to almost any location.

The retail industry is more than just brick and mortar storefronts. It is heavily reliant upon people working in many different capacities such as, technology, distribution, transportation, payment systems, warehouses, ports, delivery, and logistics. Every day, those front-line workers keep our communities fed and supplied with the goods they need. ... Given the size of the retail workforce and importance in supporting individuals, households and families across the country, we believe MDHHS should prioritize retail workers for access to early stage vaccination in Phase 1(b).

MRA and NRF agree with the ACIP’s interim guidance and assessment that health care personnel and residents of longterm care facilities should receive the vaccine in this initial phase. We respectfully request that the MDHHS consider the importance and interconnected nature of the retail industry as it weighs the proper distribution of limited supplies of vaccines to prevent the spread COVID-19. We believe the 929,780 Michigan retail workers on the front lines should be prioritized for

Thank you for your attention to this request. MRA stands ready to assist as you consider how best to safely and efficiently distribute vaccines to prevent COVID-19 infections. Sincerely, William J. Hallan, MRA President and CEO

Michigan Grocers Division Advisory Board

William J. Hallan, President Michigan Retailers Association Craig Diepenhorst H.T. Hackney Dave Duthler AMRA Energy Jim Gohsman SpartanNash

Rachel Hurst Kroger Company of Michigan John Leppink Leppink’s Food Centers Bryan Neiman Neiman’s Family Market

DJ Oleson Oleson’s Food Stores Don Symonds Lipari Foods Thom Welch Hollywood Markets

Michigan Grocers is a division of the Michigan Retailers Association

William J. Hallan Publisher Lisa J. Reibsome Editor, Layout & Design, Ad Sales (517) 449-2256; LReibsome@retailers.com Publisher does not assume responsibility for statements made by advertisers in business competition. © MICHIGAN FOOD NEWS 2021 MICHIGAN FOOD NEWS

JAN/FEB 2021 3

Ben’s expands to Cass City BY LISA J. REIBSOME, EDITOR


hanks to Jim Zyrowski, Cass City has a grocery store again — after going without one for six years. Zyrowski, who is president of Ben’s Supercenters, purchased the old Erla’s Food Center to open what he calls a “community-driven store offering top-quality products at the very best value for local residents.”

With supercenters in Marlette and Brown City, Zyrowski had been looking for the right location to open his next one. “Cass City is a great community with a long history of providing quality food at great prices right from this spot,” he says. “In the 1940s, this was a frozen food locker where local families could keep their frozen groceries. Then the Erla family purchased the building and created a smoked-meat business and grocery store, serving the area for nearly 60 years. We respect that history and hope to continue the tradition of doing right by the community.” The Zyrowski family has roots of its own in the grocery industry. “My dad, Ben Zyrowski, is the one who started the family in the grocery business. After serving in the U.S. Army, he was employed as a meat cutter by A&P in Warren, Michigan,” Zyrowski says. “Then in 1965 he purchased a small 4,500 square-foot grocery store in Brown City that he named Ben’s Supermarket, and I grew up working in the store — helping out from a very young age, before I even started kindergarten.” 4 JAN/FEB 2021


The company evolved from there, expanding that original location into a 84,000-square-foot supercenter and, in 2013, opening a second supercenter about 12 miles away in Marlette. All three supercenters are in Michigan’s thumb area, set in communities with fewer than 2,500 residents. At approximately 40,000 square-feet, after renovations and remodeling, the Cass City store is the smallest of the three. While it has a True Value Hardware within the supercenter, it doesn’t have the same farm, ranch and trailer supplies that the other locations carry. “We do have a full-scale grocery department, including an expansive produce area, a butcher shop, and — opening soon — a deli and pharmacy,” Zyrowski says. All Ben’s locations are supplied by Associated Wholesale Grocers (AWG), where Zyrowski serves on the board of directors. “We’ve been able to stay well stocked at all our stores throughout the pandemic,” he adds. He also served on the Michigan Grocers Association board of directors and, later, on the Michigan Retailers Association Grocers Division advisory board. Zyrowski attributes success to the company’s dedicated customers and loyal staff. “In addition, we have a really effective pricing model,” he explains. “We know that products are only worth what shoppers can buy them for at other stores, so that’s how we set our prices. And it seems to be working. In particular, our health and beauty category is doing really well, and that can be a difficult department in small grocery stores.”

(Top to bottom) Ben’s is known for its high-quality meat selections, and the new Cass City location is no different. The store offers an extensive selection of fresh beef, pork, chicken and bison as well as smoked meats. Skilled meatcutters are on hand to assist shoppers. The Zyrowski family owns a bison farm that supplies meat and specialty items to its stores. “We have about 350 head of bison,” Zyrowski says. “Our goal to provide the highest quality bison products to our customers while providing optimum care to our animals. We also sell our own brand — Jimmy Z Bison Trading Co. — smoked meats, seasonings and sauces, which are very popular.” There’s a large Amish population in the area. In addition to shopping at Ben’s, members of the nearby Amish community also supply produce, honey, maple syrup and more. “We pride ourselves on bringing our customers the freshest produce and best local items at affordable prices, so it’s great to be able to partner with the local Amish farms,” Zyrowski says. “Each season will bring new and different produce to our aisles offering our customers a fantastic variety.” As a tribute to the Erla family and the community, Zyrowski is using old photos to create graphics for the soon-to-open deli and eat-in sitting area. MICHIGAN FOOD NEWS

JAN/FEB 2021 5

Lipari Foods acquires specialty food importer

Scholarship competition opens

The Michigan Retailers Association Foundation scholarship competition kicked off January 1. As an official division of the Michigan Retailers Association, Michigan Grocer members are eligible to apply for the MRA scholarships including the Paul M. Felice Memorial Scholarship and the Albert (Al) Kessel, Jr. Memorial Scholarship . Scholarships range from $1,000 to $1,500. Applications are accepted through April 1. Those eligible to apply are high school seniors and college freshmen, sophomores and juniors who are dependent children of owners or full-time employees of MRA member businesses, which includes Michigan Grocers members. Part-time employees who are full-time students are also eligible. A third-party administrator selects recipients on behalf of the Foundation based on outstanding academic performance and extracurricular activities, regardless of financial need. Please make the program known to all of your employees. For details or to apply online, see retailers.com, under the Member Benefits tab. Questions? Contact MRA’s Rachel Schrauben at (800) 366-3699 ext. 346 or rschrauben@retailers.com.

On Dec. 31 Lipari Foods closed on the acquisition of Tut’s International, a Middle Eastern and Eastern European food importer that includes the brands Dobrova, Shahia and Lebanon Valley. The purchase expands Lipari’s international specialty food division that was developed after acquiring Jerusalem Foods in 2018. Both acquisitions were headquartered in Dearborn. Tut’s has been in business close to 50 years, importing more than 4,000 items from 80 countries. “Lipari’s strategic position has always been to be one of the premier perimeter of the store and specialty grocery distributors in the U.S.,” says Lipari Foods CEO Thom Lipari. “We look forward to continuing to grow our international specialty division and overall product offerings.” Currently, Lipari serves over 7,000 customers across 16 states.

MRA mourns loss of advisory board member, Rich Beishuizen Food industry veteran Rich Beishuizen, age 67, died Nov. 8. Rich served on the MRA Grocers Division advisory board since January 2018 when Michigan Grocers Association became part of MRA. Prior to that, he served on the MGA board of directors for eight years and the Convention Committee for several years. In addition to supporting Michigan Grocers, Rich also served on the United Dairy Industry of Michigan board of directors. At age 15, Rich began his career in the food industry when he started working as a bagger at Eberhard’s Grocery Store. Over the course of a 25-year career, he worked his way up to become company president. He then accepted a management position with Country Fresh Dairy where he worked for another 25 years before retiring in 2018. Even after he retired, he continued to serve by agreeing to be an advisor/consultant to Country Fresh as needed. He was active in association events including the annual legislative reception, golf outing and conference. “We’re fortunate that Rich was willing to share his time, energy and resources to support the association and the industry,” says MRA President and CEO Bill Hallan. “On behalf of MRA’s staff and board, we extend our condolences to Rich’s family.” To read the obituary and leave condolences, see sytsemafh.com/obituaries/Richard-Beishuizen-2.

6 JAN/FEB 2021




As we brace for a challenging winter and spend more time at home again, fatigue is setting in — and it isn’t just about the coronavirus. Remember those early days of quarantine, when people were sharing photos of homemade breads, whipped coffees and hand-rolled pasta? You’re not seeing those as often since the thrill of cooking from scratch has faded.

Considerations when buying prepackaged salads and ready meals instead of building your own from self-serve stations Knowing when the item was prepared Different portion sizes available Ability to pick dressing separately Wide variety of meal options Knowing where the item was prepared Tamper-resistant packaging Environmentally-friendly packaging Allergen-friendly packaging

60% 53% 48% 46% 40% 39% 26%

According to FMI’s “U.S. Grocery Shopper Trends COVID-19 15% Tracker, ” even as early as July, home-cooking fatigue Source: FMI, Power of Foodservice at Retail, 2020 had begun to set in. One-fourth (23%) of survey responProviding a variety of package sizes leads to greater success with grab-and-go dent said they wanted to spend as little time as possible programs. The ability to buy as little or as much as desired was a big advantage cooking, which was up from 16% who said that in March. of self-serve; translating that flexibility in prepackaged items is important. And while, at the start of the pandemic, 26% said they were seeking “something interesting to eat” as a priority when cooking at home, by July, the desire for something interesting n 31% prefer having meals in a prepackaged format rather to cook had risen to 35%. than having store employees serve the food. The good news is that food retailers can again come to the In addition to full meals, retailers can give home cooks a lift in rescue as they have throughout the pandemic — this time other ways. “The Power of Foodservice at Retail” reveals that with meal solutions. In addition to being a resource for housea majority of people (58%) are combining items they make hold staples and health and wellness products, retailers can from scratch with fully and semi-prepared items, including provide ready-to-cook, ready-to-prepare and ready-to-eat sides and salads such as bagged salads or reheatable mashed offerings that make meals easier. Now is a good time to once potatoes. Making those items available and easy to find online again adapt by promoting foodservice at retail programs as a or in-store makes a food retailer a go-to source. solution for cooking fatigue. The need for such assistance in the home kitchen is clear. According to FMI’s report, “The Power of Foodservice at Retail,” consumers say the biggest challenge in food preparation and cooking at home is not being in the mood to cook. This is a prime marketing angle for grocers as they plan their foodservice. Another finding that paves the way for retail foodservice solutions is the fact that nearly half (47%) of shoppers say they have a hard time coming up with new meal ideas. To reach consumers who don’t feel like cooking, retailers can market their prepared food solutions and partial meal solutions as a restaurant might do, focusing on availability, variety and convenience with easy in/out shopping, pickup or delivery. Prepackaged Fresh “The Power of Foodservice at Retail” found that packaged fresh meals are appealing to shoppers: n 46% say they like the idea of having hot prepackaged items available for immediate consumption.

Meal Bundles The survey also probed shopper interest in meal bundles, described as “all the items to prepare one meal, including the protein, side and veggie for easy meal planning and preparation.” Overall, 49% of shoppers were interested, with 27% being very interested. Households with kids living at home — which favors older Millennials and Gen X consumers — have an above-average interest in meal bundles, as do people who often purchase deli-prepared foods. Grocers Advantage Retailers should feel confident in their possible range of offerings and in their unique position. Retail foodservice programs have definite advantages with weary cooks: n Families can buy meals for their household at a lower price point than many restaurants that offer carry out. n Shoppers can order or pick up other needed items while buying meals, cutting down on errands and making life easier. Whether it’s a prepackaged platter of baked goods, containers of heat-and-eat side dishes or other grab-and-go items, retail foodservice products can alleviate consumers’ cooking fatigue and, along the way, improve a part of their life. That’s something shoppers will appreciate as 2021 gets underway. MICHIGAN FOOD NEWS

JAN/FEB 2021 7

Lame duck issues impact food retailers Michigan Legislature’s lame duck session delivered some wins for retailers. All of the 2020 legislative action will be recapped in MRA’s annual year-end Legislative Report, published in February. The report also offers an overview of legislative priorities for 2021. Until then, here’s a brief look at the notable lame duck issues that impact food retailers. SIGNED INTO LAW The Legislature passed the following bills, which have now been signed into law: n Unemployment benefits extension (Senate Bill 748 and SB 604, now Public Acts 257-258 of 2020) The bills aimed to continue the six extra weeks of state pandemic unemployment benefits through March 31 while also holding employers harmless for any COVID-related claims. The bills included a requirement that the benefits be funded through a supplemental appropriations bill. The supplemental bill was signed into law, but Gov. Whitmer line-item vetoed the specific $220 million in funding designed to cover the extra unemployment benefits. This has now caused some confusion: The governor says this does not stop the extra six weeks of unemployment benefits from being extended through March. However, legislators disagree, saying the veto triggered something in a different bill that invalidates the benefit extension. MRA is working to get clarification. Stay tuned for more information. The Unemployment Trust Fund, which employers pay into to cover benefits for their employees, has nearly been drained; without the $220 million, a benefits extension could force the state to borrow money from the federal government, creating a higher unemployment tax burden for employers in the future when the loan must be repaid. n Pharmacy flexibilities (SB 920 and SB 879, now Public Acts 324 and 322 of 2020) MRA worked with lawmakers and the administration to pass these bills to codify the flexibilities given to pharmacies last year under Executive Order 2020-124. These new laws took effect Dec. 29 and provide that, until March 31, 2021, insurers must provide coverage for an emergency refill of up to a 60day supply of any covered maintenance prescription drug and for an early refill of any 30-day or 60-day covered maintenance prescription to allow for up to a 90-day supply. In addition, pharmacists flexibilities include being able to: • Dispense emergency refills of up to a 60-day supply of a prescription drug that is not a controlled substance. • Operate in an area not normally designated as a pharmacy. • Substitute a therapeutically equivalent drug for one subject to critical shortages. • Supervise pharmacy technicians, student pharmacists and other pharmacy staff remotely. • Allow for out-of-state license reciprocity. 8 JAN/FEB 2021


n Personal property tax location during COVID-19 pandemic (SB 1203, now Public Act 352 of 2020) This MRA-supported legislation simplified personal property taxes for 2020 by assuming the location of that property in 2020 was the same as it was in 2019. This means if employees are working remotely using company-furnished property, businesses will not have to file in each jurisdiction in which an employee lives. The new law took effect Dec. 30, 2020. n Youth employee work permits during an emergency (SB 910, now Public Act 323 of 2020) This MRA-supported bill allows more flexibility in granting youth employee work permits during a declared state of emergency, deleting a reference that only allowed work permit applications to be made in person. n Tobacco excise tax parity (SB 970, now Public Act 326 of 2020) The MRA-supported bill sough to ensure tobacco excise taxes are paid on products shipped into Michigan. It accomplishes this by requiring sales of tobacco products from out of state to be made only by wholesalers or unclassified acquirers. The Michigan Department of Treasury says this will have no impact or change on retailers being able to purchase tobacco products directly from manufacturers. The law takes effect Jan. 1, 2022. VETOED The Legislature passed the following bills; however, the governor did not take action on them, resulting in pocket vetoes: n Data breach notifications (HBs 4186-4187) The bills would have changed the notification time after a data breach, setting a 45-day clock once a breach is confirmed and the data has been secured. Because the bills did not become law, businesses must continue to follow Michigan’s current Identity Theft Protection Act, where the notification standard is just “without unreasonable delay.” n Alcohol delivery (SB 1138) Part of a bill package that was designed to allow distilleries to directly ship mixed drinks to retailers, SB 1138 would have changed definitions of direct shippers and qualified retailers, potentially impacting retailers. However, SB 1138 and the rest of the bill package were not signed into law. n Micro-fulfillment operations (SB 1149-1150, SB 1153) This legislation would have provided tax exemptions for micro-fulfillment operations and automated distribution facilities. To compete with online retailers, brick and mortar retailers have been converting warehouses and storage areas to quickly fill online orders. Under these bills, the equipment used to do this would have been exempt from sales, use and personal property taxes —similar to the exemptions manufacturing and industrial processing facilities currently receive. The bills did not become law.


Longtime association member Country Fresh has been a favorite dairy brand in Michigan for generations. Founded in 1946 to provide local grocers with high-quality milk from local farms, Country Fresh strives to produce wholesome dairy products that grocers can feel good about offering to their customers. Last year, the Dairy Farmers of America (DFA) co-op acquired Country Fresh from Dean Foods. DFA is owned by and serves more than 14,500 dairy farmer-members representing more than 8,500 dairy farms across the country. In Michigan, the Grand Rapids-based facility is owned and supplied by over 275 dairy farms and employs more than 350 people. DFA has a grassroots approach to business, operating its 91 processing facilities using a general manager model. This allows decisions to be made locally while still benefiting from being part of a larger business. In Grand Rapids, the general manager is Craig MacMillan, a 24-year company veteran who has devoted his career to the business. MacMillan joined Country Fresh as a college intern, working up to director of sales while Country Fresh was a subsidiary of Dean Foods. Now, as general manager, he’s in charge of the Grand Rapids facility. “Being part of DFA is a perfect fit for our company,” MacMillan says. “Country Fresh’s long history of success was built on independent roots, strong support of farmers and retailers, and exceptional dairy products. DFA echoes those same ideals. They are dedicated to food safety and quality assurance as they support local dairy farms.”

Country Fresh supplies farm-fresh premium products including milk, cream, cottage cheese, ice cream and other frozen desserts to retailers. “As a subsidiary of Dean Foods, we sold a national milk brand alongside our Country Fresh brand,” MacMillan says. “Now that we’re part of DFA, we can again focus on local milk produced by local farms, which is what made Country Fresh one of Michigan’s most trusted brands for 75 years.” continued on page 11

(Bottom left) An ad from 1966 that Country Fresh ran in the Michigan Food News. (Above) Some of the Country Fresh team at the Michigan Grocers Association conference in 2014. From left to right are Craig MacMillan, who now serves as the General Manager, and Bill Wernet, who is the Sales Director. Also pictured is Rich Beishuizen who passed away in 2020 (see page 6), and, in front is Sales and Marketing Rep. Don Young.



Founded as Grocers Cooperative Dairy by 70 Grand Rapids grocers.

Becomes Grocer’s Dairy Company.



Supreme Court strikes down Plant on Buchanan Ave. law prohibiting milk sales by the gallon, increasing in GR begins supermarket milk sales. operation.





Company name changed to Country Fresh to better identify with the established brand name.

Merges with Suiza Foods.

Suiza Foods acquires Dean Foods. Country Fresh becomes a subsidiary.

Dairy Farmers of America acquires Country Fresh.


JAN/FEB 2021 9


2020: A Year in Review By Gary McDowell, director, Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development The past year has in no way been a “normal” one. COVID-19 took us all by surprise and necessitated adaptation at all levels of the food and agriculture sector. Throughout the efforts to get a handle on this virus, the retail grocery industry has risen to the challenge of providing a stable source of food and other goods for its customers, while protecting the health and safety of its employees, consumers and delivery staff. You truly are heroes in the pandemic response and recovery efforts, and I thank you for the services you continue to provide. The year has also challenged the way MDARD does business and our efforts to protect public health, respond to COVID-19 and other emergencies, protect Michigan’s environmental resources, and continue to foster economic development and innovation. Despite the added challenges of COVID-19, MDARD staff has managed to accomplish a lot during 2020. Here are a few of the highlights: Food-Related COVID Complaints — Our Food and Dairy staff addressed hundreds of COVID-19-related complaints, gaining voluntary compliance with operators and escalating enforcement when needed. Staff also assisted local health departments with businesses not adhering to public health orders, particularly restaurants and other facilities selling food products. Additionally, staff completed 100% of annual food safety inspections under contract with FDA by deadline, despite FDA’s three-month “stop work order” due to COVID-19. For some lower risk inspections, innovative virtual inspections were used to ensure food safety while reducing the risk of COVID-19 spread. EEE Emergency Rules — As the state was seeing increased cases of Eastern Equine Encephalitis (EEE) in horses, a multi-agency group consisting of MDARD, MDHHS, LARA and local health departments was working on prevention and response. To quickly reduce the administrative burdens that would slow down a response to protect human and animal health, it was necessary for MDARD to go through the emergency rules process of the Administrative Procedures Act. With little notice, this team got to work quickly to make this happen. Their quality work, attention to detail and knowledge of the process meant that the state could meet its timeline to start the treatment process in areas where the disease had been detected, thereby preventing the spread of EEE. Ralstonia Solanacearum — The Pesticide and Plant Pest Management Division responded to a detection of Ralstonia solanacearum, a federally classified bioterrorism agent, at a Michigan greenhouse. This bacterium can cause massive 10 JAN/FEB 2021


losses of certain horticultural and vegetable crops including geraniums (Michigan is the nation’s largest producer), tomato (5th largest), and potato (8th largest). This initial detection was traced to a geranium producer in Guatemala, whose products were shipped to more than 650 facilities in 39 states, including 50 facilities in Michigan. Following a massive state and federal response, R. solanacearum was declared eradicated from Michigan and the U.S., thereby protecting the state’s food supply. Hand Sanitizer — As part of its COVID-19 response, MDARD lab staff collected 200 samples of hand sanitizer to ensure consumers were getting a product with proper levels of alcohol for killing germs. That proactive market survey found the compliance rate was very low when comparing the labeled alcohol content with the actual content. Proper alcohol content is critical for protecting public health. Multiple stop-sale and consent agreements were issued to firms violating the regulations. Virtual Ride-Along Training — In this new remote environment, Animal Industry Division staff created a virtual Animal Control Officer Ride-Along Training, coordinated with multiple agencies to respond to both EEE and COVID-19, and expanded bovine Tuberculosis testing beyond the routine four-county area of the Modified Accredited Zone, adding seven counties for more thorough monitoring of the disease. Field Hospital IMTs — During the initial response to COVID-19, MDARD staff from every division were represented on two Incident Management Teams assembled at field hospitals in Detroit and Novi. At the TCF Center in Detroit, MDARD deployed five staff members; and at the SCS Temporary Care Facility in Novi there were nine, plus two from our partners at the Michigan Department of Management and Budget. Additionally, MDARD had four staff members from our Geagley Laboratory deployed to the MDHHS State Health Laboratory to support the state’s COVID-19 testing response. MDARD’s training, capacity and willingness to step up made an incredible difference, and will be remembered for years to come. Migrant Housing COVID Mitigation Efforts — Our Migrant Labor Housing staff conducted 1,000 outreach visits to review and verify COVID-19 mitigation plans. This was in addition to their nearly 2,400 annual housing inspections. When notified of COVID-19 positive camp occupants, staff worked directly with local health departments, local migrant resource councils and housing providers to secure safe isolation housing. Food Bank Assistance — In early spring, during the first COVID-19 peak, massive structural cracks were showing up in the country’s food supply chain. At one point, the Food Bank Council of Michigan was just days away from being unable

to meet the extraordinary food demand. Facing a food shortage at the height of the pandemic was a nightmare scenario. MDARD immediately contacted our commodity partners to see who could help meet the needs. This call to action was met with enthusiasm and a sense of urgency from our many partners. The food went directly to families in need at a dire time in our state’s history. On-Farm Conservation Practices — In FY20, the state’s 42 Conservation District technicians performed 589 new risk assessments and 779 reassessments on Michigan farms. As a result, these technicians helped farmers implement over 3,400 new conservation practices to help protect Michigan’s soil and water. Additionally, just under 400 new verifications took place statewide. The results of the implementation of these conservation practices were more than 227,000 acres of lands being farmed with an approved Nutrient Management Plan, and a reduction of soil loss by 335,000 tons, nitrogen losses by 1,170,000 pounds and phosphorus losses by 551,000 pounds, all helping to improve water quality statewide. MWC Cheese and Whey Plant — Through the hard work of MDARD’s Food and Dairy and Agriculture Development Divisions, MWC — a $470 million state-of-the-art cheese and whey plant in St. Johns — opened and received its first load of milk in October. Construction was completed on the 375,000-square-foot facility that will employ 260 local people and process over 2.9 billion pounds of milk from local farmers into 300 million pounds of superior quality block cheese and 20 million pounds of value-added whey protein powders each year. The facility will be one of the most technically advanced dairy processing facilities in the United States. INTELS — The Pesticide and Plant Pest Management Division completed its implementation of INTELS (Inspection, Tracking, Enforcement and Licensing System) for all its pesticide inspection, investigation and enforcement programs. This web-based system allows for unprecedented efficiency in data collection, retrieval, and analysis in a large regulatory program that protects human, animal and environmental health. LPS Online Portal — MDARD’s Central Licensing Unit in partnership with the Food and Dairy Division and DTMB fully implemented 13 different dairy licenses into the department’s new online licensing tool. The project began in October 2018 and went live on Feb. 6, 2020. This accomplishment is important because it is the first step to centralizing all MDARD license programs. It also gives the department the opportunity for application standardization across different license programs. As we enter 2021, I am optimistic that collectively we will get a handle on COVID-19 and begin to move toward a more “normal” way of doing business. Until then, I thank you for your role as a part of our state’s critical infrastructure and for your continued efforts to protect the health of Michigan residents — all while providing a safe, abundant and wholesome food supply. I wish you a happy, prosperous and healthy 2021!

Country Fresh celebrates 75 years continued from page 9

Country Fresh has a proud history in Michigan’s dairy industry. Delton Parks, president of Country Fresh from 1980 to 2000, shared some company history for a Michigan Food News article in 1996. He explained how, after World War II, people were attracted to the novelty of buying milk from the supermarket rather than having it delivered. In Grand Rapids, grocer L.V. Eberhard decided that the best way to compete for milk sales with major grocery chains was to create a cooperative dairy. That way participating grocers could be co-owners, receive a return on investment and have a high-quality product on which they could depend. In February 1946, the Grocers Cooperative Dairy was incorporated with 70 founding members; the first quart of Country Fresh milk went on sale eight months later. “So now 75 years later, we’ve come full circle and are again making decisions locally and are grounded in farmer ownership,” MacMillan says. “Our goal is to supply delicious farm-fresh dairy products to local grocers. We’re partnering with family-owned farms and businesses that share the same passion for our food system as we do.” Similar to many grocery businesses, farming is a family affair. According to USDA, nearly 98% of U.S. farms are family-owned. “Farmers have a different way of looking at business,” MacMillan shares. “They aren’t just thinking about what’s best for next quarter; they are thinking about what’s best in 40 years when their grandchildren take over.” That creates a set of standards — integrity, community, innovation and quality — that DFA lives by and of which MacMillan is proud be a part. “Now more than ever, when shoppers purchase Country Fresh products, Michigan grocers can take pride in the fact that you’re supporting local farmers and providing fresh wholesome dairy products for your customers to serve their families,” he says. Country Fresh is planning some special events to mark 75 years in business. “Stay tuned to learn more about our celebration,” MacMillan says. “Also in the coming months, grocers will be able to see Country Fresh’s renewed focus on fresh and local. We’re returning to more traditional branding, and we’ll be rolling out new packaging in June.” MacMillan’s view of the future gives a nod to the past and the co-op way of thinking. “We’re creating a community of farmers, Country Fresh and grocers. From farm to shelf to table — we’re all working together to create and sell the high-quality dairy people love.” MICHIGAN FOOD NEWS

JAN/FEB 2021 11

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