(UPDATED WITH VIDEO, March 29) AUBURNDALE, Fla. — Marking its entry into domestic blueberries, Alpine Fresh Inc. helped open a central Florida blueberry packing operation.
A March 28 ribbon cutting event officially opened Fresh Star Packing & Cold Storage, a partnership between Alpine Fresh and Five Star Family Growers, a new blueberry grower.
Five Star plans to pack up to 1 million pounds of blueberries from 260 acres of blueberry bushes and for other growers during its first season.
Construction ended in mid-March, and Fresh Star conducted its first trial run of berries on the packing line March 26.
It planned to begin its first season commercial harvesting on March 29.
“Our goal is for this to be a bar-setter with the likes of Alpine as partners,” said Randy Knapp, a Five Star owner and managing member. “They bring such an element of marketing ability and depth to the industry. With food handling and safety requirements and all the other restrictions imposed on farms as they need to be for consumer protection, it’s great to partner with someone like Alpine that has experience and can access retail with one-stop shop ability throughout the season.”
Walter Yager, Alpine Fresh’s chief executive officer, said the facility should help increase demand for Florida blueberries.
“We know that combining our efforts with the Five Star Family’s efforts with Fresh Star will be a model for years to come,” Yager said. “The future of this industry for us is very exciting. It’s one thing to go into something and say you want to do this. When you have this facility and this farm, it’s a major stepping stone for us to get varieties from plant breeders that will help Florida remain competitive for years to come.”
The facility also helps Alpine Fresh, which is celebrating its 25th year, expand to other commodities, Yager said.
With a dozen family owners, Five Star planted its first blueberry bushes in 2011 on land that was formerly an ornamental nursery.
For domestic blueberries, Alpine Fresh is partnering with growers in Georgia, North Carolina and Michigan.
It plans to use the Auburndale building to repack its offshore blueberries as well as conduct repacking, consolidating and reconfiguring of other U.S commodities.
Alpine Fresh is a year-round grower, packer and shipper of blueberries and also imports asparagus and other commodities.