Fresh-cut success drives growth at C&C

09/06/2011 03:11:00 PM
Andy Nelson

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — The loss of a military commissary contract notwithstanding, C&C Produce Co. is thriving, said Nick Conforti, partner and vice president.

The success of its new fresh-cut produce line and anticipation of the 2012 All-Star game in Kansas City are among the things the company is most excited about.

Andy NelsonTess Brensing, quality assurance manager for Cool Creations, the fresh-cut division of Kansas City, Mo.-based C&C Produce, shows off two of the line's popular mixed fruit trays.“Our core business continues to grow, and we’re picking up lots of new business,” said Conforti, vice president and partner. “We’re reaching out, picking up new customers.”

C&C launched its Cool Creations fresh-cut line in Fall 2010. Thus far, sales have exceeded the company’s expectations by 25%.

“It’s doing absolutely great,” Conforti said.

Cool Creations packs under its own label as well as under private labels, Conforti said. Cantaloupe, pineapple and fruit blends are among the biggest sellers.

Sixteen-ounce retail containers are the line’s staples, though retailers can also buy 5-pound containers and repack them themselves, Conforti said.

The company originally offered a wider variety of sizes, but C&C decided the line lacked continuity.

“The eye appeal created by them all being the same size really helped the program increase sales,” Conforti said.

New offerings from Cool Creations include vegetable medleys designed for cooking on the grill. This fall, the company plans to roll out a line of veggie mixes for soups.

C&C has hired two new employees to help run Cool Creations. In May, Bob Carl became Cool Creations’ director of operations. Carl owned Kansas City, Kan.-based Kitty’s Salad Co.

Tess Brensing joined Cool Creations as quality assurance manager in June. Brensing earned a BA in food science and industry at Kansas State University and is close to receiving her MA in the same field from Kansas State.

Brensing also has worked on product development as part of her graduate studies, and those skills also are expected to be called on at Cool Creations, Conforti said.

“There are products she worked on that are on shelves now,” he said. “It’s another reason we’re excited to have her on board.”

C&C is in its third year as a sponsor of the Kansas City Royals. Twice during each home game, the company’s ad runs on Kaufmann Stadium’s digital billboard, Conforti said.

Next July, during the All-Star game, millions of people around the world will see it.

“We had looked at it as a regional advertisement,” he said. “With the All-Star game, it becomes national. It’s exciting to work with them.”

The long-term economic slump has meant that companies like C&C get sales in different ways.

Sales of organic and other high-end items may be down, but value-item sales are thriving, Conforti said.

“When retailers are running ads, ads are doing better than they used to.”

Staples have also done well. Take potatoes, which C&C repacks.

“There’s been a tremendous increase in potato sales,” Conforti said.

Put Conforti in the camp of people who think that First Lady Michele Obama’s Let’s Move campaign, the efforts of the Produce for Better Health Foundation and other nutritional pushes have increased demand for fresh fruits and vegetables.

“People have a view that eating healthy is a priority, and it’s just a part of their way of life now,” he said.

Conforti compares the healthful eating campaigns of today with anti-smoking campaigns of years past.

Those campaigns worked, he said. And 15 years from now, he thinks people will look back at the efforts by the First Lady and others and think, “That worked, too — kids are eating more produce.”

More and more of that produce will be locally grown, Conforti said. Local sales continue to increased for C&C.

The company packed significantly more potatoes grown in Kansas and Missouri this summer, he said.

“With freight what it is, it created cost savings,” Conforti said of the big local spud deals.



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