MYAKKA CITY, Fla. — Utopia Packing LLC, one of Florida’s newest vegetable grower-shippers, is beginning the fall season by packing bell peppers at a larger facility.
A division of Utopia Farms, Utopia Packing is packing bell peppers, hot peppers and cucumbers in a new 70,000-square-foot building.
The pepper and cucumber lines are on opposite sides of the building, separated by cold storage rooms that hold 100,000 cartons.
The rooms are designed to quickly cool large volumes to better maintain product integrity, said owner Brian Turner.
For seven years, Turner, co-owner of Palmetto-based tomato company Taylor & Fulton Packing LLC, packed his bell peppers in space leased from Bradenton-based C&D Fruit & Vegetable Co. Inc. but found he outgrew the facility, Turner said.
“It was time for me to pack on my own,” he said. “We have full control of the product. Food safety is obviously one of the reasons you need to go to the newer type of buildings, and this building was built with all the food safety standards in mind.
“I think we will be able to handle the product a lot better because of what we have here.”
Jim Monteith, Utopia sales manager, joined the company last fall.
Monteith said the building’s massive forced air cooling system helps improve product for shipping.
“This new facility provides a better-packed product for our retailers, wholesalers and foodservice buyers,” he said. “We were running a lot of volume through a small facility.”
Monteith said the building’s steel was constructed with U.S. Department of Agriculture-certified primer and paint to meet food safety requirements.
Constructed by Pac-Tek Inc. of Lakeland, the pepper line also handles hot peppers. The other line is for pickling cucumbers, primarily for processing. The cucumbers run from late September to late December.
The company plans to harvest a new item, pole-grown cucumbers, from early November through late March before returning for spring production mid-April.
Turner said the new operation can better consolidate products from eight farms in two counties.
Utopia packs central Florida peppers from mid-October through late December before shifting production to Immokalee until returning to central Florida in mid-April.
The spring deal runs through late June. In July, Turner begins laying plastic in central Florida for August transplanting and mid-September south Florida transplanting.