Business updates: Fresh-Cut/Value-Added/Prepared Meals

03/12/2010 03:39:00 PM
Susie Cable

Bonipak upgrades fresh-cut processing lines

Mitch Ardantz, vice president of sales and marketing for Bonipak Produce Co., Santa Maria, Calif., said the company recently installed an automated packaging system for one fresh-cut processing line. Bonipak runs primarily broccoli on that line, he said.

Early last year, Bonipak upgraded another fresh-cut processing line with a new cutting system and a new drying system. That line is used for bagged salads, Ardantz said.

Burch Farms begins processing greens

In January, Burch Farms, Faison, N.C., began offering fresh-cut produce.

Its line of washed and chopped mustard, collard and turnip greens are available in 2-pound retail packs and 2.5-pound foodservice packs, said Jimmy Burch Jr., vice president of sales.

The retail pack price point is about $3.96, he said.

Burch Farms processes and bags the greens in its own facility.

Burch said the company decided to enter the fresh-cut business because retailers were asking for more value-added products. The company grows and ships sweet potatoes in the U.S. east of the Mississippi.

Chiquita drops certain foodservice contracts

Chiquita, in an effort to build profit, terminated unprofitable foodservice contracts in 2009, said Ed Loyd, director of corporate communications and investor relations.

Loyd said the move was a major factor in the 12% decrease in sales dollars for the unit during the fourth quarter of last year.

Chiquita also made changes in operating structure and streamlined its product line to achieve better efficiency, and as a result the Fresh Express portion of the business achieved an operating margin of 7.6%. It had reached the break-even point a year earlier, Loyd said.

Crunch Pak extends distribution into Canada

Tony Freytag, marketing director for Crunch Pak, Cashmere, Wash., said the company plans to start distributing in Western Canada in March.

About 10 items will be available to Canadian buyers, including a family-size 14-ounce package of sliced apples. Distribution is expected to reach Eastern Canada by fall, he said.

Freytag said that when talking about her new children’s health initiative Let’s Move, first lady Michelle Obama used a phrase that caught his attention.

“Food desert,” he said. “The way I took it … there are places that it’s very difficult to get healthy snacks.”

Crunch Pak responded to the mention of food deserts by putting together a “food desert survival kit” to send to U.S. representatives and senators.

Freytag said the kit is designed to capture Congress members’ attention as they’re in the midst of discussing childhood obesity and to inform them that sliced apples can be a way to get healthful food to children who can’t easily access it in their neighborhoods.

Crunch Pak sent its first kit to the office of U.S. Sen. Maria Cantwell of Washington, Freytag said.

Dole’s Facebook page a recipe-swapping forum

Dole Fresh Vegetables, Monterey, Calif., added a new Facebook application, Dole Salad Recipe Swap, to allow fans to post recipes and receive feedback. As of early March, the Dole Salad Guide Facebook page had more than 35,000 fans.

Due in part to the success of its new pairings feature on Dole Salad bags, the company is adding a new Veggies Made Simple! feature on bags of fresh-cut vegetables, said Russell Evans, senior brand manager.

Earthbound to donate to environmental charities  

San Juan Bautista, Calif.-based Earthbound Farm plans to celebrate Earth Day, which falls on April 22, said Samantha Cabaluna, communications director.

Limited quantities of specially labeled 5-ounce clamshells of Earthbound Farm Organic Heirloom Lettuce Leaves will inform consumers that 25 cents from its purchase will be donated to an environmental charity.

The package will direct consumers to the Earthbound Farm Web site where they can vote to determine which charity receives the donation.

Earthbound Farm also plans to post a special Earth Day section on its Web site where consumers can learn about ways to make environmentally friendly choices in their kitchens, Cabaluna said.

The company’s Facebook fans and Twitter followers will receive notifications about giveaways of Earth Day-themed reusable totes. Earthbound Farm plans to support Earth Day promotions with point-of-purchase materials, press releases and newsletters.

The company expanded its washed bibb lettuce leaves, butter lettuce leaves and heirloom lettuce leaves program.

The items were introduced in 2008, but the program was small until this season, Cabaluna said. They are now in full production and available throughout the U.S.

Bibb and heirloom lettuces are available in 6-ounce clamshells. The butter lettuce is available in a 6-ounce clam-shell.

Mann Packing capitalizes on sweet potato trends

“Butternut squash, like sweet potatoes, is on trend and on the menu,” said Elena Hernandez, marketing coordinator for Mann Packing Co., Salinas, Calif.

The company launched Butternut Squash Cubes last year to accompany its fresh-cut Sweet Potato Cubes and Fries.

Mann plans to provide marketing support, including coupons and recipes, for fresh-cut sweet potatoes and butternut squash, Hernandez said.

Pero’s new Salad CutUps sold in high-tech packs

In January, Pero Family Farms Food Co. LLC, Delray Beach, Fla., introduced Salad CutUps fresh-cut salad ingredients.

Each package consists of multiple types of fresh-cut produce, but they are not packaged together. Instead, each of the four or five items is packed in its own bag designed specifically for it.

“Each is packaged separately for portions and freshness,” said Ed Sullivan, chief marketing officer.

The films used have specific oxygen transfer rates that are best for the types of produce, Sullivan said. The items then are packed in a master bag, which also has a specific oxygen transfer rate designed to maintain freshness for that particular set of items.

Each Salad CutUps package weighs 6.5-7.5 ounces and contains toppings suggested for two dinner salads or for four appetizer salads, Sullivan said.

Stemilt Growers builds foodservice business

Roger Pepperl, marketing director for Stemilt Growers Inc., Wenatchee, Wash., said the company is doing more business with foodservice programs.

The school lunch programs, in particular, are a growing part of its business. Pepperl said Stemilt expects the farm bill to open more opportunities to get apples to schoolchildren.



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