Fresh-cut and value-added shippers find that offering a wide array of products helps them appeal to retailers.

With retailers streamlining their vendor structures, it makes sense to diversify and offer a broad range of items, said Tony Freytag, marketing director for Crunch Pak, Cashmere, Wash.

“A retailer can come to us and get everything from Disney Foodles to bigger packs of sliced apples, to Snackers with pretzels or grapes and meal replacements that are great for lunch,” Freytag said.

To make its line more diverse, Crunch Pak is rolling out its first apple-free product: baby carrots.

In January, the baby carrots debuted at Wal-Mart Supercenters in clamshells containing five 2-ounce bags of carrots with ranch dip. They retail for about $3.49-3.99, Freytag said.

By Feb. 22, the carrots were in about 1,500 Supercenters. Crunch Pak plans to expand distribution to its other customers, and Supervalu and Kroger were expected to receive shipments soon.

Cincinnati-based Chiquita Brands International is test marketing a new product called Fresh & Ready avocados, which use Landec Corp.’s technology to extend shelf life, said Ed Loyd, Chiquita’s manager of corporate communications and investor relations.

Chiquita To Go bananas, which were test-marketed in 2006 and are now sold in coffee shops and convenience stores, also use Landec technology to keep ripe bananas fresh.

Loyd said  that Fresh & Ready avocados should soon be available throughout the U.S., but he didn’t give an exact date.

Chiquita also offers value-added apples, apple and grape bites and pineapple bites as quick and healthful snacks.

Pero Family Farms Food Co. LLC, Delray Beach, Fla., entered the fresh-cut business in January with a soft launch of several varieties of Salad Cut-Ups salad toppings and Steamy Cuts fresh-cut vegetables in microwaveable bags.

Pero is a major bell pepper grower, so bell peppers are featured prominently in its fresh-cut line.

Among the five varieties of fresh-cut salad toppings are Tuscan (green and red bell peppers, garbanzo beans, cabbage and onions) and Garden (green bell peppers, cucumbers, grape tomatoes, red onions and carrots). The packs weigh 6.5-7.5 ounces.

Pero is not ready to release retail prices yet, said Ed Sullivan, chief marketing officer.

In addition to the five in the soft launch, the company has several other varieties of Salad CutUps in the works, but those will come out after Pero has a chance to analyze market data.

The Steamy Cuts line includes cut red and green bell peppers, cut green bell peppers with onions (a premium mix includes red, yellow or orange bell peppers), and conventional and organic snipped green beans.

All packs are 12 ounces. Pero has about 20 more Steamy Cuts items in development, Sullivan said.

Pero focuses on retail packs but it offers larger foodservice and wholesale bags and tubs in a variety of sizes.

In addition to the Delray Beach location, the company has facilities in Omega, Ga., Benton Harbor, Mich., and Brant, N.Y., as well as alliances with growers in the Dominican Republic and Honduras, Sullivan said.

Pero’s customers are within 500 miles of at least one facility, which Sullivan said gives Pero the ability to quickly deliver locally grown fresh-cut produce to all of them.

“Locally grown is important in fresh-cut,” Sullivan said. “It needs to be as fresh as possible.”

Pero’s first value-added product line, Freshwrap overwrapped whole vegetables, which includes 16 conventional items and 12 organic items, was introduced about a year ago, Sullivan said.

Cutting out processing

George Foods, Pembroke, N.C., at least temporarily stopped processing fresh-cut sweet potatoes, said George Wooten, owner.

Wooten also owns sweet-potato grower-shipper Wayne E. Bailey Produce Co., Chadbourn, N.C.
In mid-February Wooten said the company was not producing fresh-cut sweet potatoes because it had not proven profitable.

Even when regional companies processed the sweet potatoes and Wayne E. Bailey co-packed them, the overhead expenses made it cost-prohibitive, he said.

Processors and distributors that carry multiple fresh-cut products are more likely to be successful.

“To be profitable, you need to run large loads,” Wooten said. “You need to run 125 items … and need to be dedicated to processing.”

Pero’s Sullivan agreed. A deep product line also is more interesting and easier to support, he said.

“A one-off product in the fresh-cut business is not very attractive at retail,” Sullivan said.

A multiple-product line means retailers might be able to take advantage of lower prices that result from the economies of scale.

“Mann Packing in California is doing a great job with it (fresh-cut sweet potatoes),” Wooten said.

Salinas, Calif.-based Mann Packing Co.’s fresh-cut sweet potato cubes and spears are good sellers and popular menu items, said Elena Hernandez, marketing coordinator. They are available year round.

“Sweet potatoes are very on trend,” Hernandez said. “Especially sweet potato fries in place of traditional french fries, due to their high nutritional counts.”

Mann plans this year to promote fresh-cut sweet potatoes with instant coupons and other strategies.

“Our on-pack events generate redemption rates north of 15%,” Hernandez said. “In summer 2009, our annual sweet potato promotion reached a remarkable 24% redemption rate.”

Mann ships many other fresh-cut items in addition to sweet potatoes, and that makes a difference, Wooten said. Customers want to buy other products to go with fresh-cut sweet potatoes, he said.

“We were trying to take one item, a sweet potato, and cut it multiple ways,” Wooten said. “But we don’t have anything to go with it.”