(Oct. 11) Expanding its presence in value-added produce offerings, Oviedo, Fla.-based A. Duda & Sons Inc. has created a new product development department.

The department, organized last winter, is expected to introduce higher-margin products and start line extensions of existing fresh and processed items. The department is a part of Duda Products Inc., the company’s processing subsidiary, but also works with Duda Farm Fresh Foods, Duda’s fresh subsidiary.

Though the young department has been working on several projects, the company isn’t ready to announce any fresh offerings, said Susan Howard, Duda’s corporate communications director.

John Foley, the department’s manager of new products, said Duda hopes to launch some new fresh products by the spring.

For new items, Duda is not just looking at its primary celery, radish and sweet corn commodities, although those will be included, Foley said.

The fifth-generation, family-owned Duda markets celery in stalks and hearts as well as in sticks, straws and in trimmed, washed, and ready-to-use branch and bundle packs. The company also sells microwaveable sweet corn packs.

Microwaveable packaging technology for fresh vegetables should become a major thrust of the new products department, Foley said. Duda is also investigating new packaging technologies that help maintain fresh-cut produce freshness, he said.

The new products department is using a Duda vegetable processing plant in Thomasville, Ga. Any plans for future use of that plant for fresh products hasn’t been determined, Foley said.

The department is headed by Steve Bocchino, a 27-year Duda veteran who has worked in purchasing and packaging. Duda promoted Bocchino to the new position of vice president of new products and purchasing.