Growers make transition to Salinas

04/30/2013 02:17:00 PM
Mike Hornick

SALINAS, Calif. — Salinas Valley growers and shippers who transition here from Yuma, Ariz., handle the huge logistics challenge in surprisingly little time.

It’s not the blink of an eye, but a long weekend.

Church Bros. LLC, for example, disassembled its Yuma plant equipment March 28 and had it up and running again at the True Leaf Farms facility in San Juan Bautista by March 31.

“We did tear-down on a Thursday and started assembly here Friday,” said Ernst Van Eeghen, director of marketing and product development.

“We completed our test runs by Saturday night, and Sunday we were back up and running against all the quality and food safety requirements and programs that we’re used to.”

Suppliers of Markon Cooperative left Yuma on a Friday and were in full production in California by Monday, the company reported in its Seedlings blog.

For Church Bros., it took about 125 trucks to haul all the machinery 600 miles from Yuma. That’s up from 90 on past transitions.

“It was bigger just because we’ve added considerable volume and increased our capacity in the past year or so with several new production lines,” Van Eeghen said.

In that time, True Leaf’s San Juan Bautista plant also added six loading docks and 20,000 square feet of refrigerated space.

The growth has been fed in part by the introduction of new products like red heirloom spinach and Italian greens, both under Church’s Tuscan label.

“We’re increasing the acreage on those this summer,” Van Eeghen said.

“We’re probably going to increase the heirloom spinach by 50% over last winter, and we’re boosting our baby kale program as well.”

Sales have risen about 20% annually for the last four years, he said. For the past two years, the company has sourced iceberg lettuce, broccoli, green onions and other items out of Mexico.

That supply came in handy in the recently completed Yuma season when first heat, then cold, wreaked havoc on staple items.

That south of the border production happens in both western and central Mexico.

“We started shipping out of McAllen, Texas, this past winter for Mexican product going to the East Coast and Midwest,” Van Eeghen said.

“We came out of the winter season very well,” he said.

“The markets were really good and the product was tight. But we were able to stay in supply and fulfill our contractual obligations.”

During the Yuma season, True Leaf Farms also completed installation of a solar power system for the 190,000-square foot Arizona plant. It was expected to cut energy costs by 35%.



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