North Carolina Sweet Potato business updates

10/12/2011 09:45:00 AM
Andy Nelson

Burch Farms expands
storage, installs sorter

Faison, N.C.-based Burch Farms Inc. added 15,000 square feet of storage and 8,000 square feet of cooler space in July in anticipation of a bigger 2011-12 crop, said partner Jimmy Burch.

The extra space will give Burch Farms room to store an estimated 1.8 million bushels of sweet potatoes this season, up from 1.6 million bushels last year.

The expansion comes on the heels of a 35,000-square-foot-expansion in 2009.

“We’re trying to keep up with demand,” Burch said.

“We’ve been very blessed in this business.”

Also new at Burch Farms this year, the company has installed a new sorter to root out defective product before it gets to the sizer, Burch said.

The sorter will take the place of 10 people on the packing line and increase quality.

“It gives us a better finished product,” Burch said.

Farm Fresh rolls out new boxes, bags

Faison-based Farm Fresh Produce Inc. has introduced 6-kilogram and 40-pound boxes and 3- and 5-pound consumer bags, said Steven Ceccarelli, the company’s owner.

The 6-kilogram box is tailored for exports, Ceccarelli. Exports make up about half of Farm Fresh’s shipments.

Europe in particular is a good match for a smaller box, he said.

“A lot of European countries have weight restrictions, and everywhere you go in Europe, everyone has limited space.”

Small corner markets in cramped European cities, for instance, don’t have room for 40-pound boxes of sweet potatoes, Ceccarelli said.

Also, he said, to be competitive with rival shippers in Israel and Egypt, it helps to use the same size box they use — the 6-kilo box, he said.

Farm Fresh’s new 40-pound box will be used for domestic and export sales, Ceccarelli said.

Some buyers in export markets, he said, prefer to repack potatoes — for them, the 40-pounder is a good option.

The 3- and 5-pound bags should sell particularly well around the holidays, when demand for bagged product picks up, Ceccarelli said.

He said he would love to ship the bags overseas, but it’s not plausible.

“If you have to repack them, the labor is a killer. If you’re shipping citrus, it’s a little more forgiving. Sweet potatoes are too much of a risk.”

Farm Fresh will pack its new consumer bags under its Farm Fresh label, but the company is open to private labels or whatever else its customers prefer, Ceccarelli said.

Godwin Produce
creates Facebook page

Dunn, N.C.-based Godwin Produce Co. launched a Facebook page this spring and is upgrading its website this fall, said David Godwin, the company’s owner.

Between 200 and 300 people check the page on a weekly basis, Godwin said.

The company constantly updates the page with photos of workers in the field and other subjects, Godwin said.

“It’s really taken off for us.”

Upgrades to Godwin Produce’s website, www.sweettater.com, which were completed this fall, include new photos and other content and links to other sites, Godwin said.

Southern Produce adds salesman

Dennis Harrell joined the sales desk of Faison, N.C.-based Southern Produce Distributors Inc. Sept. 26, said Stewart Precythe, the company’s president and chief executive officer.

Harrell will sell sweet potatoes and lead the company’s new watermelon and blueberry program next spring, Precythe said.

Before joining Southern, Harrell worked as the general manager of the Carolina Blueberry Association co-op.

Before that, he worked as a buyer for the Food Lion retail chain.

Also new at Southern, the company has added a second sweet potato packing line, Precythe said.

The line will pack product for processors and for 6-kilogram export boxes. It will also be used to handle extra orders for the holidays.

Wayne E. Bailey
offers steamer display

Chadbourn, N.C.-based Wayne E. Bailey Produce Co. will begin offering retailers pop-up displays for its value-added steamer sweet potato packs, said George Wooten, the company’s owner and chief executive officer.

The stand-alone displays are about 3 1/2 feet tall and 20 inches wide, Wooten said.

The microwaveable packs, which the company introduced two years ago, have seen strong growth, with sales up about 50% each of the past two seasons.

The displays hold a case of the steamer bags and feature the American Heart Association logo emphasizing sweet potatoes’ healthfulness, Wooten said.

Also new at the company, Wayne E. Bailey will pack 3- and 5-pound bags this season that feature the General Mills Box Tops label, Wooten said.

Sweet potatoes packed under the Green Giant label will feature Box Tops, which benefit schools.

Green Giant is the only fresh produce partner of the Box Tops program.

By Markets Editor Andy Nelson



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