Church Bros. continues mixing things up

04/19/2012 02:56:00 PM
Mike Hornick

To keep up with rising demand, Salinas, Calif.-based Church Bros. LLC continues to expand plant capacity and diversify its product offerings.

Church Bros. is the sales and marketing arm of True Leaf Farms.

Production of value-added foodservice items under the True Leaf label hit full stride by the second week of April at the company’s San Juan Bautista facility, completing the transition from Yuma, Ariz.

Spring marks the start of the first full California season in a bigger True Leaf facility.

“Over the past summer, we expanded tremendously, adding six loading doors to speed customer service and 20,000 square feet for processing and finished product storage,” Ernst Van Eeghen, director of marketing and product development, said April 9. “And we just added two new fresh-cut lines.”

Those lines handle salad blends and lettuce mixes with such items as carrots or red cabbage.

Sales growth has driven the changes.

“We had our third year in a row at about 20%,” Van Eeghen said. “We needed to support that growth with new production lines and refrigerated space.”

The True Leaf label has steadily grown to include more products. Last fall, the company introduced a Tuscan spring mix in 1-pound and 3-pound sizes. It combines red and green oak, gem, tango and lolla rossa lettuces.

“It’s a tender sweet blend with 50% more volume than regular spring mix,” Van Eeghen said. “They’re small lettuce heads, but harvested like spring mix, not whole-head, for a blended value-added pack.”

A spicy spring mix features wasabi arugula.

As for good old-fashioned field commodities, those still appear under the Church Bros. label.

Not long after the changes in spring mix, and just before the transition to Yuma, loose-packed cilantro, parsley and kale were added to the lineup. They come in four-bag, 1-pound packs for cilantro and parsley, and four-bag, 2.5-pound packs for kale.

“Those three items were necessary to complete our portfolio,” Van Eeghen said. “We’re one of the few to control the process from seed variety to delivered services. One-stop is a term kicked around a lot, but that’s really what we are.”

Some of the sales growth at Church Bros. comes from new business, but more is through established accounts.

“It’s largely growth through existing channels,” Van Eeghen said.

“We’re meeting or exceeding expectations so they give us more business,” he said. “The investments we’ve made on the value-added side have paid off.”



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