Heading South

Retailers attending the 2011 Southern Exposure show can expect to see advances in food safety along with new products, packaging and marketing programs.

By Elizabeth Louise Hatt

As consumers continue looking for healthy and convenient meal options, they are spending more time in the grocery store’s produce section. Produce growers/shippers are responding to retailers’ and shoppers’ needs with new products, technological innovations and food safety enhancements.

Below are some of the highlights from exhibitors at the Southeast Produce Council’s 2011 Southern Exposure event, set to take place March 3-5 in Orlando, Fla.

Beach Street Farms
Founded in 1996 by four farming families, Beach Street Farms has grown into an organic and conventional berry producer with more than 500 acres in the California growing districts of Watsonville and Salinas. The Watsonville, Calif.-based company sells conventional strawberries in 1-, 2- and 4-pound packages and organic strawberries in 8-ounce, 1- and 2-pound packages.

Beach Street Farms has established itself as a premium berry growing company with a reputation for customer service, innovative ideas and the ability to meet the specific needs of customers, according to company officials. To meet customer demands for year-round fruit, Beach Street Farms formed collaborative relationships with growers in Orange County, Oxnard and Santa Maria. These relationships provide the producer with the opportunity to supply customers throughout the year.

For more information, visit www.beachstreet.com.

Bland Farms
Getting its start in the early 1980s packing Vidalia sweet onions, Bland Farms is now a 52-week shipper of sweet onions with numerous operations in South America and the U.S. and a seasonal shipper of conventional onions. “We recognized the need to have a full line and started about three years ago with yellow onions and have since added reds and whites,” says Richard Pazderski, director of sales. “We are trying to offer them 52 weeks and have just hired a new West Coast salesman to help us focus on that goal.” According to Pazderski, Glennville, Ga.-based Bland Farms supplies close to 50% of all the Vidalias that move out of the region.

The family-owned shipper prides itself on its intensive food safety program. “Food safety is one of the bigger hot buttons these days, so we trace our products from field to customer,” says Pazderski. “I think it gives the retailer and the consumer more confidence in our products.”

For more information, visit www.blandfarms.com.

Idaho Potato Commission
The 74-year old Eagle, Idaho-based Idaho Potato Commission (IPC) was recognized for its improved website, www.idahopotato.com. The publisher of Good Food Sales blog, Tim Forrest, presented the IPC with the award for Best Agricultural Cooperative Website after reviewing more than 540 agricultural websites nationwide. The website was chosen for the numerous ways it engages and connects with consumers.

“We are very proud to receive this recognition because our website is one of our most important communication tools. Every month more than 30,000 people visit idahopotato.com for delicious recipes, nutrition information and to participate in one of our many consumer promotions,” says Frank Muir, president and CEO of the IPC.

The IPC is currently in the midst of a national TV campaign that focuses on looking for the Idaho seal. Retailers can visit the IPC at Southern Exposure to learn about the promotional opportunities that the commodity board provides to expand awareness and the POS kits and recipe booklets available to educate consumers on how to prepare potatoes.

For more information, visit www.idahopotato.com.

Mariani Nut Co.
Founded in 1972, the Winters, Calif.-based grower and supplier of almonds and walnuts Mariani Nut Co. has entered the seasoned category with sweet, savory and spicy almond varieties. Available in 6-ounce, stand-up, zip-lock bags, the seasoned nuts join Mariani’s line of unseasoned whole, sliced, chopped and slivered almonds. The almonds are aimed at adults who say they are eating more nutritiously, say company officials. In-store shipper displays and wood display units are available.

“Our retailer feedback is important to us, we want to supply a product that is consistent with their needs,” says Matt Mariani, who oversees the company’s sales and marketing efforts. “Partnerships with fresh produce experts are helping our company successfully expand in the retail environment and provide a product that is appealing to consumers.”

For more information, visit www.marianinut.com.

Oneonta Starr Ranch Growers
Kids are the focus of Oneonta Starr Ranch Grow­ers’ latest marketing program, APPLESNAQ. The Wenatchee, Wash.-based grower is providing retailers with eye-catching tote bags to display in their store full of apples or pears. “We are trying to make a connection with the consumer to give them the idea to pack their kids lunches with healthy snacks,” says Dan Wohlford, national sales representative. “It is working very well so far. People are making the connection and are coming back to buy more.”

With warehouses and orchards all over Washington and a partnership with Diamond Fruit Growers, a cooperative of pear and cherry growers based in Hood River, Ore., retailers can benefit from Oneonta’s locations and economical use of transportation.

“We can provide a full line of product, including apples, pears, cherries and stone fruit, but the biggest benefit is with pears,” says Wohlford. “Retailers rarely fill a truck of pears so we consolidate them in our apple sheds before shipping them out. It’s more efficient, and in the long run it saves them money.”

For more information, visit www.oneonta.com.

Oso Sweet Onions
The Waterford, Mich.-based sweet onion grower/shipper Oso Sweet Onions is venturing into a new product area. A year-round shipper of onions, the company plans to continue en­hancing its sweet onion program while building a mango program to meet growing retail demand. “We have strong relationships with growers and packers in South America who recruited us to sell mangos for them, and plan to implementing a year-round mango program,” says Brian Kastick, president.

“I think the biggest concern in the sweet onion market currently is that shippers and retailers have to define sweet onions,” he says. “We are pushing the industry to define the category in order to prevent people from selling storage onions under the sweet category to get the higher price. If retailers dedicate themselves to offering real sweet onions in their store customers will respond to it. If not, the customer will be left confused; they won’t recognize the value of paying for the sweet onion.”

For more information, visit www.oso­sweetonions.com.

Peri & Sons Farms
For more than 30 years, Peri & Sons Farms has been growing, packing and shipping premium white, yellow, red, sweet and organic onions year-round from its family farms in Yerington, Nev.—also the company’s headquarters—and its new facility in Firebaugh, Calif. “With this addition we’ve been able to expand our ‘Onions All Year’ program and fulfill customer’s needs more efficiently by seamlessly transitioning from season to season,” says Teri Gibson, marketing and customer relations manager.

On display at Southern Exposure will be the company’s newly designed packing cartons for its conventional and organic onion product lines. “The new cartons pushed the limits of printing technology for this type of carton and we are very happy with the results,” says Gibson. Also, the 2-, 3- and 5-pound retail pack labels that cross six different products have been redesigned to feature recipes and health information.

For more information, visit www.peri­and­sons.com.

Shuman Produce
Officials at Reidsville, Ga.-based Shuman Produce, a grower/shipper of conventional and organic sweet onions under the RealSweet brand, will be showing new packaging at Southern Exposure. “Our high-graphic, full-color bags offer customers an eye-catching experience in the produce department,” says John Shuman, president.

“Our packaging is not only meant to draw in the consumer, but is designed to add value through great recipes and other valuable information included on each of our bags. When it comes to promotion, our innovative packaging speaks for itself in the marketplace.”

Shuman says the company plans to introduce a new and innovative marketing campaign this year that includes industry leading packaging concepts. “Shuman Produce was blessed in the past year and we look forward to another great year through our continued commitment to growing the world’s sweetest onions and supporting our retail partners with innovative marketing solutions,” he adds.

For more information, visit www.real­sweet.com.

Sweet Onion Trading Co.
Sweet Onion Trading Com­pany was founded in 2001 by Barry Rogers, a produce-industry veteran whose business model was to sell sweet onions year-round. The Melbourne, Fla.-based company now grows sweet onions throughout the U.S. and South America.

To further the company’s dedication to personalized service that Barry Rogers, president, insists on, Sweet Onion Trading designed new packaging. “We have developed a distinct selection of consumer packaging that includes our two major brands Longboard Sweet Onions and Sunbrero Sweet Onions,” says Rogers. “We have 2- and 3-pound “D-pack” bags with high-graphic poly in the front and recipes on the back with mesh sides, 2- and 3-pound mesh bags with wineglass tags and 5- and 10-lb. drawstring bags. We are also packing in bulk in 40-lb cartons with GS1 barcoded PLU (price look up) stickers.”

For more information, visit www.sweetoniontrading.com.

Vidalia Onion Committee
Building on the momentum from its 2010 kid-targeted promotion with Dreamworks, the Vidalia Onion Committee (VOC), based in Vidalia, Ga., plans to continue reaching out to younger shoppers. “We always try to present retailers with a marketing campaign that they can sink their teeth into, one that will help boost sales and attract more customers,” says Wendy Brannen, executive director. “Last year we were able to quantify the increase in sales and we are looking to accomplish that goal again this year by focusing on young adults and continuing to entice parents.”

Founded in 1989, the VOC handles the national marketing, including paid advertising, for all Vidalia growers and packers. “We do anything from in store materials to consumer magazines to radio and television,” says Brannen. Elements of the latest campaign, including new point-of-sale and packaging materials, will be on display at Southern Exposure.

For more information, visit www.vidaliaonion.org.

Wayne E. Bailey Produce Co.
Chadbourn, N.C.-based sweet potato grower/shipper Wayne E. Bailey Produce is now shipping fresh steamable sweet potatoes under the Green Giant brand. The 1.5-pound bag contains  four to five sweet potatoes and takes about eight minutes to cook. “We are dedicated to making sweet potatoes more available to consumers,” says George Wooten, president. “Green Giant one of the top labels and brands in the nation with customer loyalty.”
In response to an increased demand for sweet potatoes across all categories, Wayne E. Bailey officials plan to expand its acreage to accommodate an increase in production volume for the 2011 crop. “We are going to have to put in new facilities and have just added 140-square-feet into our building mix which increased storage capacity by 20%,” says Wooten.

For more information, visit www.sweetpotatoes.com.

Wilcox Fresh
Wilcox Fresh, the Rexburg, Idaho-based grower/shipper of potatoes, onions and sweet potatoes, has been keeping busy. The family-owned farm is introducing a 1-pound tray of specialty gourmet-size red, yellow and fingerling potatoes at Southern Exposure. “It’s our first venture into specialty potatoes,” says Jim Richter, executive vice president of sales and marketing. “The trend continues to be cooking and entertaining at home; this provides consumers with a restaurant quality experience at home.”

Food safety continues to be a priority for Wilcox. “We are moving towards higher standards in 2011 so our agricultural program becomes engrained with food safety,” says Richter. “It’s a way to give consumers confidence. If you have strong food safety practices at your operation, it carries throughout your whole organization.”

Richter believes there is a need in the industry to make customers more aware of the food safety programs that products are subjected to at point of purchase. “You only have about five to 10 seconds to influence a customer,” he says. “We as growers and shippers need to work with our retail partners on how we can bring this to life at point of purchase.”

For more information, visit www.wilcoxfresh.com.

Wishnatzki Farms
For the third season, Wish­natzki Farms is using a traceability program that tracks strawberries from the block where they were picked all the way to the carton sitting on the grocery store’s shelf. The Plant City, Fla.-based company developed the patented program, Fresh QC, in house and is now marketing it to other shippers under its subsidiary company, VirtualOne.

“We were scanning pickers’ badges for hourly work or piece rate. So we took it a step further and put a unique barcode on each box that is scanned and married to the information from the scan of the picker’s badge. It documents both the block in the field and the time the strawberries were picked,” says Gary Wishnatzki, president. Wishnatzki Farms then places a label on each clamshell that directs consumers to a website to provide feedback. According to Wishnatzki, the company went from receiving 40 to 50 emails/letters a season to more than 2,000 pieces of feedback. “The system has helped us reduce our rejection rate from 2% to 5% two years before it was implemented to 1%,” he adds. “It has also created a sense of pride in the organization—from top to bottom. Being able to see consumers’ comments inspires them to work harder.”

For more information, visit www.wishfarms.com.

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