Church Brothers Farms' Rick Russo Dishes on Fresh-Cut Harvest and New Products
- by Jordan Okumura
SALINAS, CA - In today’s competitive fresh produce market, the value of premium one-stop-shops cannot be stressed enough as the buy-side looks to drive efficiencies and flavor to the consumer, and dollars from the plate to their pockets. Church Brothers Farms is one company accelerating its already stellar value proposition as it ramps up harvest and new developments across its fresh-cut operations and is boosting its presence in the retail sector with upcoming new products.
“Business has been brisk for our processed whole leaf category, and we recently expanded capacity at our production facility in Mexico to meet future growth. We offer products for both foodservice and retail in this category,” Rick Russo, Senior Vice President of Sales and Marketing, shares with me. “We have been busy on the new product development front and are launching new packs of sweet baby broccoli and sweet baby cauliflower in both retail and foodservice formats. We are also expanding our retail value-added offerings to include cubed sweet potato, along with butternut and spaghetti squash.”
In addition, Church Brothers has also been focused on growing its Brussels sprouts program, both in value-added and bulk packs.
Currently, the company is harvesting all of its fresh-cut and commodity items in the Salinas Valley, California, as well as Northern Mexico and Central Mexico regions. This includes, but is not limited to, lettuce, romaine, broccoli, cauliflower, leaf lettuce, spring mix, spinach, onions, celery, and cabbage.
“We think flavor is a huge factor in what consumers and restaurants will eventually gravitate toward harnessing,” Rick expresses. “When we review new variety trials for any vegetable, tasting the varieties is high on the list for potential use. Agronomic benefits are always a plus, but if the product doesn’t taste good, those advantages may not matter. We have a few different items in the R&D hopper that are centered on flavor. With a strong focus on innovation and product development, we’re excited to say we have a new product line in the works that will be launched very soon as well.”
With the recent fires in California, Church Brothers is not immune to the impacts but has been continuing to keep its employees safe and its product thoroughly processed through a dedicated quality assurance program.
“Over the past couple weeks, the Salinas Valley experienced heat-related issues and impacts from the fire which are, thankfully, much more controlled today. We saw some tip burn and also had to cope with ash from the current fires. Before the fires, however, quality and volume were looking steady, and we hope that will continue to be the case once the fires are contained and we are past heat damage. The Church Brothers’ program works to ensure the best product we can offer still gets into our customer’s hands and we appreciate the support we, and all California shippers, are experiencing during these difficult times,” Rick tells me.
Even with the day’s challenges, the company is keeping its eye and energy on innovation and the eating experience. With partners like Church Brothers keeping its finger on the pulse of the consumer’s buying behaviors, added value is not just a hope but an expectation.