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In an effort to upgrade the quality of its product, River Ranch Fresh Foods LLC in Salinas, CA, will outsource its harvesting operations using Valley Harvesting & Packing Inc. during the Salinas vegetable season.

Kim St. George, senior marketing manager for River Ranch, which is a firm that specializes in producing value-added products mostly for private labels, told The Produce News that the company is continually trying to make improvements to all aspects of its operation. "This is a great opportunity to enhance the quality of our pack."

She added that Valley Harvesting, which is used by many different Salinas grower-shippers, is well known for producing a superior pack and for paying special attention to food-safety issues. Ms. St. George said that this is not a cost-cutting measure, noting that running an in-house harvesting and packing operation is actually less expensive.

With the switch, River Ranch was required by the Workers' Adjustment & Retraining Notification Act to notify the affected workers of the change in operations that would lead to layoffs. Ms. St. George said that on April 1, 210 employees involved in the harvesting operation were given their 60-day notices as required by law. The transition to Valley Harvesting is already underway, and the labor contractor has employed many of those same workers.

In a press statement released by River Ranch, Steve Scaroni, chief executive officer and founder of Valley Harvesting, said, "We are proud to be associated with River Ranch and look forward to a long-lasting relationship with the company."

In the same press release, Mike Gillespie, vice president of sales and marketing for River Ranch, said that the "alignment with Valley Harvesting supports the company's long-term strategy for growth as a one-stop shop, filling the needs of our customers in both commodity and value-added segments with the highest-quality products and unsurpassed service levels."

River Ranch Fresh Foods is a year-round grower-shipper and fresh-cut processor with processing and cooling facilities in Salinas and El Centro, CA. The company processes and distributes salad kits and side dish vegetables under private label and "River Ranch" brands, and spinach, salads, fresh-cut vegetable snacks and side dishes under the "Popeye Fresh!" brand. The company is also a broad-line distributor of various commodity products.