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Steve Church, director of operations for Church Brothers LLC in Salinas, CA, told The Produce News that the company will be demonstrating its newly launched "Teen Green" leaf lettuce at expo booth No. 18 at the Produce Marketing Association Foodservice Conference & Exposition in Monterey, CA, set for July 30 to Aug. 1.

“Our 'Teen Green' lettuce leaves are sized perfectly for sandwiches and burger buns,” said Mr. Church. “We remove the whole leaves from the butt of the head and stack them. We have been selling the item to one customer for about three months with great results, and now we are launching it across the board.”

“Teen Green” sandwich leaves are a specially designed green leaf lettuce variety exclusively offered by Church Brothers. They are also great as a low- carbohydrate substitute for breads, tortillas or taco shells. Leaf sizes vary from two-and-a-half inches to seven inches, with the majority of the leaves being between four and six inches.

Mr. Church explained that the lettuce leaves are cut in the field, then brought into the company’s processing facility to cool for two hours.

They are then triple washed and packaged in a form, fill and seal machine. The controlled atmosphere bag preserves freshness and minimizes mechanical damage. This process means that once the leaves are washed, the product is totally machine handled.

Church Brothers uses the process for all its fresh-cut leafy green products. “All our fresh-cut items are shipped ready to eat from our San Juan Bautista, California, facility,” said Mr. Church. “We entered the fresh-cut business last year, and the line has been widely accepted by foodservice operators because it eliminates labor and waste. Our line today includes spinach, Iceberg lettuce, cole slaw, salad mixes and chopped Romaine. We also offer ready-to-use arugula in two-pound bags, packed two to a box. Besides regular arugula, we offer wild arugula, which has a sharper edge. We are placing a lot of focus on the fresh-cut service, and we expect the line to expand and grow in the future.”

After long and diverse careers in the produce business, Mr. Church and his brother, Tom Church, started Church Brothers in 1999. It serves as the marketing and sales arm for True Leaf Farms, which they also own. The brothers “can do” attitude has long been a trademark that identifies them in the produce industry.

“We will be promoting our entire foodservice line at the PMA foodservice show,” said Mr. Church. “We are a one-stop-shop for operators, as we have one of the broadest lines of whole and fresh-cut vegetables in the Salinas Valley, and we always emphasize this fact. Our customers span the foodservice and retail categories, and we distribute across the U.S., into Canada and Mexico as well as to offshore countries.”

For retail, the company uses “Church Brothers” and “True Leaf” labels on whole produce and the “Red Coach” brand on its fresh-cut line.

“The economy has not had a negative effect on our business,” stated Mr. Church. “We service from high-end restaurants to quick-serve chains, and find that when business is weak in one category, it is strong in another. Our business continues to show consistent increases.”

Mr. Church said that the locally grown movement is likewise not having a negative effect on business today.

“I just got a call from a guy in the Northwest who said that he couldn’t grow a crop because of the weather, and wanted to know if we could cover him,” said Mr. Church. “We understand the sexiness of locally grown; however, we believe that the quality produce we put out and the service we back it up with will enable us to continue to thrive. The demand for a year-round supply with consistent quality is not something that everyone in the country is capable of filling. Shippers like us in California and Arizona do it — and successfully.” Mr. Church said that when other areas of the country have rough weather, they will always turn back to California for produce because it’s the only place produce is available.

“Sustainability is another major buzzword today, and we are tuned into it,” he said. “We have a lighting project in place to conserve electricity, and we’re looking into wind resources for the future. We rotate our crops to replace the nutrients in the soil, and we use drip irrigation. New machines we have installed use less fossil fuel, and we use recyclable boxes. We stay abreast of ecological aspects, and employ whatever possible to help reduce our carbon footprint.”